Agata Tomasik, Site Manager at IT Kontrakt Services sdn. bhd., responsible for the coordination of the business and recruitment operations of IT Kontrakt’s Malaysian branch. Agata learned her ropes in banking customer service and then moved to live in Kuala Lumpur to build our brand there.
Maciej: Agata, we all keep asking ourselves a few questions. What interests us is how and why it happened. Please tell us about the whole thing.
Agata: Everything happened at a dizzying pace. August was a turning point – it was very eventful and the events were of various calibres. One of them was my decision to abandon the excessively stable life I had in Warsaw and move to Kuala Lumpur. How did it come to that? After the internal recruitment for the position was announced, I decided that I’d take my chances and take part in it. It was about a person who’d set up and manage the company’s branch in Malaysia. When I was sending my application, I felt a bit nervous, and my heart was beating a bit faster in the hope that IT Kontrakt Board would at least invite me to an interview. I wasn’t thinking “what if?” then. I just didn’t want to fail to try and have regrets. Such opportunities don’t come around too often. Now I’m happy that I made the decision. It went well and now I’ve been living in Kuala Lumpur for two months. I’m waiting for things to normalise and looking forward to being able to say that I’m living a simple Malaysian life, like most expats who have been here for many years.
M: With two months’ hindsight, do you think it was a good choice?
A: I’m sure it was! I believe that it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life so far. Having been here for two months only, I can already tell you that I’ve learned a lot and met amazing people. Plus, I’m developing my career in my dream line of business. And I wake up every day in a warm and sunny place, with palm trees outside.
M: Can you talk about your misgivings about the relocation? Did you have any?
A: I did have bad feelings and I feared the unknown for the first two weeks of my stay in Malaysia. It was a time when I was in suspension, as it were, and I didn’t quite realise what was actually going on. Half of me was in Poland and the other half in Kuala Lumpur, surrounded by a mixture of nationalities, new tastes and smells, and the high temperature. I started this new chapter in my life with a bit of disbelief. After that time, which – with hindsight – took much too long, I drew a line between this and what I’d known in Poland. I started a new life without looking back and I devoted myself to building our brand overseas. One thing I regret is that it’s only now that I’ve found myself here.
M: What are your memories of your first days in Kuala Lumpur? How are you getting on in the new place?
A: It wasn’t easy, but thanks to the local people, as well as some members of the Polish community who I met, everything was slowly going on. I got a lot of support from them, plus countless tips based on their experience and practices. Now, too, these wonderful people are inspiring and motivating me every day to develop my skills. Thanks to them I’ve felt here at home since day one. Business? It turns out that in Malaysia everything can be easily sorted out. Differences between Polish administration and what we have here are considerable. I would risk saying that it’s much simpler here provided that there are people around you who help you understand things. Cultural differences? Despite the time that’s passed, the astonishment I feel every day about various things hasn’t changed. Here, I can count on my employees, who are helping me get used to the local customs. About the climate… You need to remember to walk slowly so that your body releases energy gradually. You must drink a lot of water during the day because it’s easy to get dehydrated and you should be near air-conditioned spaces or fans.
M: Can you tell us how different the Malaysian labour market is from Warsaw’s?
A: I have the impression that it’s much easier here for young people to have a successful career. You just need to speak English, be open, and self-confident. As far as my early observations go, I noticed that in Asia the weather greatly affects people’s behaviours and attitudes to work. There’s no room here for complaining, and yet there are so many reasons to do so – for example, huge traffic jams, where you get stuck for at least an hour on your way to work and another one when you’re coming back home. No public transport, and the rain in the monsoon season. It’s a drizzle but it still jams the traffic. Nobody makes trouble here. They accept what the day brings, thanks to which everybody’s life is easier. What came to me as a surprise, as far as recruitment goes, was people disclosing salaries in their CV’s. As future employers, we can ask candidates to give us access to their payslips. Candidates come prepared for their job interviews, i.e. they bring the whole documentation. What local people find to be a very important element of their everyday life is meals, which is another surprise. Candidates attach importance to whether there are enough restaurants that cater to their taste near the office. Aside from culinary establishments, their target workplace can’t be located 40 minutes away from the candidate’s flat. Free time is very precious form them, so traffic jams don’t make the recruitment process easier.
