Interview With Raja Teh Maimunah , The Managing Director and CEO Of Hong Leong Islamic Bank

IslamicBanker had a chance to get a little privy with the Hong Leong Islamic Bank CEO – Raja Teh Maimunah. Apart from being a successful woman leader in the industry, she is an outdoor enthusiast – hiking, camping and biking and lots more. We explore some of the facets of her professional life with a sneak peek at her away-from-work activities, as to what keeps her ahead of the game, both at work and at home.

ISLAMIC BANKER (IB): You have over 20 years of experience in the financial industry. In your view, how has the Islamic banking and finance sector performed and what has does the future hold for the industry?
RAJA TEH MAIMUNAH (RTM): The industry has grown from strength to strength both at home and globally. Islamic banking has grown twice as fast in Malaysia as its conventional counterpart at a CAGR of 22%. It is Malaysia’s aspiration for Islamic banking assets to hit 40% of the banking sector by 2020 from approximately 21% now. The future is promising as various initiatives implemented by the Bank Negara Malaysia including the establishment of MIFC and enactment of IFSA 2013, and an attractive tax environment serves to strengthen the industry. Globally, we are seeing new players i.e. London, Hong Kong and Luxembourg entering the Islamic capital markets space, encouraging further internationalisation of the industry. Industry analysts are predicting continued growth of 20% over the next 5 years globally.
IB: You have been in your current position as the MD/CEO of Hong Leong Islamic Bank for more than 3 years. Can you share your experiences before and after your appointment?
RTM:  started as an investment banker, or merchant banker as it was known before, and had a good run for over a
decade before I decided to switch to Islamic banking. I spent several years before Hong Leong Islamic in various markets, picking up on Islamic banking traits and Shari’a namely in the Middle East and Pakistan. I was very fortunate to have been able to experience different cultures, work ethics and philosophy,  first hand. I must say it had been almost a ‘wild, wild west’ experience when compared to the structured landscape we operate in Malaysia. Hong Leong in particular has a sound risk management culture and is one of the trusted names you would know.

IB :You are regarded as one of the most successful women leaders in today’s Islamic finance industry. How do you cope with the pressures in your work life? How do you define your leadership style?
RTM:  I am humbled at this. The key to coping with pressure is time management. I guard my time allocation with near military precision. Time for God, time for family, time for co-workers and time for friends. It is best to not mix them up. Which means I plan ahead. Way ahead. I am rarely spontaneous. Every morning, I make a list of things I have to tackle daily. Prioritising is crucial. Of course crisis erupts every now and then, you’d simply have to deal with those. The key thing is not to get hysterical. Problems are easier solved with a clear head. Life is one big test anyway. So do your best as you go along. I would describe myself as paternalistic in my management approach, because I am undemocratic, yet not autocratic. I don’t ask my child if she wants to go to school or not, but I would ask her what she would like to take up in school. I take on the same approach at work. Some decisions are mine to make, no matter how difficult they may be.

IB : Since women leaders are a minority in this industry, how do you cope with your role, especially when it comes to interacting and dealing with business partners and colleagues? Is being a woman leader a challenge or a blessing?
RTM : I don’t think about that very much. In fact I am probably wilfully blind to any inference of gender issues. I have had good and bad experiences with both men and women. Being a leader is challenging, but it has its blessings, for both men and women alike. I’m afraid honestly cannot tell if being a woman has more or less challenge / blessing. As a woman with commitment to both work and home, how do you define your personality in order to strike a balance in these two different environments? As a wife and mother, my duty to my family cannot be compromised. At home, I strive to play the role that has been accorded to me by God. At work, I have my duties and rights as both employer and employee, which I have to fulfil. It is simply two roles I have to take on as accorded.

IB : As a Managing Director and CEO of a Shari’a compliant bank, how seriously do you take dressing at work, both for self and for employees, especially for women staff?
RTM : It is important that our employees dress appropriately. Whilst we do not impose the hijab on our female employees, we disallow dressings that can be deemed offensive to Muslims. We have a dress code to guide our employees.

IB :  How does your typical day start and what is your daily routine?
RTM : Mornings are manic! I send the kids to school. Get to work. Go through my daily list. Meetings (4-5 daily) which include internal and client meetings and lunches in between. I try to have dinner at home and put my kids to bed. I then finish up on my work, and windup with reading a book.

IB:  What motivates you to achieve your (short and long term) goals?
RTM : I am truly blessed. Hence wanting to give back is the biggest motivator for me by wanting to do more of the right things. Also, my kids are my greatest inspiration to go beyond my boundaries of comfort, so I can show them more of the world.

IB:  What is your favourite holiday destination and dining spot/s?
RTM : I love to go to places where we can hike, climb and be one with nature. One of our most memorable holiday
destinations is Pakse in Laos, where we hiked, zip-lined and climbed via ferrata across a magnificent valley and
slept in a tree house. It was unbeatable. Generally all our holidays sport the same theme. I am not good at shopping.
Not many are envious! I am a foodie. I love all sorts. I particularly like quaint coffee shops. The Wood and Steel near
my house is one of the places I frequent. Suzi’s corner in Ampang is another. And I am mad about Fierce and Fiercer
curry house and Betel Leaf in Lebuh Ampang. I am not into big food chains.

IB: Please name three important things you would never survive a day without.
RTM :  1. Hugs and kisses from my kids 2. Three square meals 3. My organizer

IB :  What is your favourite gadget and accessories’ brand?
RTM:  My iPhone, iPad & Surface Pro 3. I love all Apple gadgets.

IB:  What is your message to women in the Islamic finance industry?
RTM: I would like women in the industry and those who aspire to get into the industry not to look up at the glass ceiling so much because it really isn’t there. Malaysia provides opportunity for women in the Islamic finance industry not seen elsewhere. So believe in yourself, stay feminine, harness your maternal prowess, be true to yourself, do things right and do the right things. Always.

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