Digerati50: Thorn amongst the roses

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Long track record of breaking the glass ceiling in a number of areas
  • Company she founded recognised for potential to truly go global
Digerati50: Thorn amongst the roses

WOMEN executives may not be a rarity in the Malaysian ICT industry, but they’re definitely under-represented at that level, with the national ICT association Pikom reporting that they earn about 35% less than their male counterparts.
It’s even worse in the ‘boys club’ atmosphere of the contact centre and outsourcing sector, where Brandt International founder, president and chief executive officer Munirah Looi stands out not merely because of her gender, but because of her achievements too.
“I’m the thorn among the roses,” she chuckles, disdaining traditional gender stereotyping. In a previous job, she was the first female vice-president at Citibank Malaysia to hold the divisional head position, before she went on to a global role as customer experience director, based in New York.
The tough-talking 54-year-old, hailing from a financial background and armed with extensive business experience in the United Kingdom and Asia in a wide variety of industries, set out to found Brandt in 2004 when the call centre industry was all the rage, both locally and in the wider region.
Since then, the industry itself has undergone challenges and transformations, and Munirah has been at the helm leading those changes within her company, armed with a CV that gets more impressive every passing year.
Besides managing a successful business, she is also an active contributor in various industry and NGO (non-governmental organisation) activities.
She was the president of the CRM & Contact Centre Association of Malaysia from 2005 to 2006, during which time she championed various efforts to position the contact centre industry as a ‘career of choice.’ She is currently a vice-president at the association.
She is also an elected member of Outsourcing Malaysia, a Pikom chapter, where she focuses on driving the Business Services NKEA (National Key Economic Area) for the Government’s Economic Tranformation Programme (ETP). She and her team there have been tasked with helping Malaysia position itself as a Global Outsourcing Hub.
Industry pundits say it was her insight in leading Brandt International that saw the MSC Malaysia status company being recognised by the Malaysian Government as one of the top eight local business process outsourcing (BPO) companies that have the potential to go global.
At the recommendation of Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), which is in charge of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project which aims to develop the ICT industry in Malaysia; and government agency Pemandu (Performance Management & Delivery Unit), which manages the ETP; Brandt International has been incorporated into the Government’s fast-track programme to support its expansion plan to go global.
This required Brandt International going through a process of self-evaluation. When she saw an opportunity to fill gaps, Munirah led her company to seal a partnership with Chennai-headquartered Servion Global Services, also an MSC Malaysia company, a mere month after first opening discussions.
“We have ambitious plans for next year; our target is to go into emerging markets such as Cambodia and Vietnam,” she says, adding that the partnership with Servion was going to be key in approaching regional markets, and its ultimate plan to kick off a public listing exercise in 2016, at which time it is targeting to hit RM100 million (US$31 million) in turnover.
Munirah, married for 30 years and with three sons in their 20s, is keenly aware of being a woman in an industry sector that rarely sees women executives rise to the top, but expects no special treatment.
Indeed, the Master 6-Sigma Black Belt is doing something about it as chairman of the trustee of the Women Extraordinaire Foundation, which aims to educate and empower women in Malaysia.
“We aim to make women potential leaders of the family, community and country, and to inspire them in their career and lives,” she says.

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