Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing: The essential Malaysian

Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing: The essential Malaysian

He is somewhat of an enigma, hard to pigeon-hole. And it depends on when, what, where, why and how you had dealings with him. You are probably one of those blind men who tried to describe the elephant purely from that part of the body they came in contact with.

Businessman, creative director, artist, designer, strategist, educationist, philanthropist, writer, blogger, speaker. He is all of these and more. Quite the rare person who spends every second of his time thinking and planning into the wee hours of the morning.

‘Pushing people, raising performance’

No, you do not want a boss like him but yet, yes you do want a boss like him. See the enigma. It is contagious. The one aspect I know only too well, in my 29 years of working with him is that strain of perfectionism. It is that curse of being multi-talented. Presenting things to him is a nightmare because you meet the businessman, the writer, the designer and the strategist all rolled into that one person and many an employee will share fascinating stories of his or her encounters. Working with him is to discover yourself. He will push all the buttons that will move you to, really, outperform yourself.

There is no denying that in Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, we meet a unique individual. He comes from that generation of Malaysians who remember the days of colonisation, the euphoria of Independence, the horror of racial conflict, the rallying of races, the anchoring of national identity, the building of people and country, the throes of development.

There is no denying that in Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, we meet a unique individual. He comes from that generation of Malaysians who remember the days of colonisation, the euphoria of Independence, the horror of racial conflict, the rallying of races, the anchoring of national identity, the building of people and country, the throes of development.

‘A rebel at heart but intensely patriotic in action’


All these experiences shaped him, moulding his mindset. It explains his obsession with wanting Malaysians to be united. He is Chinese but there is very little Chinese about him. He mingles easily with other races. He is the only Chinese, who is an honorary member of the Kuala Lumpur Malay Chamber of Commerce.

He rebels against set beliefs and traditions. He wears black with defiance. He dislikes boundaries, the setting of limits. He sees possibilities in everything and always his viewpoint is beyond the nitty-gritty of an issue. Look at every campaign he has worked on and you will glimpse the workings of his mind.

Starting with the 1970 Pesta Pembangunan which he worked on as a young man in his 20s to communicate the key points of a ground-breaking government policy called the New Economic Policy (NEP) to address economic disparity.

His communication and design strategy presented the big picture to Malaysians in a manner that simplified a complex policy so the layman could easily understand the core intention of the NEP.

He did the same many years later when he was sent to assist Nelson Mandela to put together the campaign for South Africa’s first democratic elections. The visual message he created with Mandela surrounded by the children representing all the races of South Africa easily and effortlessly communicated Mandela’s stand. It won hearts and minds that showed in the results of the elections.

‘A lifetime of service to the nation’


For him unity is paramount to anything we may achieve as a nation. It is embedded in his psyche. And he has involved himself in almost every socio-economic sector providing support and leadership wherever and however he can.

He feels an ownership and therefore the desire to do all that he can for both people and nation. Every campaign he has worked on is never isolated but always an attempt to rally people to understand and support. Whether it is anti-smoking, embracing wellness, building youths, promoting neighbourliness, assisting SME businesses, stimulating tourism, encouraging sports, developing art & design, supporting charity, calming people during crises, promoting trade and investment and a whole lot of other activities that he has actively worked on within the country.

His work abroad has always been related to promoting the nation and clear evidence of this is in education where he has been the catalyst in making the country an international hub for education.

Overseas, he markets Made-in-Malaysia qualifications. The campuses he has built across the world in 10 countries offer Malaysian degrees. He also works tirelessly to improve diplomatic relations with many countries and this contributes to enhance the export of Malaysian products and services.

‘The challenge of a new Malaysia’

After 61 years of a national branding associated with one party, new perspectives and priorities are shaping the new Malaysia. But Lim is extremely concerned about the challenges the new regime is facing. He is worried for the nation’s future, especially when he thinks ahead to the time when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad relinquishes his position as Prime Minister and new blood is infused into the regime.

The way ahead is unclear and Lim is very concerned about what is going on in the hearts and minds of Malaysians, especially the business sector that needs a solid grip on government plans for the future.

He is already at work, as he always does, to do what he can to re-energise the nation, set the hearts of Malaysians aflame with new ideas and new initiatives.

He is in a position to bridge across the world and rebuild the national image using his extensive international network of alumni, academics, business associates, NGOs and government leaders to build an exciting new future for Malaysia.

By Ambi Mathe


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