Thursday, 15 February 2007

My encounter with the former Prime Minister

Yesterday was a memorable day for me. Not because it was Valentine’s Day. Actually that too, but in a different context which I would not dare to explore here. Red roses, chocolates and all even getting a chocolate at the Railway Station from a complete stranger was quite memorable in its own way. But, let’s not delve into that.

Now, coming back to the other memorable event. I attended the audit committee meeting of the company I work for. I have attended and presented at audit committee meetings in Asia but this was the first here in New Zealand. That wasn’t the memorable event but the people I met certainly qualified for that event.

One of the attendees at the meeting was the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rt Hon Jim Bolger. I am sure to some corporate high flyer, meeting dignitaries like that is an everyday affair but not to me. I was quite honoured to have met him, introduced to him and have a conversation with the man.

This morning, I tried to find out about his background, what he was like and what he did for the country while he was the Prime Minister. I learnt that he was Prime Minister from October 1990 to December 1997 and under his leadership, the country’s economy transformed itself from having the lowest growth rate among 29 OECD nations to one of the strongest. He now sits on and chairs several boards. What I really found interesting was that after he retired as Prime Minister of New Zealand, he was appointed Minister of State and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He then was sent to Washington as New Zealand’s Ambassador.

In contrast, a Malaysian Prime Minister like Tun Mahathir Mohammad, after retirement has left public office altogether, officially at least. Imagine what it would be like if he remained in politics as the Minister of Finance or something like that. As it is now, he is causing a stir, outside of government.

Like Jim, Mahathir was also a memorable Prime Minister whom I had the honour of meeting in person. Mahathir, changed Malaysia from a agricultural nation to an industrial powerhouse in that part of the world.

Shaking hands with Jim yesterday reminded me of my meeting with Mahathir many years ago when he was the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Both meetings were in Board Rooms of large corporations of their respective countries. At both meetings, they were in control even when they were not on the Chair. Both elderly statesmen in their 70s. Both have a similar sort of charisma. Despite their power and influence, both appear to be very warm and friendly. Someone you know you can talk to and will listen. Both just as sharp and just as shrewd.

I guess that’s what separates us from the great leaders of the world, and why only a few will get to that position.