Leadership Reflections with Izwan Hasli

  • Source: Article
  • Article Date: 4/6/2018

One could say that PETRONAS ICT Chief Operating Officer (COO) Izwan Hasli M Ibrahim is a man with a strong sense of duty. On more than one occasion, Izwan had put his sense of duty to his family and country before his own dreams.

The PETRONAS scholar studied Mechanical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York in 1996 despite having a strong interest in Information Technology (IT).

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Young Izwan with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York in the late 90s.
"I have always been interested in IT. I was hailed a 'computer whiz' during my school days in the small town of Pekan, Pahang in the late 80s. But my late father was more traditional and wanted me to pursue Engineering. So, being the obedient son that I was, I took up Mechanical Engineering," said Izwan.

Only after graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering did Izwan go on to pursue his real passion, IT.

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Izwan fulfilled his passion in IT by pursuing a Masters in Information Technology at Rensselaer Polythecnic Institute, New York.

"I told my father, 'Now that I have a useful Engineering degree, I would like to fulfil my passion'. I stayed on in New York to complete a Masters in IT. Ironically at the time I graduated in 2001, it was at the height of the dot-com crash. A few years before the crash however, E-commerce was at its peak and dot-com companies possessed extremely high valuations. Nearly everyone I knew in IT was jumping on the bandwagon. Not wanting to miss out, I, too, looked for opportunities to be a part of this amazing phenomenon. Fortunately, I started and ran a small but successful start-up in New York and got out at the right time. Looking back, I could've retired then," he added.

However, Izwan's sense of loyalty to his nation was stronger than his desire to be a high-flying tech-entrepreneur in the Big Apple. He returned home in 2001 as expected of a responsible PETRONAS scholar and served his bond with PETRONAS.

Key Wins and Lessons

Since 2001, all of Izwan's 17 years of working experience have been with the PETRONAS Group.
He started his career with PETRONAS Carigali Sarawak Operations in Miri as a Systems Analyst and have held five other posts before helming his current role as COO of PETRONAS ICT.

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Izwan and a colleague on Bayan Platform offshore Sarawak circa 2003.

Izwan counts setting up ICT infrastructure for the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre(Convex), his first managerial assignment, as his most memorable project to date.
"It was in April 2004 and the then iPerintis Chief Executive Officer asked me to join him on a visit to the Convex, which was still under construction at the time. Dust was all over the place and it looked chaotic!

"At the end of the tour, the CEO turned to me and said, 'You are running this project and making [it] ICT ready for the launch by the Prime Minister (Tun Dato' Sri Haji Abdullah Ahmad Badawi)," Izwan recalled.

Izwan and his team of three staff had to work round the clock to finalise the ICT implementation requirements. When Convex was launched without a hitch in June 2004, we felt unspeakable joy and pride.

The key lesson from this experience is the importance of teamwork and Focused Execution (I plan, commit and deliver with discipline).

"The four of us knew the task was extremely daunting but we worked together. We Owned It! (I own the results and do not blame others) and succeeded through Focused Execution. During the three to four months, we worked weekends and long hours, finishing our tasks at midnight or 1:00 a.m. and then came back to work at 8:00 a.m.

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Izwan (left) posing with colleagues in Sarawak Operations (SKO), Miri in 2011. He was appointed PETRONAS ICT General Manager Business Development and Client Management the year before.
Mistakes Happen

Izwan also has his fair share of career mistakes.

"I bit off more than I could chew with our first external outsourcing project in 2007, the Malaysia Multimedia Development Corporation (MDEC) Outsourcing."

Being young, ambitious and buoyed by PETRONAS' backing, Izwan pushed ahead with the pitch and made too many commitments to MDEC.

"Looking back, I shouldn't have [done this]. We won the open tender and that was when the real challenge began as I had over-promised," he said.

Izwan was tasked to lead the team to deliver the impossible promises he made and he had to Own It!

"We persevered and eventually delivered our promise over three years. We even won the extension of another two years!" he added.

Although painful, the experience served as a foundation for future projects involving non-PETRONAS clients such as Shell, ExxonMobil, Lundin and Nippon Oil.

A Fail-Proof Strategy

Izwan admits that his biggest challenge yet is to nurture the trust of colleagues in PETRONAS Group to accept PETRONAS ICT as a partner in light of ICT being a critical component in PETRONAS' success.

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PETRONAS ICT COO Izwan Hasli M Ibrahim talking to PETRONAS ICT employees at one of his recent engagements with them.
His fail-proof strategy to overcome challenges is to:
1. Start with PETRONAS Cultural Beliefs (PCB)

"Just follow PCB holistically. It is comprehensive and provides a good framework for achieving common success."

2. Focus on competency

PETRONAS President and CEO Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin stressed the importance of competency in his townhall. "We need to be able to contribute positively to PETRONAS' transformation, which requires us to develop new competencies in areas such as analytics and automation."

3. Build a strong and innovative team

"We are a people's company. We need to build a strong team who can execute and innovate. We need to help each other and ensure success is shared."

4. Develop good leaders

"Good leaders will, in turn, develop more leaders under them."

5. Have a mentor

"I have many mentors but if I have to name only one, it would be KLCC Group of Companies Group CEO Datuk Hashim Wahir.

I met him in 2005 when I was appointed the manager to lead the pitch for a massive ICT transformation programme for KLCC group. He guided me through the presentation and gave my team and I air time to pitch our case despite objections from half of the CEOs present then!"

Since then, Izwan would make a point to meet this mentor one or twice a year to catch up and get his advice.

Izwan's insights on mentorship:

1. Mentorship does not have to be formal

"Have coffee with people whom you think you can learn from."

2. Don't just look up

"You can find mentors among your peers or someone outside your industry as well."

So You Want To Be a Leader…

To Izwan, leadership is all about dealing with people. "It is about developing others and making them successful," he quipped.

When it comes to developing talent, he subscribes to his favourite quote from former General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch:

"My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too."