Big shoes to fill in at The Star

The successor to Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai at the Star Media Group (SMG), following his decision to retire as its managing director and chief executive officer, will have big shoes to fill.

It will be a tough act to follow, more so when media outlets around the world are facing strong revenue and profit pressures.

Chun Wai, who helmed SMG for the past six years has managed to keep the company profitable as its competitors ran into losses.

He was one of the earliest to create new revenue streams from innovative events such as the Anak Anak Malaysia Walk, Ride For Malaysia and Raise The Flag, which have become brands.

The #StandTogether” campaign, with SP Setia, won international recognition at WAN-IFRA in Hong Kong last month.

It was the first for a Malaysian news media company to win a branded content award internationally. Wong has cleverly carried out these campaigns without strong commercial overtones and yet be seen as part of CSR.

He also branded himself as a moderation advocate and managed to pull together big names to join his campaign.

The moderation campaign resonated well with Malaysians, and The Star was the first media house to use the term before politicians jumped onto the bandwagon.

He has also managed to grow the number of unique visitors of The Star Online to 8 million, the highest of any Malaysian news portal, with an estimated RM27mil in annual revenue.

The e-paper of The Star also crossed the 100,000 mark, making the paper’s digital replica of the print copy a success.

But Chun Wai, who has been one of the longest serving MD of the Star, is probably the only one who has worn many hats.

He was known for his hands on approach, took part in business decisions, wrote columns, broke news exclusives, struck deals and even found time to teach at Universiti Utara Malaysia as an adjunct professor.

Wong remains the only Malaysian to be elected into the Paris-based World Editors Forum.

He was also chairman of the Bangkok-based Asia News Network. Last month, he was picked to be an Exco member of WAN-IFRA’s Asia Pacific council.

Chun Wai was known for his ability to do the balancing walk on the political tightrope when dealing with powerful political forces.

Unlike other CEOs of public listed companies, he had to take on many fronts. He had a job that no one envied with the tremendous pressures and yet he held on well.

He was the one that editors turned to each time the newspaper ran into trouble, especially with the Home Ministry.

“He was the go-to man. All he needed to do was make a few phone calls and the issues were resolved.”

Unknown to many, Chun Wai made the decision to retire on Dec 24, 2017, and he had informed the board of directors of his plans.

A close colleague said he made the decision during an overseas trip, “which changed him profoundly with a new philosophy on life.” The colleague adds that Chun Wai, who often regarded himself as a city man, also began making trips to the forests and the seas.

Another reporter said he plans to be involved in some missionary work with the Penans in Long Lamai in Sarawak.

The newspaper owner, the MCA, which holds 43% of the company shares, was informed of his decision.

“Yes, I told Liow Tiong Lai, who was then MCA President and Wee Ka Siong, then deputy president, of my decision. They told me to continue, as my contract only ends in 2020.”

“I wanted the transformation plan to continue. It was not just about moving from print to digital but also succession planning and bringing in new talents and new skills.”

Liow was a university mate of Wong at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and both were contemporaries.

He said he was asked to hold on to his plans until after the general election was concluded and the board finally granted his wish last month. The official announcement was made without his successor being named.
Chun Wai will officially step down on Jan 1, 2019.

He confirmed that he had proposed his successor but he was not at liberty to reveal it as the ultimate decision lies with the Board of Directors.

“I am sure the BOD will use their wisdom to make a correct decision, and that they will make the decision at an appropriate time,” he said.

The media industry has been abuzz with speculations following last week’s announcement as no successor was named, in its filing to Bursa.

Chun Wai has accepted the post of Group Advisor, where he is expected to use his wealth of editorial and corporate contacts to assist the company.

It is understood he will be allowed to take up directorship outside SMG, as part of the deal.

But it won’t be the last we hear of him as he said he would continue writing his hugely popular “On The Beat” column every Sunday.

By Professor Harmandar Singh

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