It’s time to temper greed, and not let colored paper define us – Dr Vinod Sekhar, CEO, Petra Group Malaysia

Published by ET Edge

With rapid digitization and vaccine roll-outs Asian economies have seen a better growth rate compared to the other economies, yet several aspects of development have been left behind, as the Petra Group CEO shares his vision for the future in the new normal.

“We have to look at profit beyond cash and we have to look beyond the end of year results if we’re going to be sustainable and if we’re going to grow,” elaborated Dr Vinod Sekhar at the ET ABLC summit.

In a profoundly stirring speech at the ETABLC 2022, Dr Sekhar managed to highlight all the key aspects that the pandemic has exposed and left us vulnerable. He clarifies the genuine actions that need to be taken, not just at the corporate level, but for leaders at the individual level as well. Here are a few excerpts from Malaysia’s Petra Group CEO, who expressed his genuine views on the pandemic enormous impact on by creating a wider disparity among the have and have-nots and the need to temper greed while looking at sustainability.

Time to look beyond cash as profit

“This pandemic has exposed the significant weaknesses in our social and economic structures globally. It has shown the disparity of wealth that exists and access to both support health care and education. The upside is it’s given us an opportunity to fix those issues. It’s allowed us to accelerate perhaps the programmes that might have taken a decade or two but now can be implemented swiftly. This pandemic has shown us that when we have a will to work together, when we have a common cause and a drive and a political will as well, things happen.

The vaccines are one example, but on the other side it’s also exposed to disparity and the fact that this pandemic has widened. The disparity between the haves and the have nots. While some developing countries have pushed ahead with digitization and modernization of the economy, have taken on board the changes they need to make to be able to be competitive, others have unfortunately fallen. The dramatic impact of the pandemic has been too much for them and unfortunately self-interest, short-sighted self-interest among the haves. And I don’t want to say just Western democracies or other wealthy nations because I think we find short sighted self-interest everywhere.”

He explains how imperative it is not to stop going on like this further and elucidates sustainability being the need of the hour.

“We can no longer say we pay taxes and we’re not involved in fixing social issues or societal issues. We are part and parcel of it. We make money off the community, the environment we work out of, and if we don’t play a role in sustaining them, in enhancing them, in strengthening them, we basically cut our own legs going forward.

The scope of annual profit based on cash must be widened. We must look at profit beyond cash and we must look beyond the end of year results if we’re going to be sustainable and if we’re going to grow.”

Resuscitating people out of poverty while maintaining sustainability goals

“Economic leaders like me and others have to now focus some attention on those in our community, in the environment we work with, that are in poverty. We have to push them up. We have to play a role in pushing them up. That may be in education, that may be in creating jobs in whatever way possible. We have to temper greed. Greed is neither good nor bad. Greed just is. It’s a powerful engine. It’s like having a powerful sports car. If you can’t control it and you drive it, you’ll crash into a tree and kill yourself or kill someone else. But if you can control that engine, you can control that car and you can accelerate on the Straits and take the curbs whenever you need to, then you have control over very powerful engine.”

He adds that this is where the economic paradigm shift is needed, and that everything should not be left to political leaders. Dr. Sekhar goes on to say that it’s not simply about doing CSR activities that are as simple as checking boxes or planting trees. Companies restructure by recruiting the best accountants, communications specialists, and lawyers. The possibilities are unlimited if that ingenuity can be applied to finding a solution for a society challenge, such as societal development. And as a result, we increase our wealth, improve our market, and strengthen our market. More profit comes from a healthier market and a stronger community. This also entails investigating more advanced and profitable technologies.

“It’s about if you’re smart enough to be wealthy, if you’re smart enough to have your cars and your toys and everything else in the luxury lifestyle you live in, then surely you’re smart enough to lift others with you to find a way of improving society around you. And that with climate change and environmental issues, we have to come to the reality that it’s not just about climate change. We cannot just focus on technology to handle climate change. The environment has to be holistic; it has to include poverty eradication, it has to include uplifting communities. It’s not enough to say, oh, we must stop all palm oil plantations without thinking about the communities that live within those plantations, that survive off those plantations where the education system is provided, health care is provided, the income is provided.”

A more level-playing field for have and have-nots

“The pandemic has shown the next shift is trying to find a way to have a more equal playing field, to let those that have not have the ability to step up move forward with support, with earn support that the others are already doing. We have an opportunity to make a real difference. We can change the world, we can change the way we look at economics, we can change the way we look at economic leadership and we can now actually create new rules, create a whole new board game for us to participate in and make the difference that’s required in this world. If we don’t, we’re signing our own demise because what we’ve had before is unsustainable. It just doesn’t work. This pandemic has shown that the environment doesn’t need decades to rehabilitate itself. Just a few months of shutdown brought the environment back in its full glory. So that’s not impossible again, it just means we have to now focus on doing something about it. And I’m hoping that the pains that we’ve all had to go through some much more than others, provide the lessons necessary to make the changes, to take the leaps going forward.”

It’s just colored paper- Don’t let it control you

Dr Sekhar also shared a personal memoir which moved him the most in his childhood while visiting some children with downs syndrome, he was reminded of the fact that money was just colored pieces of paper.

“I guess it took a nine-year old down syndrome kid to remind me that I was getting so upset and frustrated over colored pieces of paper because that’s all it was to him and that’s all it is, really colored piece of paper. We kill for it, we die for it, we hate for it, we love for it. And to that moment I realized that money would never control me. Money will never control what I do and what I say and how I do it. Money is a tool.”

In conclusion, Dr Sekhar reiterated that money is just a tool that people should never let control themselves or define why and what they do.

We get very excited about colored piece of paper when we shouldn’t and if we can enhance our environment, if we can enhance our community, if we can lift people around us out of poverty in as much as we can, whatever role we play. But if all of us played some role, imagine how everything changes, imagine how much richer we as economic leaders can get wealthier because everyone around us is wealthier and everything grows. As we move forward in what we need in future economic leaders, in future business leaders, the type of thinking we need to have and the difference we need to make.


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