Puzzle over Rafiza Ghazali’s appointment at Cradle

  • Chairman Yvonne Chia, declines to give reasons for choice of an outsider
  • New CEO’s background shows no clear interest in tech, disruption, startups

Puzzle over Rafiza Ghazali’s appointment at Cradle

Who? What! Why?

Four days after the surprising announcement of Rafiza Ghazali as the Group CEO of Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and these are still the three key questions the entire startup ecosystem is asking as it puzzles over the choice of an unknown corporate executive whose background shows no indication of any clear interest in technology, innovation, disruption or startups.

Her corporate career did include an almost four year stint at conglomerate Sime Darby where she held the innovation and corporate strategy role and where it appears she did nothing out of the ordinary.

Yet, Rafiza must have said something about her plans and vision for Cradle, that convinced the selection committee, led by seasoned corporate leader, Yvonne Chia as chairman, that she would make a better leader for Cradle than the acting-CEO, Razif Abdul Aziz, who was also one of the three finalists considered for the role. (DNA has not been able to identify who the third shortlisted candidate was).

The fact that the startup ecosystem widely considers Razif to have done a solid job as acting CEO, with much frustration, bafflement and even anger at the Board overlooking him, therefore warrants Chia to come out and state the reasons why the board made such a bold decision.

Yet, Chia has not yet replied to questions DNA has sent to her and has rebuffed my attempts to reach her directly. A set of questions sent to Rafiza through Cradle have not been forwarded to her as the Board has instructed Cradle to wait for Rafiza to start her role on 1 June.

There’s irony here as in the Cradle press release on Monday evening, Chia stressed that the Board and Rafiza’s top priority is to help Malaysian startups and tech entrepreneurs to navigate through the current challenges and evolve with the changing landscape.

But we’ll have to wait till 1st June and then the ecosystem has to trust that Chia has made the right decision in trusting someone totally from outside the tech and startup ecosystem, to help them navigate safely through the biggest economic challenge anyone has faced in their lifetime.

One unfortunate consequence of Chia remaining quiet on her reasons for picking Rafiza, is the not unexpected rise in speculation that this is a crony hire as both apparently know each other from their days in RHB bank in the early 2000s. Yet this is patently untrue as Chia left RHB in 2002 while Rafiza started at RHB in Dec 2003. Few will bother to check both their LinkedIn profiles, choosing instead to believe such a juicy snippet – and that is a gross injustice to Rafiza who already will have all eyes on her when she steps into the role left vacant by the peerless Nazrin Hassan, Cradle’s former CEO and key driver.

Conversely while all eyes will be on Rafiza, who leaves a small oil and gas listed company operating in Malaysia (note that the Cradle press release described the company as a MNC – it is not!), no one will be expecting great things from her. For she steps into an organization that, as one ecosystem leaders describes as, “has been operating like a well oiled (pun intended) machine”. There is no rescue job needed here.

The other advantage Rafiza has is working with Razif, who has been a paragon of professionalism. Overcoming his disappointment last year when his nomination as permanent CEO by previous minister Yeo Bee Yin was overruled by the Prime Minister’s Office, Razif has just focused on serving the ecosystem and leading Cradle with minimum fuss.

But still, all will be waiting to see what Rafiza and Chia’s game plan is for Cradle. The one clear gap in the ecosystem that Cradle has created, is the lack of sufficient corporate players to give jobs to the innovative startups in Cradle’s circle that have enterprise solutions.

Understandable, seasoned CTOs are most wary of trusting young startups with solving some of their problems but this is where Chia and Rafiza can bring their corporate connections to play and give Cradle’s startups a critical leg up they need to prove their capabilities.

If they manage to do this, nobody will remember the disquiet over Rafiza’s appointment.

Look out for the Tech Talk Friday's conversation I had with Roshan Thiran, CEO of Leaderonomics on this same story but where I was a lot more raw and spontaneous. Video will be posted on LinkedIn.


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