Career Guide

CEO Salim uses setbacks as stepping stones to success

DESPITE having to give up his studies and ambition to be an accountant due to financial constraints, Datuk Mohamad Salim Fateh Din made good in his life after six years working as a flight attendant.

The opportunity to serve as a Malaysia Airlines air steward was an experience Salim would cherish for the rest of his life.

He believes that the challenges that came with the job - the ups and downs, and the wide job scope and big responsibilities - had enriched and groomed him to step into bigger shoes as a businessman after he decided to call it a day in 1985.

His first job came about rather “unplanned” as he was looking around for something to do after he “dropped out” of a London accounting school due to poverty.

“On my own accord, I decided to halt my studies and flew back to Malaysia. I came across an advertisement looking for cabin crew staff to join the national airlines and managed to clinch the job after three rounds of interviews,” Salim shares with myStarjob.

He says the first year into his job was quite tough given the high service standards, long hours and heavy responsibilities as a cabin crew staff. “It was rather stressful,” Salim says of those days.

“After the tough first year, the job somehow became lighter, and it was easier to cope with the stress. I got well acquainted with the job scope and was promoted to the rank of senior crew,’’ Salim adds.

He has gained some unique values and lessons from his first job. Top on the list is the virtue of punctuality. As he put it in a nutshell: ”The plane would not wait for you if you were late, so the onus is on the crew to be on time at all times.”

Ready to serve

Salim says there is a general misconception that cabin crew only serve drinks and food aboard flights, but they actually have multiple responsibilities.

“Very importantly, cabin crew are accountable for the safety of all passengers. They have to go through very stringent safety training provided by the various regulatory authorities.”

Those days in the absence of aerobridge, the crew also had to double up as porters to carry down physically challenged passengers from the plane.

<b>Donning his Malaysian Airlines air steward uniform, a young Datuk Mohamad Salim Fateh Din (standing in the centre) among his other colleagues in this group photograph. </b> Donning his Malaysian Airlines air steward uniform, a young Datuk Mohamad Salim Fateh Din (standing in the centre) among his other colleagues in this group photograph.

“In any case, no matter how tired we are, we must always wear a smile on our face when serving passengers,” Salim notes.

He says it was also mandatory for the crew to remember the names of the first class passengers, how they liked their drinks, favourite food, and topics of conversation or discussion.

“After meal service, we were required to do lots of public relations with the passengers to put them at ease. On many occasions, the crew acted as the first and last frontier that passengers would lash out at when they were unhappy with a flight issue such as a delay.

“It was not unusual to be saddled with all kinds of demands and complaints, and we were taught to handle them professionally and to treat all passengers with respect. Wherever possible, we’ll need to try our level best to help resolve those issues and complaints,” Salim says.

The experiences dealing with passengers has helped to build up his patience and ability to communicate with people of all ranks and character.

There were also many opportunities that came with the job; one of which was the opportunity to visit new places and learn about new cultures, and the chance to meet people of all walks of life, including business people.

Some of these encounters blossomed into business opportunities for Salim which prompted him to make his exit from the airline to venture into his own business.

<b>Gapurna Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk  Mohamad Salim Fateh Din with the model of PJ Sentral Garden City</b> Gapurna Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Mohamad Salim Fateh Din with the model of PJ Sentral Garden City

Striking out

The lessons he had learned from his cabin crew days came in handy in his new endeavours as a businessman. “Most importantly, I remained truthful to myself in facing challenges in life and to take things in my stride,” he says.

Salim says he is thankful to the Good Samaritans for helping and providing him with the opportunity to strike out in his own business.

He was initially involved in customising and building petrol stations for leading oil companies such as Shell, Esso, BP and Caltex.

Salim says the deadline for the projects was usually very tight and the stations had to be completed within three months. These multinational oil companies also observed very strict safety and environment compliance standards.

The knowledge came in most useful for Salim when he ventured into property and construction projects under his outfit, Gapurna Sdn Bhd. He now focuses on integrated and sustainable properties and townships that adopt green development concepts.

Gapurna’s hallmark projects include PJ Sentral Garden City and 348 Sentral at KL Sentral.

Salim says both developments are geared towards the highest standards of Green Building Index as well as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).

The 55-year-old Salim is the current chairman of British American Tobacco, and a non-executive chairman of retail group, GCH Retail (M) Sdn Bhd. He is also a commission member of Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission, and chairman of Malaysia-Pakistan Business Council.

Salim is grooming his son, Imran Salim to take over the family’s business while he devotes more of his time to do charity. A philanthropist at heart, Salim has stayed devoted at helping the needy and the underprivileged for decades now.

He has adopted five homes for needy and special children, sponsored countless charity establishments, and is also a long-serving member of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan Pendidikan Cheras.

And Salim’s words of wisdom are, “Opportunity only comes once. When it knocks at your door, grab it!”