Practitioners Perspectives // February 19,2021

Leadership Ruminations From a Covid-19 Survivor

Featuring: Ariffin Mamat , Vice President, Corporate Transformation National Aquaculture Group, Saudi Arabia


Ariffin Mamat Vice President, Corporate Transformation National Aquaculture Group, Saudi Arabia

How has your recent Covid-19 survivor experience shaped your perspectives on your purpose?

My outlook to life has changed.  I have consciously slowed down chasing goals and wiser in my choices towards what to chase, who to chase and where to chase. I am now more focused on quality than quantity. I want to give more to those who are not as privileged as we are, I am full of love for all and there is no space for animosity in my life. More importantly, my relationship with God has improved and I am more spiritually inclined now.

What can family run businesses learn from professionally run enterprises?

Both parties can learn much from each other as they have complementary strengths. However, what often goes wrong in a family business is succession planning. Sibling rivalry and family feuds enter once the second generation takes over. And this is when the founder’s vision gets diluted and destroyed.

What family run enterprises can adopt from professional enterprises is:

  • Invest in hiring a professional Chief Executive Officer (CEO) similar to a corporate when it is time for the second generation to take over
  • Family businesses are so proud of what has worked so far and continue doing the same and do not open themselves up for innovation and creativity. This is when external professionals can add fresh thinking and new ideas, and this is important for family ventures to thrive and flourish
  • On the other hand, the strong adherence to vision and values of family run business is worthy of emulation and how the original vision remains sacrosanct even after going public.

What is the hardest aspect of people and business transformation?

Transformation for me is how a caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly. And it is only a compelling vision that drives it and the best transformations can happen when a crisis like this affects humanity and a new normal is co-created.

The hardest aspect when it comes to people and business transformation is the inability of a leader to engage the mind and heart of the stakeholders due to failure in describing the outcomes, benefits, and the end goals of the transformation journey. Leaders need to be convinced themselves of the end goals so that they are able to communicate these with intensity to their teams.

From your experience what does constructive politics mean to you?

Achieving objectives without making others feel manipulated or deprived is what constructive politics means to me. It must manifest itself as a “win-win”, and I would redefine constructive politics as activities to empower organizations to create more value by increasing power and sphere of accountability for all key stakeholders. Constructive politics is desirable.

What would be your suggestions for groups to become teams?

Groups come together for social or spiritual needs with unity and harmony and there is no performance quotient involved here. However, a Team comes together for specific objectives and performance is involved and is measured for results.

And it is not necessary for all groups to become teams, when it becomes a necessity the objective has to be made clear and agreed upon by team member, measurement criteria established and the approach, roles and responsibilities clearly spelt out. This will transform groups to teams.

How do you see talent and learning transforming post the current crisis?

The fact is, there is no clue on how long this crisis will last nor its impact across geographies. There is no clarity yet on what expectations from users, consumers, employees, and leaders will be. However, the transformation agenda must be clear and it definitely cannot be a one solution fits all.

Digital drive will be a deliberate change and this crisis only accelerates this imminent need for digital transformation. Some of the other transformations that are visible and aligning to the new normal are in the 1. food industry – smart farming and multiple-yield, 2. micro entrepreneurs 3. remote working and 4. being adaptable, useful and adding value to businesses.

What has the aquaculture industry taught you about leadership?

Leadership is same across the globe, irrespective of whether it is aquaculture or agriculture and it is all about getting the most and best out of your team. What is special about Aquaculture is that most of the farms exist in remote places. NAQUA (National Aquaculture) is about 2 hours’ drive from Jeddah. And we have employees coming together from different parts of the globe, so diversity and inclusivity ranks high for us and we take extra care with regard to employee welfare and lead with compassion and empathy. At the end of the day our business thrives on animal and employee lives, both need to be dealt with compassion.

How would you describe your current role to an eight-year-old?

What I do is the reason you and I have fresh and tasty seafood on our plates now and for a long time to come.

What are the leadership lessons that have helped you the most in your career?

My career has been dotted with learning from my former bosses, the moment I realize that there is no further learning, I switch jobs. Some of the valuable lessons being:

  • No horses for all courses approach – Identify the right person for the right job. The right solutions for the right problems.
  • Different Strokes for different people – Adjust your approach according to people you are dealing with, but always following certain principles.
  • 1+1 = should be bigger than 2 as synergy between people needs to be leveraged to bring about bigger and multiplier outcomes
  • Show courage and candour, stand up for the employees and take the blame – be the leader that people want to follow always
  • You only harvest what you grow, so grow wisely – Outcomes are dependent on your actions, so act accordingly
  • Focus on outcomes and not on output – Make sure work focuses on outcomes and not just activities

Apart from these, I have learnt from my boss in America, at Texas Instruments that “You get what you accept”. He was the one who taught me that only if our expectations are high will we be able to obtain higher levels of performance.

From my boss from Hong Kong, Unilever, I learnt “Why walk slowly when you can walk fast”.

From my boss at NAQUA in Saudi Arabia, I learnt to have a big heart. Once I went up to him and alerted him on the advent of two new farms in the neighbourhood, and I thought I was very smart. And he said “Ariffin, it is okay”. We will share with others, after all we are all in the same industry. This is something I hold dearly even today.

In your opinion, how can CHROs become CEOs?

CHROs must:

  • Want to be the number one, the desire must be strong
  • Once they know this, they must consciously prepare themselves for it. Consciously learn the language of the business – Money, KPIs, Metrics
  • They must measure themselves against specific benchmarks
  • It is important that they leverage their people management strengths


Transformation for me is how a caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly. And it is only a compelling vision that drives it and the best transformations can happen when a crisis like this affects humanity and a new normal is co-created.


How do you learn to become a better leader?

We have multiple opportunities to learn every day. How I do it is through:

– Learning from MISTAKES. Embrace fail-fast approaches to inculcate an environment of learning

– Learning from SUCCESS of others and emulating their principles of excellence.

– Learning from customers, employees, suppliers, learning from EVERYONE.

– OBSERVING & keeping your eyes and ears open and mouth in delayed action.

Ariffin Mamat Ariffin Mamat

Vice President, Corporate Transformation
National Aquaculture Group, Saudi Arabia

Ariffin Mamat played a significant leadership role to grow the Aquaculture Business in Saudi Arabia, expanding the products consumption from local market to the global market. He built the corporate team at the most senior level with experts from different parts of the world, launched the company’s Vision and Values, and delivered results through inspiring and visionary leadership. He has worked across industries (Manufacturing, Electronics, FMCG, Aquaculture) and in different countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Asia Pacific Countries, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Middle East countries, North Africa countries).

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