Kopitiam Chat: Food Inflation
  • 2022-05-19 00:00
  • Tsinghua BRI EMBA Program
  • views

On May 14, 2022, students from the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) Executive MBA Program gathered offline in Kuala Lumpur for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak began. As per invitation of Tan Sri Ter Leong Yap, Executive Chairman at Sunsuria Bhd and the class leader of Cohort 3 of the BRI EMBA Program, three distinguished Malaysian business magnates - Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian, CEO of KLK Bhd, Dr. Chia Song Kun, Founder and Chairman of QL Resources Bhd, and Teoh Kok Lin, Founder and CIO of Singular Asset Management – shared their insights on the issue of food inflation. Other students of the BRI EMBA Program participated virtually.

After the ‘Great Inflation of the 1970s’, the world has enjoyed 40 years of disinflation from many structural drivers. With recent spikes in inflation, the conversational-style Kopitiam (‘coffee shop’) chat with key business leaders in food staples prompted students of the BRI EMBA Program to think about the direction of these structural drivers as the world is trending towards a new inflationary era amid the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Teoh Kok Lin highlights the importance of food inflation.

Teoh Kok Lin is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Singular Asset Management Sdn Bhd, a fund management company established in 2002. He is also the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Singular Asset Management (Singapore) Ltd. Teoh has over 35 years of experience in banking, credit and investment with financial institutions such as Citicorp Citibank Malaysia, Barings Malaysia, HSBC Research Malaysia and UOB Kay Hian Singapore. He is one of the earliest Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) in Malaysia and a former president of the CFA Society Malaysia.

Going over the Great Inflation problem of the US in the 1970s and the rapid development phase that ensued for the world economy as a result of a low-interest environment, globalization and digitalization, Teoh highlighted the important question of whether those very key drivers of low interest rate over the past 40 years will still be there today. He said that clearly there would be a lot of interest-adjusting movements going forward which would pose huge challenges for the economy. Meanwhile, food inflation deserves particular attention as it can greatly aggravate the problem of food insecurity. 

Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian shares his expertise on palm oil.

Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian is the Chief Executive Officer of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (“KLK”) since 2001. He graduated from the University of Malaya in Agricultural Science in 1974, followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1977. He is the second generation with KLK, a British publicly-listed Plantations company that his father acquired control in 1970. Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) started as a rubber estates company in 1906 and today, palm oil plantations is the group’s core business. KLK presently has about 300,000 planted hectares spread across Malaysia (Peninsular and Sabah), Indonesia and Liberia.

“In terms of the competitive landscape of edible oils, palm oil is the most productive oil in the world,” Tan Sri Lee explained, “palm oil is a very efficient oil using very little of the space in the world for its production.” Having served in various positions over the past 40 years in the palm oil industry associations dedicated to promotion and research, Tan Sri Lee shared at length his almost encyclopedic knowledge on palm oil as well as his company’s business operations and technology’s impact on his industry.

Dr. Chia Song Kun comments on the stable nature of the food industry.

Dr. Chia Song Kun was appointed as the Group Managing Director of QL Resources Berhad on 3 January 2000 and re-designated as the Executive Chairman on 1 April 2018. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree majoring in Mathematics from the University of Malaya in 1973 and obtained a Master in Business Administration in 1988 from the same university. He started his career as a tutor and subsequently joined University Teknologi Mara as a lecturer where he served for 11 years until 1984. After his lecturing years, Dr. Chia, along with his brothers and his brothers-in-law, began trading in fish meal and feed meal raw material. The business they founded was subsequently incorporated as QL Resources Berhad.

Commenting on the stable nature of the food industry, Dr. Chia said “the food business is a good business to do.” He said that inflation is not something to worry about so much especially in a business environment like Malaysia’s, in which the government puts out many measures to control and help businesses. However, there’s only so much that can be controlled, Dr. Chia stressed, so businesses should adopt a reactive strategy with moderate ambition and reasonable hedging. 

This Kopitiam Chat was organized and sponsored by Tan Sri Ter Leong Yap, Executive Chairman at Sunsuria Bhd and the class leader of Cohort 3 of the BRI EMBA Program. It served as part of the BRI EMBA Program’s two-day learning module on technology investment taught virtually by Dr. Jack Qinghong Yang. With almost 70% of the students enrolled in the Program based overseas, remote learning and online class meetings have benefited students in terms of time and location flexibility. However, as countries gradually began to ease travel restrictions, many students have been yearning for the in-person experience. This Kopitiam Chat was a great hybrid get-together for the students.

Since its inception in May 2017, the BRI EMBA Program has attracted more than 180 high-level enterprise decision-makers from 22 countries and regions, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United States, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan. A number of students from Southeast Asian Countries hold Tan Sri, Dato' Sri, Dato’, Tengku and other honorary titles. Nearly 40% of the students graduated from world-renowned universities such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.