Lady in red

I recently covered a conference organised by the Malaysian Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (MAICSA), of which Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz was a guest speaker. While she has long retired from government decision-making posts, she continues to command respect from the business community.

Retiring from politics in 2013, Rafidah diligently tracks the pulse of international trade and investments as patron of the Malaysia-Europe Forum. She currently serves as the chairman of three companies; namely AirAsia X Bhd, Megasteel Sdn Bhd and Pinewood Studios.


As she took to the stage, she received a rousing round of applause when the moderator of her session, Philip Koh, introduced her to a roomful of near 1,000 company secretaries.


As soon as she started off her speech, Rafidah's hand gestures became more animated, sweeping from left to right ... sometimes up and down, like a music conductor guiding an orchestra. The crowd before her listened in rapt attention.


Philip, who was sitting up straight at the beginning of her speech began to gradually relax with his head tilted. One hand was hooked to the back of the seat and the other, loosening his necktie.

Half way through her animated presentation, Rafidah's voice started to become hoarse and she cleared her throat.

Suddenly, the very relaxed-looking Philip leapt to his feet. Like a superhero, he swoop up a champagne glass filled with mineral water and quickly walked towards the lectern.


Rafidah, without skipping a beat in the delivery of her speech, slipped in a double entendre. "Don't, Philip .... or I'll get wet."

Philip stopped dead in his tracks and looked at his feet. He tried hard to stifle his laughter but failed miserably.

Rafidah smiled and turned her attention back to the audience. "No, you see ... if he put the glass of water on this sloping lectern, it will slide off and I'll get wet, isn't it?" The audience broke into a raucous laughter.

She continue to tickle the crowd when she added, "It is so nice to be served by a gentleman ... now, who says chivalry is dead? Thank you, Philip." She beckoned to him and gave a slight curtsey.

Philip laughed and reciprocated her show of respect.

From there, Rafidah move on to a topic close to her heart -- the palm oil industry. She asked the audience if they had palm oil companies as clients. A show of hands emerged from the crowd. She recalled, in her early years as Malaysia's Minister of International Trade and Industry, she visited a palm oil refinery.


She noticed logos of alarm clock, a sexy woman and an airplane on the labels of cooking oil bottles. Curious, she asked the refiner, "Why an airplane? Where are these batch of cooking oil headed for?"


The refiner replied that the airplane logo signifies technological advancement and people in the Middle East took a liking to that brand of cooking oil.


"Now, that was in the early 1990s." She wagged her finger in the air and said, "the branding strategy that worked then may not necessarily work now. I hope that refinery is no longer using the airplane logo on their cooking oil bottles," she said, adding one must move with times in order to survive.


Soon after, she ended her speech. As she got off the stage and greeted her enthusiastic fans, I managed to "ambush" her near the entrance of the grand ballroom.

After I introduced myself and the media agency I work for, I willed myself to be thick-skinned and blurted out, "Tan Sri Rafidah, I've been warned that you'll scold me.

She turned and looked squarely into my eyes, "not unless you ask me relevant questions. Did you do your homework?"

I didn't want to say no, so I just smiled sheepishly.

"Ok, what is it you want to ask me?" she tilted her head and arched one of her eyebrows.

I fired away my questions and she answered all of them in a forthright manner.

A soon as I fold up my writing pad, the crowd of fans surrounding us jostled with their handphones to have selfies taken with Rafidah.

In the midst of frenzy requests from her fans to pose for photographs, I commented out loud to Rafidah that her baju kurung, lipstick, ruby jewelry, handbag and shoes were all in matching red --- the corporate colour of AirAsia.

She smiled broadly and replied "Of course ... I've always walked the talk, right?"

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