May. 9, 2016

Zulfikri Osman


Zulfikri Osman

CEO, M-AeroTech

"We want Malaysia to help unlock the potential of the aerospace industry."


Zulfikri Osman is the CEO of M-AeroTech. He began his early career at The New Straits Times. He has since held various positions in the areas of entrepreneurship and investment in the public sector. He was also an Attaché under the Malaysian High Commission Office, UK. His educational background is in accounting and business. He is also the alma-mater of INSEAD Executive Programme.

Asia Aerospace City (AAC) aims to offer a complete business ecosystem with high-quality engineering services, industry-relevant human capital, infrastructure, and government support. In practice, what does AAC offer international aerospace companies?

Asia Aerospace City is a brand, an umbrella under which we are intending to offer aerospace industry players in Malaysia a complete ecosystem. We offer the right technologies and the right capabilities, which is what investors and companies are looking for, especially in such a capital-intensive, human capital intensive, and high-tech industry as aerospace. There is a certain level of competency that is expected in this industry. Therefore, we offer industry players the right programs that will interest them. If we can convince them of Malaysia's capabilities and let them know they can get the level of human capital they are looking for, then our work will have succeeded. Before AAC was created, we met with lots of industry players and went to all the major international defense expos to study what people were looking for. When we came back to Malaysia, we formulated what we should and could offer these industry players. To uplift our aerospace industry, we knew we needed all the large global players to come and setup their infrastructure here. We know the potential of Malaysia, within the region and Asia in general; therefore, we began AAC based on our strengths and capabilities. Both Airbus and Boeing have backlogs of about 7,000 aircraft on order, and 40% of those aircraft orders are from the Asia Pacific region. Hence, this region plays a large role in the aerospace sector. There is a lot of demand, therefore a lot of room for growth.

What is your vision for the development of Asia Aerospace City?

We want Malaysia to help unlock the potential of the aerospace industry. All the big players want to be near the largest markets, and there are a number of countries in the Asia Pacific region that can harbor such high-tech industries. Malaysia is one of those countries, if not the ideal country. We want to be the gateway to Southeast Asia in the aerospace industry, if not all industries. Singapore is the most advanced country in the region, and the easiest place to do business; however, we have the manpower, the land, and the factories to develop technology and capabilities. Malaysia has an excellent education and training system. We believe we are the best fit for the industry. This is what we have to offer at AAC. We are the bridge between industry and government in Malaysia, connecting the expertise and the people from both sides. People in industry and government don't always speak the same language, but we, at M-AeroTech, speak both. If you think of AAC as a computer, it has hardware and software. Take the Subang Nexus, for example, which is the aero industry park that we are currently developing, just 45 minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur. To develop this, we have another Mara subsidiary company to develop the hardware and the infrastructure, while M-AeroTech is looking at the software. This is how the infrastructure is developed and activated. We don't just see it as a real estate project. One of our biggest objectives is to have first-tier Malaysian manufacturing companies. The new aerospace blueprint was launched in 2015; one year in and we already have UMW as a first-tier manufacturing company. We are its business consultants, and we help bring its partnerships together. Rolls Royce is looking for a manufacturer in Southeast Asia, for example, and we began the communication between UMW and Rolls Royce. That's been our biggest success so far, for sure. Rolls Royce is a huge name. Envirotech is just two and a half years old; therefore, the UMW-Rolls Royce partnership is our biggest milestone. We will work with various players to match the right companies in Malaysia with the right international players and investors.

What is your role in the development of aerospace blueprints?

Through our six business pillars, we help formulate all investment, R&D, and business blueprints pertaining to aerospace. In the aerospace blueprint, our part is more about human capital development. Our biggest role is the development of programs that address the competency gap. The industry wants people who are already about 60-70% ready to work on the factory floor. University graduates are only 20-30% ready. So you need to train and develop these people for aerospace, and for the individual aerospace companies' specific needs. We formulate with the industry what is needed, and we develop our training modules in conjunction with them. These are customized, bespoke programs that address all specialized areas to suit the needs of aerospace customers and companies. We are looking for more partnerships and we're always keen to expand.

What kind of partnerships are you looking at to further develop AAC as a brand?

The UMW-Rolls Royce deal has gone through and is in stage five, and it will start producing Trent 1000 and Trent 7000 fan casings. We are looking at partnerships with other companies like Sapura Industrial and DRB-Hicom. Three years ago we were looking at Mexico. We went to Querétaro and looked at how it was able to turn automotive companies into aerospace companies, and how it brought in companies like Bombardier and worked with universities to develop courses for aerospace engineering. This perspective offered a way to chart our own path in this regard. With Mara, we have 564 centers across the country, including secondary schools, training institutes, and universities. We have about 200,000 students studying in the Mara system, and we also send students abroad to study.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

The global economy is challenging and Malaysia is no exception. However, these times present a great opportunity for Malaysia to move way from reliance on natural resources to more value-added products and exports. Malaysia has a strong high-technology sector, with the manufacturing of medical equipment, biotechnology, and automotive. We are doing our part in the overall picture with the development of the aerospace technology sector.