PROTON is a company in a hurry to go places and that mindset is embodied by its energetic Chief Executive Office, Dr. Li Chunrong. It’s been 18 months since his arrival at PROTON and vast changes are evident for all to see ranging from a flatter management structure to much-needed improvements at the cafeteria. To get a better understanding of how he has achieved so much in a short space of time, Geely Stories took five minutes of his time to ask Dr. Li about his Malaysian adventure:
PROTON is a company in a hurry to go places and that mindset is embodied by its energetic Chief Executive Office, Dr. Li Chunrong. While sales of PROTON vehicles remains relatively small on a global scale, Dr. Li intends to make wholesale changes that will vault the Malaysian national carmaker into the international arena and make it a major player outside of the borders of its home turf.
Getting there however has been and will continue to be an interesting journey. Following Geely’s acquisition of a 49.9% stake in PROTON in 2017, Dr. Li was charged with turning the company around and integrating it with Geely. Initially overwhelmed by the differences in culture, he is now fitting in well with his new Malaysian family of staff while listening closely to market and consumer feedback. He would be the first to admit it can be a tiring job that can lead to long hours at work, but Dr. Li also believes PROTON has an opportunity to regain the trust of its customers.
It’s been 18 months since his arrival at PROTON and vast changes are evident for all to see ranging from a flatter management structure to much-needed improvements at the cafeteria. To get a better understanding of how he has achieved so much in a short space of time, Geely Stories took five minutes of his time to ask Dr. Li about his Malaysian adventure:
How are you adjusting to life in Malaysia?
Malaysia is a beautiful country that I wish I had more time to explore. I am currently working 12-hour days for six days a week to quickly turn PROTON around so this takes up most of my time. Ever since we launched the Proton X70, our business has gained a lot of momentum and just last month in April, two new facelift models were launched, the 2019 Iriz and Persona.
All this can only be achieved with hard work and dedication, which means long hours inside the office instead of outside. As long as the fruits of these labours can be seen, I do not mind dedicating the bulk of my time to improving PROTON, but I do wish I can make more time to discover what this country has to offer, especially the food. Malaysia is a melting pot of various cultures that can be experienced through its food. At first, the food was completely foreign to me and I wasn’t quite accustomed to its taste, in particular the use of spices and chili. However, after 18 months of being here, I now cannot live without my weekly dose of nasi lemak and char koay teow. The food grows on you and it is one of the most unique flavours I have ever experienced.
What do you think of the Malaysian car industry?
The Malaysian car industry is very interesting. You have two local brands along with Japanese, Korean and European brands. It is a relatively small market but the competition is intense. Malaysians love their cars, whether from an aesthetic standpoint or in terms of performance, safety as well as brand image. We also have a government that is fully supportive of the local car industry, whether it be for local brands or for the various foreign brands that have set up factories in Malaysia. Many incentives are in place to help the country grow its local automotive industry which in turn will help boost Malaysia’s engineering and manufacturing capabilities and expertise.
How do you think you can succeed in Malaysia?
PROTON has an advantage in that it is Malaysia’s first national car. Many people have at one point in their lives owned a PROTON and have fond memories of the brand. With two strong partners behind it, we are extremely confident that we can bring PROTON back to its glory days and reclaim the number one spot of being Malaysia’s most loved automobile brand. With a pipeline full of great products matched with next-level automotive technologies, I am confident of PROTON’s prospects in Malaysia, as well as in key export markets that we are targeting in the very near future.
On top of that, I have always encouraged my team, myself included, to always listen to the market and respond to the needs of our customers. By doing so, customers will learn to appreciate our products even more because it offers features, they want thus giving the impression that PROTON is a brand that listens and cares. With such a positive brand image, I feel reassured success is within our grasp.
The Proton X70 SUV has been received well, what’s next?
Yes, the market reaction to the Proton X70 has been positive. The SUV has been praised for its design, quality, performance, safety, technology and affordability. Since its launch, consumers have seen a new side of the PROTON brand, but we still have a long way to go. More work needs to be done throughout the production, sales and service functions to make us stronger and to achieve our targets, we have many initiatives in the pipeline that will see our products and services improved in a lot of ways.
Given your hectic schedule, what do you find is the best way to relax?
I hardly find any time to relax. Even when I am not working, my mind is constantly thinking about my next meeting or improvements that I would like to make. The only time when I am able to not think about work at all is when I get to play badminton as it requires complete focus. I was happy to learn that Malaysians have the same level of interest in the game as the Chinese and it is never difficult to find someone to play with or to offer me a proper challenge.