Saddled with years of experience in the corporate and business sector, Noor Azmi is looking forward to drive the SME Corp and the country’s SMEs forward
I have a vast experience on entrepreneurship, and one of the things I want to personally look into is the injection of technology among SMEs.“
— Noor Azmi
Putting a pause on his high level meeting in Putrajaya, SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) newly appointed CEO Noor Azmi Mat Said, was gracious enough to set aside some 30 minutes of his time from his busy schedule to meet up with MALAYSIA SME® at the Putrajaya Lake Club on a Tuesday evening.
Sitting down comfortably in the Recreation Room facing the lake, Noor Azmi shares personal details of the early days in his career. Despite his oil and gas background (O&G) Noor Azmi confided that he was an entrepreneur at one point of his career.
“Yes, I had initiated several business startups and involved with multiple scale of SMEs in product development, business scale-up, manufacturing set-ups, operation model, business model, financial model, business turnaround, fund
structuring/raising, and venture capitalisation,” says Noor Azmi when asked if he had delved into business before.
From a stable career in the O&G industry to entrepreneurship, Noor Azmi has a lot to offer when it comes to experience. Being the driver behind the leading agency that spearheads the development of SMEs in the country, Noor Azmi translate his years of experience into workable visions and form them into planning to encourage the growth of SMEs around the country.
Graduating in Bachelor of Chemical Engineering with Honours from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Noor Azmi was a British Petroleum (BP) sponsored student, trained in commercial project development by the O&G giant. He started his career with Exxon Mobil refinery in Port Dickson, and took up roles in process engineering, short term planning, long term planning, project evaluation and economics as well as investment appraisal.
“It got a bit boring doing repetitive tasks and I noticed that I started losing the passion with my job,” Noor Azmi says. In 1993, he came across an event organised by the Perbadanan Usahawan Nasional Bhd (PUNB) that was promoting entrepreneurship among the Bumiputera community which piqued his interest. Needless to say, his dream of becoming an entrepreneur was born that day.
“I started to think to myself, if I wanted to be (a successful) entrepreneur, I need to understand more than just the technicality of how things work. I would need to understand every angle of having (and running) a business, which includes marketing and financing,” states Noor Azmi as he began searching for ways to expand his knowledge.
Noor Azmi then took the chance to work with Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah in 1995, who was formerly the chairman of Maybank. He became an assistant plant manager to one of the companies that Wan Azmi took over, which was mainly dealing with plastic production.
“I was switching from O&G to a polymer business, overlooking the overall plant operations. But I took up the challenge because it would allow me to learn more about other industries and how they work.” It was within this point in time that Noor Azmi’s interest in innovations intensified.
In 1997, he joined the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) as a manager, where his role was to look into investments and gained knowledge revolving around venture capitals and commercialisation.
After gathering experience from several other ventures in his career, Noor Azmi joined MYDATA Consulting Sdn Bhd as a chemical engineering-based techno-commercial strategist. Being a company that collects data and studied the gap
between small companies and multinational companies (MNCs), MYDATA appointed Noor Azmi to develop a system that was able to identify technology with potential for commercialisation.
From there, Noor Azmi continued to explore entrepreneurship while working at an O&G company that was owned by the late Mohd. Kassim Sulong, the co-founder of Kassim Chan & Co. “Through that venture, I created a material that won’t produce any smoke even though it was on fire. The material was used to create various products for offshore living quarters of O&G employees,” shares Noor Azmi, mentioning that the products were produced and manufactured locally.
Until the day he was appointed as SME Corp’s new CEO, Noor Azmi has always been unafraid to take up new challenges in his career. An entrepreneur at heart, Noor Azmi equipped with the right experience and knowledge needed to bring insightful strategies in developing the entrepreneurs and SMEs within the country.
After years of exposure, the life lessons he gained influenced his leadership style, which he describes as “visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and commanding”. He hopes that his leadership in the agency would be able to mobilise people toward a vision, develop them to be ready for the future while creating emotional bonds and harmony. He also believes that he would be able to build consensus through participation while inspiring excellence and self-direction.
“I have a vast experience on entrepreneurship, and one of the things I want to personally look into is the injection of technology among SMEs. It is my belief that businesses must continuously strive on putting forward a compelling business proposition to its target market in order to remain relevant,” he advises.
He explains that a compelling business proposition doesn’t have to be limited in the form of technology. It can also be in changing the business model of the company and redefiningits structure to meet current demands. “Once you have something that people want, you’re already one step closer towards innovation.”
The three stages of entrepreneurs
For Noor Azmi, there are three stages of entrepreneurship that is determined by its maturity. The first stage includes those within the creation stage, where young adults with an interest in entrepreneurship lack the guidance on how to advance in becoming a working entrepreneur. This is where educational institutions would need to assist them and show them the right way forward for them to pursue their dream instead of encouraging them to have a 9-to-5 job.
Entrepreneurs in the intermediate level are those who already has a bit of knowledge about the business and industry, but still needs help in structuring their enhancement state. Meanwhile, for those in the advanced level, most of them
already knows what they want to achieve and how to achieve it. However, as with most entrepreneurs today, there would still be some areas where they would need more insights from.
According to Noor Azmi, the best solution to this problem is to start exchanging ideas while establishing networks and linkages among other entrepreneurs.
“Anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur would have to work on advancing their business to a point where it is able to run on its own without the owner’s presence. If not, it shows that the business have yet to unlock its full potential,” says Noor Azmi.
This is when the entrepreneur that started the business is able to leave the managers in charge. He explains by saying that a typical listed company’s business is often operated and supervised by professional employees or managers to keep everything in check. In doing so, they would need to establish and follow through all the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and take care of the necessary delegations or appointments required.
“Every entrepreneur needs to reach this stage in their business. This is where digitalisation plays an important part in any organisation, which has to be embraced and applied throughout every different levels of management,” Noor Azmi ends, stressing on the importance of adopting technological innovations within any organisations’ operations.