Side Views

The media-savvy chief executive — Liew Mun Leong

SEPT 3 — I see as very important the CEO’s role in corporate communications, particularly for a public-listed company.

I spent 21 years in the public sector and another 21 years managing and leading some 10 public-listed companies in four jurisdictions. Leading a public company means that you have to answer to shareholders. They are the owners of the company and you are accountable to them publicly, at least quarterly, in how you handle their investments and affairs.

To me, it is as onerous as being an elected government minister, who may last five years or more. You may not last a few quarters if you fail in your communication to your shareholders.

I often say that a CEO in a public-listed company has to “pao tou lu mian” — in Chinese, to “show one’s face in public”. The CEO cannot hide his or her face behind a veil by asking the PR department to front communication to the public, be it about good or bad news.

If it is good news, the CEO is the best person to know more and therefore can proudly expand on it to promote the company’s interest. If it is bad news, the CEO has the most background to rationalise and mitigate the negative impact. I have handled both and I know it can be done. Some suggestions:

● CEOs must be brave about facing the media. It needs lots of courage initially but you can get used to it. There isn’t any successful uncommunicative CEO around — they die a natural corporate death.

● “No comment” is never a good answer. Just be frank, honest and authentic. Admit mistakes and failures, if any. There is a price to pay somewhere or some time, if you lie.

● Recruit a good communications chief and work closely with him or her. Get used to each other. He or she can help you, but the substance must be yours and only yours.

● Enjoy a good interview, but do your homework thoroughly. Good interviews may help you to review what you have been doing, right or wrong.

● Be friendly with journalists. Never start a fight with them. You will never win. Better be friends than foes. — Today

* Speech delivered by Liew Mun Leong, president and CEO of CapitaLand Group. This is adapted from a speech delivered at the IPRS PRISM Awards last month, where he was named Outstanding PR Champion of the Year.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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