MASBA Celebrating 25 With Back to the 80’s

When the Malaysia Sweden Business Association celebrated its 25 years anniversary with a bonanza on October 13th 2011 it did so without any representatives from the Embassy of Sweden, Kuala Lumpur, which had closed down, but instead Sweden’s mission in Jakarta attended.

However it was by then also cleared that the closure would thankfully be short-lived – as it had been announced in early August that the embassy would be reinstated in Kuala Lumpur. Thus the business members and friends had more than one reason to be merry as they celebrated in style at the Upper Deck of Tanzini, G Tower.

Back to the 80’s
Welcoming the party was Sweden’s new General Consul in Kuala Lumpur, Yang Mulia Tunku Dato’ Ya’acob bin Tunku Tan Sri Abdullah.

In addition, President Hans Björnered, as well was Jan Orrnert who was running Astra Zeneca’s operations back in 1986 when MASBA was started, held welcome speeches. Jan recalled how he had then just been called back to Malaysia to take over the operations for the second time, while he has these days chosen the country as his second home. He related how he got a phone call from Volvo, wishing to set up a platform for Swedish companies and their contacts within Malaysia.

Being the only one still around in Malaysia from back then, Jan reflected that it was like being asked to be interviewed for a history book as he had been asked to relate how MASBA had been set up.

After some sleepy years during the early 1990s MASBA was reignited in 1998 to form the basis it still has today, says its president.

“We had decided quite soon regarding this 25-year anniversary to put on a party,” says Hans.

The celebration suitably had a 1980’s theme and Hans’ organising colleagues within MASBA, Claudia Stenström and Ann-Sofie Jangbäck, had come up with this idea to reconnect to the inaugural year. They had researched the culture and some milestones from back then relating to Sweden: it was the year Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered and the Triss lottery was introduced, for instance.

Miami Vice, the legendary 1980’s clothing fashion, the balloon dance etc. were also part of the event’s cultural theme.

The jubilee was also a suitable replacement for the annual Ambassador’s Dinner, a tradition since 2003, which could for obvious reasons not be held this year. Sponsored by either Handelsbanken och SEB, MASBA is however confident that the Swedes and their colleagues in Malaysia will get that dinner tradition restarted in 2012 as both a Swedish ambassador as well as a new embassy residence are expected to be fully operational by that time next year.

It should also be mentioned that that the former mission hosted an auspicious Nobel dinner earlier in the year, during the Innovation Week and coinciding with a touring Nobel exhibition visiting Malaysia and where former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad was guest of honour.

U-turn on closure
On the more party-oriented front MASBA also co-organises the annual Christmas dinner in December together with its other Nordic friends – usually featuring the Swedish chef Michael Elfwing – and which draws no less than 400 guests and is something to be proud of, thinks Hans.

Another activity MASBA has had up to now is breakfast meetings at the Swedish embassy twice per year.

“Then the Swedish ambassador has spoken on the Swedish analysis of politics in Malaysia, and his deputy has briefed on the economy in the country. The latter we can we can get info on from various sources but it is always interesting to have a dialogue about Sweden’s view on the country and where Swedish companies get to give input.”

When the embassy was replaced with General Consulate earlier this year, MASBA were to meet with the Swedish Trade Council to discuss the new reality and how they could fill the gaps; Sweden’s view on Malaysian politics, for example.   

“But we did not even get started before the decision came of the U-turn to reopen the embassy as soon as possible. Then we decided to quickly establish contact with our General Consul in order to see in what way we can benefit from him during this interim period.”

Business promotion and events
As for analysis and initiatives regarding business sectors, new patterns for investment and niche markets the Swedish Trade Council does such analysis and sees the trends, according to the MASBA president.

“The pattern we can see is that there are less new companies being established and significant changes in the large corporations. The largest Swedish employer here is Ericsson and they no longer have the regional hub in Kuala Lumpur in the way they used to. And I believe the number of Swedish expats in Kuala Lumpur has drastically decreased in a year – we are now guessing at around 350 – 400. That’s a significant decrease compared to the top in 2001, when we were 1200.”

Initiating business and trade promotional activities traditionally fall on the trade section with Sweden’s embassy as well as on the Swedish Trade Council while MASBA plays a role as a party coinciding with any events such as when business delegation visits Malaysia – which the Embassy of Sweden in Singapore for example did in early 2011.

“Regarding doing something for any specific sectors, such as health tourism etc., we work tightly with them and where we have different responsibilities. Our role is to attract Malaysian companies to join and to arrange a dinner, for instance. If coming from Sweden there could also be couples and perhaps feature a programme for joining spouses.”

New potential members
A more immediate concern for MASBA is to try and compensate for the ten corporate members they have lost due to these companies no longer having a Swedish management.

It’s a trend, says Hans who have been in Malaysia for 12 years, that it is no longer only Swedish managers in Swedish companies.  

“It clearly goes towards cutting down on the number of expats and recruiting locally. There are Swedes here staying on who’ve had to accept other contract deals and are now employed locally instead of as expats.”

MASBA is based on volunteer work except for one locally employed administrative manager.

“Then we are seeing this as a bit worrying, as our whole operation is based on membership fees and sponsorships. With fewer members the budget gets slightly tightened and we have less leeway than before.”

Given the new situation the board is now working on these financing issues and have actually identified a number of new companies that are potential members.

As for any particular sectors where Swedish competence could enter Malaysia, Hans mentions healthcare, environmental issues and car security but also IT and biotechnology, which have been focus areas for 6-7 years now.

“Within health tourism: sending patients to Malaysia for rehabilitation at an inexpensive price is a big one – there are loads of things for Swedish businesses to do within this.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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