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This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on June 3, 2019 - June 9, 2019

After displaying an extraordinary ability to turn around hitherto struggling markets for Heineken in Vietnam and Cambodia, Sarawakian Roland Bala was hand-picked by the Dutch brewing company to run the business in Kuala Lumpur — the first time a Malaysian has been appointed to the job. He tells his fascinating life story to Anandhi Gopinath, right from his colourful corporate career to his passion for talent development and the focus and simplicity that have become his signature.


The first question that was asked of Heineken Malaysia’s new managing director Roland Bala immediately after his first town hall meeting with the staff was this: “Can I dress for work like you?” His chosen ensemble of jeans and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up seemed mighty appealing to a workforce accustomed to a more formal dress code under the company’s previous stewardship, and clearly everyone was ready for a change. “It’s quite funny how that was their first question,” he recalls with a laugh. “I told them, ‘I don’t care how you dress, I am only interested in your passion and your heart’.”

When the news broke of Bala’s appointment as managing director last September, it made headlines because he was the first Malaysian to hold the job — the Dutch brewing company has in the past only ever appointed non-Malaysians to head the company’s Kuala Lumpur-based operations. Although we might never understand the logic behind that decision in the past, there is no disputing the merit of putting Bala in pole position now — the man has displayed a remarkable ability to turn around struggling operations, based on a very simple mantra of focus and simplicity. By paring things down to a minimum, Bala has been able to home in on the major issues and establish the strategies with which to solve them.


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