CEO FORUM 2022: What Does the Future Hold for Malaysia?

PLF CEO FORUM 2022 Closing Address:
A Former Prime Minister’s Perspective

YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, and Honorary President, Perana Leadership Foundation

Tan Sri Nik Mohamed Nik Yaacob, Executive Director, Perdana Leadership Foundation

The closing session of PLF’s CEO Forums is always the highlight of the event, especially when former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is keynote speaker. At the 2022 CEO Forum, Tun Dr Mahathir shared his thoughts on “What Does the Future Hold for Malaysia?” with the 300-strong audience. We present excerpts from his speech as well as the Q and A session.

“Going forward, there will be more events and occurrences that will not fit into any of our models of predictions and analysis. In short, the uncertainties that we face, whether they are economic or political, are likely to continue.

For businesses and even governments, it means longer-term projections and forecasting models may no longer be useful as they will be less accurate. We know from the past that not even the most sophisticated economic modelling could foretell of the Asian Currency Crisis nor the 2008 financial meltdown. Because of our connectedness with each other, the causes and consequences of events have become more complex and more widespread.

It is time for us to revise our assumptions and forecasting models because the world is shifting away from the post-World War II, industrial equilibrium. It is moving rapidly towards a new digital dominated and information-driven equilibrium that requires new approaches.

…In the past, Malaysia has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, right from where we began our journey as a young nation. When the world predicted we would descend into violence and economic disaster, we proved them wrong. We became a modern, industrialised nation, an economic beacon in the region.

Just as history gives us great lessons for the future, so, too, it can give us faith and hope that, just like in the past, this nation of ours can overcome the challenges of the present and the future.”


Following his keynote address, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad answered various questions from the audience in a session moderated by PLF Executive Director, Tan Sri Nik Mohamed Nik Yaacob.

Q: What are the industries that Malaysia should embark on, besides agriculture, to become an economic “hotspot” for foreign investors, just like Singapore?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysia became industrialised through foreign direct investment because it (then) lacked technology, capital, knowledge about managing large productions and factories, and knowledge of the market. We invited foreigners to come to Malaysia (to invest), and they brought some of their industries into Malaysia. But the time has come when we need to change the way we industrialise the country. If you look at Japan, Korea, and China, they did not just wait for foreign direct investment. They acquired technology and invested in big industries for the world market, and not just their domestic market. There have been instances of this in Malaysia. When we went into plantations, for example, we were the top country in canned pineapple. Later, we dominated the world in the production of rubber, and subsequently, palm oil. Today, Malaysia is the world’s largest supplier of rubber gloves. We need to identify what else we can produce that is for the world market, not just the local market. We should compete with existing brands, produce for the world market, and become the biggest producers of whatever product that we used to import


Q: I would like to get some wise advice from Tun on how our Muslim world, especially my country, Bangladesh, can develop.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad: Developing a country is fairly easy, but you need the political will to do it. Sometimes, politicians are more interested in their own positions rather than in their contribution towards the development of the country. There is nothing mysterious about Malaysia’s development; we simply had a government that was dedicated to make Malaysia a fully developed country by 2020. Unfortunately, before that was achieved, the government changed, and the new government was not as interested in achieving the target set by the previous government. We have not become a fully developed nation because the government has not pursued development goals. A good country can become bad with a bad leader. A bad country can become good with a good leader.

“A good country can become bad with a bad leader. A bad country can become good with a good leader.” Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad