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An Interview with Akira Miyama

by Anis Taufik 1 Jun 2013
An Interview with Akira Miyama

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Akira Miyama is the Executive Director and Head of Group Japanese Business of RHB Bank Berhad. Originally from Japan, he shares his experience of what it’s been like to have lived in Malaysia for over 10 years, be a recipient of TalentCorp’s Residence-Pass Talent and an expatriate on our shores.

I arrived in Malaysia in 1998, during the Asian financial crisis. It was a very turbulent time to be here, as all around the region, economies were crashing and markets were collapsing. I had initially come from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) Tokyo to close its headquarters here. But after arriving, I noticed that there were plenty of Japanese companies like Toyota and Panasonic in Malaysia. So I reported to the Tokyo office, advising them against closing the branch here, which I believe was a good decision.

 When I first told my friends that I was going to Malaysia, they reacted with disbelief, exclaiming, “What will you do in the jungle country?” You must understand, Malaysia was not very famous with ordinary Japanese people then. Japanese tourists often preferred neighbouring Thailand and Singapore for holiday destinations because they didn’t have a distinct image of Malaysia.

However, amongst individuals in the banking sector, Malaysia was gaining recognition and considered an interesting market due to its rising presence globally. Malaysia’s unique stand during the Asian financial crisis, and its implementation of capital control during that period, made quite an impression on me.

TalentCorp is a great programme by the Malaysian Government to draw in foreign talent. Personally, I think it’s a positive signal to send out, that Malaysia welcomes knowledge workers as there is a demand for them in the workforce. TalentCorp is a smart channel to entice them here. Building on that, the offer of the Residence-Pass Talent (RP-T) and benefi ts related to it may also act as a good incentive for knowledge workers who are already contributing to Malaysia’s economy to stay here longer.

Individuals who are granted the RP-T can work and live in Malaysia for up to 10 years. Previously, I had to renew my visa every two years when my contract expired. However, thanks to the RP-T, I don’t have to go to the Labour Offi ce anymore to reapply for my visa. Having the RP-T has made my life in Malaysia so much more comfortable and hassle-free; I don’t have to worry about renewing work visas or even pay high fees for them. Another advantage of having the RP-T, a personal favourite of mine, is the fact that it allows me to access Priority Lanes at Malaysian airports, letting me cut queues and get through immigration lines faster.

From time to time, TalentCorp also provides expatriates under its wing with useful information—this is helpful when you’re living in a foreign country.

I actually didn’t apply for the RP-T; my name had been recommended to TalentCorp. I was surprised when I received the phone call from TalentCorp, informing me that I was eligible for the RP-T. I didn’t have a clear understanding of what it was. But after they explained it to me, highlighting that it was also an acknowledgment for my years of service in Malaysia, I decided to accept it. I believe I may be amongst the first Japanese businessmen in Malaysia to receive the RP-T; I am deeply honoured by this fact.

During my second year in Malaysia, I went to a supermarket to buy some wine glasses. They were having a special sale—there was a mountain of wine glasses in the clearance section. I picked six glasses and brought them to the cashier. I was ready to pay and leave, but the cashier stopped me, saying, “No, no, no. Sir, the quality of these wine glasses is not good.” She asked me to wait, only to return with six new wine glasses that she had chosen personally. When I enquired about the defect in the original set, she pointed to a minute bubble at the bottom.

Till today, this experience does not cease to amaze me. If I was her manager, I’d have told her to just let me go ahead with the purchase; the glasses were reduced for clearance and I had chosen them myself. I was touched by the level of care she’d shown; it was a great display of customer service.

Quite often, staff members in shops here don’t accept my tips either. Sometimes, they even say, “I am not working for tips.” This is a bit beyond my understanding. Perhaps they have their own honour or code of conduct, but my conclusion from this is that Malaysians have good work ethics. That’s why I feel comfortable working and living in this country.

Get out of the city, golf resorts and shopping areas; there is so much more to discover in Malaysia. Take the time to get to know the nature of the people and communicate with them—it’s important to learn to respect and talk with them. If language is proving to be a barrier that’s stopping you from settling down to life here smoothly, I’d recommend studying English as well. It’s not easy to get by without effective communication.


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