December 2016 \ Cover Story \ Cover Story: Interview with top Overseas Indian
"Always thought of being an entrepreneur, never getting employed"

Interview with Tan Sri Dato’ Dr R Palan Executive Chairman, SMR Group, Malaysia

You have studied in four continents—Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. Please take us through the journey of your student days…was it nomadic in some ways, or was it planned…

So yes, as you look at my CV and some of my books, I always say I am nomadic, wandering around, searching for something. My father is Malaysian, but my mother is Indian, and we’ve lots of family in India. They were in the leather business. So for most diaspora families, it is safe to be a doctor, it gives you a tremendous sense of security. My parents, of course, wanted me to become a doctor. My mother wanted me to go to India. I went on to try and become a doctor, but my father passed away, and I decided that studying for seven years was going to be too long and strenuous. I did a bachelor’s programme and went on to get a master’s degree in social sciences. The original idea was to get a graduate degree, come back to Malaysia, work in a bank, or become a teacher. It was the fastest way to replace the breadwinner in the family. But eventually I ended up with masters, and was too overqualified. So I taught, which was the easiest to do, worked in HR, and then wanted to be an entrepreneur. I specialized and went on to study in the UK at Leicester and completed my doctorate in USA, and then an Advanced Management Programme in Harvard. From there I progressed on to another doctorate in Australia. In other words it is about life-long learning. It is not about accumulating a degree or anything like that. So sometimes what I studied in the university and what I do really in life may not look related, but fortunately, I think there is a lot of learning, because it gives you a lot of reference, you pick up new ideas, new concepts, and you apply these ideas in whatever you do. I would classify myself as a social entrepreneur. Being in entrepreneurship creating value for shareholders is one, but I think at the end of the day it is what you do with what you gain, and that is giving back to society in some form or other. To me there is tremendous joy when I see thousands of people graduating from the University.

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