Madeleine Mandorff – the New Director of MASBA


With Madeleine Mandorff having entered as Director of MASBA (the Malaysian-Swedish Business Association) in early 2013, the association has received a boost, according to a member comment, and from what appears to be happening on the activity front. So it is clear that she has injected some new blood into the organisation.

Madeleine, who is Swedish and a retired expatriate in Kuala Lumpur (who looks like anything but!), with a long international career in her CV, introduces herself and explains her new adventure so far.

Just do it
Having worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden and the UN organisation IAEA for 25 years, (partly under Hans Blix) she is used to a being hands-on, and walking the talk. So at MASBA she has gone about things the same way, and that has meant a slow change process at times.

Officially retired she has still had various consultancy work in the past few years and then increasingly become involved and active in various associations, of which MASBA is among the most important ones; certainly since she was appointed as its Director.

It soon appears clear that Madeleine is not the kind of person who sits down doing nothing. We start with MASBA.

“I learned that there was a lot that could be done – and that it could become a challenge in trying to improve MASBA. It has taken over a year; longer than I had expected. But I’m hopeful now. It feels like all the work is paying off, and there is hope. And Sweden is the extended arm. Now I’m interested in Sweden,” says Madeleine over coffee near her home, not far from downtown Kuala Lumpur.

“We are focusing on what we are meant for, which is business, and then we can mix that a bit with social activities. And it shows that when one focuses on business people attend as that is why they are part of MASBA,” thinks Madeleine. “It’s on the up!“

Though she says she wants to be modest about her contribution.

“I have taken on the task perhaps differently than how it was done previously. I’m used to work in a structured way. If you say something you do it. So I just continued like I am used to work, for good and for bad.”

Madeleine encountered some obstacles – that things should be done in a certain manner and remain the same. Then she dropped the consideration and started moving forward; “going on like a steamroller.”

Swedish triangle
The breakthrough came this year, when the board agreed to proceed with a new approach and strengthen the collaboration with the Embassy of Sweden. They met and agreed to do things jointly and also partnered up with Business Sweden. Madeleine wants to strengthen this as the Swedish triangle, plus SWEA.

“I want to have quality and finally one began to realise that yes, one can have that. So we agreed and wanted to start with song and dance; with a quality event.”

This resulted in the networking evening, held in late April with a keynote speaker, Mr. Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive, Institute for Democracy and Economics Affairs (IDEAS), held at the prestigious address the Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC) and with all the Nordic Ambassadors to Malaysia in attendance.

The event was a sounding success and where the speaker certainly captured the interest of the audience by his informative talk about ‘’Malaysian Politics and Economy: an Update.’

They are now planning to hold evenings of this kind at least twice annually in the future.

Aside this the annual, traditional Ambassador’s Dinner continues as well as the Nordic Christmas Dinner.

Singapore preferred choice
On the business front there is no improvement in sight in terms of the number of Swedish companies and Swedish expats. A recent study by MASBA actually showed that the quantity of companies from Sweden had declined even in Singapore, which is the preferred country of choice for most.

“Someone [from Sweden] about to set up business in Southeast Asia does their research. Then they see that most others are based in Singapore, and then they choose that as well. We are a bit said about that, as we want to promote Malaysia. Yes, there may be more difficulties here with government agencies and all the permissions needed. But it would be much cheaper for firms to set up here; labour costs less, rentals are lower etc., but not everyone discusses like that.”

“And to succeed here, one must have strong nerves and be patient. You don’t make money here fast. You must work the market a long time and stay the course. You must learn and have enough capital to be patient,” is Madeleine’s advice based on what she has seen.

Choosing Malaysia
Privately, she says she has worked a bit in Malaysia and enjoys a good life and rents a nice apartment. She is single so she has all the time in the world for herself.

“Then I have assignments in various associations. As an, formerly, anti-association person I have become very active. I realised early on that I had to stop being against things – and then my life changed. I joined many associations.”

She is part of SWEA (Swedish Women’s Educational Association), where they are between 50 to 6o local members.

“The atmosphere’s just nice. We’re a group with rather young members enjoying both social exchanges, discovering Kuala Lumpur and doing cultural things together. As those working for Swedish firms in general have short contract, there is often a quick turnover of our members,” she says about SWEA.

She is also part of International Women and Malaysia Culture Group – “good for learning about culture in this region.”

During her working career she always preferred Southeast Asia and wanted to retire here. Actually she first had planned to settle down in Vietnam. But being solo and moving up healthcare on the priority list she had to reconsider.

“I decided to think logically, so certain countries could no longer come in question. By using the process of elimination I soon came to the conclusion that Malaysia was the preferred choice – as you have everything here.”

“And Malaysia is not a bad country in any way. I think I probably did myself a favour, regarding the language, and about things being easier here with authorities, plus the offer of the MM2H programme which I knew about.”

In November 2008 she arrived to Malaysia with her 4000 kg of belongs and has lived here since. Her first 18 months in Malaysia she spent adapting to and learning her new home country and city and getting to know people.

“I decided early to be more open in my new life; to find out if things may be more fun than I would have thought. And with that point of departure things are indeed much more fun! I have been a workaholic and I cannot blame anyone for having to retire. So I decided before that to accept it and do the best of it. And this was my way of doing it; moving quickly and not hanging on and moving forward!”

Her main interest is simply, after giving it a thought, to live a good life, in one way or the other.

“I’m interested in learning more about Malaysia, opening my eyes wide open. And to find out that one can learn so much more as a retired person, I had not expected!”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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