M: What does your routine workday look like?
A: I start my day with a mug of coffee at 9:30 am. The first thing I do is open my mailbox and browse through incoming emails. At 10:00 am, I start my meeting with the Malaysian team. We discuss matters at hand and an action plan for the nearest future. Then I alternately do job interviews with candidates, write emails, and deal with administrative work for a few hours. It takes up my time until 7:00 pm, more or less. Beginnings can be hard, and it’s still a time that requires my great sacrifice, so now working 10 to 11 hours a day is my daily bread. Unfortunately, the change of the clocks in Poland – switching from summer time to winter time – isn’t making my contact with the Polish office easier. The time difference between the countries was 6 hours and now it’s 7.
M: What was it like to set up a company in Malaysia?
A: There are very strict regulations with respect to the labour marke
t and setting up a business. However, the Malaysian government has a very pro-business approach to entrepreneurs. The country has succeeded, among other things, in curbing red tape. The Malaysian economy’s goal is to become one of the leaders, i.e. countries where it’s easiest to do business. Currently, Malaysia is in the top 20, but its position keeps improving.
You need to meet a number of conditions to set up a business, for instance, you must have your own office in Malaysia, where you keep all documents and obligatory account books, the company must have an authorised local auditor, and at least two directors with the right of permanent residence in the country. Apart from me, the local directors of the IT Kontrakt’s branch are Krzysztof Grzybowski, PhD – a businessman who helps Polish companies set up their subsidiaries in Malaysia, a man to a great extent responsible for the growth of Polish business in Kuala Lumpur, closely cooperating with the Polish embassy in Malaysia, author of numerous articles about Asia and the Pacific Ocean, very much in love with life and Malaysia, and Rajendran A/L Kasivisvanathan – a businessman, specialist in trade, and enthusiast of fast cars. His interests include issues related to sales techniques, social influence, and emotional intelligence.
There are many requirements to be met, and it’s not so easy. However, we’ve succeeded in dealing with most formalities, so the hardest part is already past us.
M: What are the biggest tasks and challenges that you and your unit are facing now?
A: My present challenge is to obtain the MSC status, which will make the whole process of employing foreigners in Malaysia easier, among other things. Another advantage is 10 years’ tax exemption for the company. Unfortunately, the procedure is long, painstaking, and based on many forecasts and assumptions which will be carefully reviewed by the Malaysian government for the nearest 10 years.
Besides, we’ve managed to sort out the other administrative matters, so we’re fully focused on hiring first employees and going through the indispensable formalities. The most important tasks that I and my growing team have to tackle include making the Malaysia branch fully operational, which means reaching a satisfying level of profitability as soon as it’s possible.
M: Who helps you when the situation becomes tough business-wise?
A: I can certainly count on the help from my colleagues from the Polish team and support of IT Kontrakt Board. Things don’t always come easy in business, but I have a sense that I’m not left to my own devices if there’s trouble. Our company is aware that the overseas branch in Malaysia is a huge opportunity and we all are trying to fully tap into it.
Here, on site, I can count on help from the local directors and secretaries, who treat me like a daughter and support me at all times. I always receive sound advice and guidelines from my co-workers – Senior Recruitment Manager Om Mastud and the invaluable HR Manager Mathi Kanthasamy.
M: What do you think are the risks to business in Malaysia?
A: The demand for IT specialists and new technologies is quite big. It’s not so easy to talk consultants into working for a newly founded company whose name doesn’t sound encouraging. People in Malaysia don’t talk about contracts as a form of cooperation. It’s one of the taboo words. The word contract is associated with a lack of financial stability, a sense of threat, or leaving the comfort zone. As for employment agreements, they are signed with employees practically for life. Dismissing an employee is extremely difficult for the employer, while the employee can withdraw from their agreement from one day to the next without having to worry about the consequences.
M: Is there something you miss the most?
A: What do I miss the most? There’s not much because Kuala Lumpur is cosmopolitan enough to offer easy access to European products. But what’s definitely missing is good quality alcohol that doesn’t leave you broke. Seriously though, I really miss my Polish unit in Marynarska St. and clearly my Warsaw friends.