Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid, a Malaysian at heart but a global visionary by profession, has marked his footprint in the ever-evolving world of future mobility. As the senior lead strategy for China Europe Vehicle Technology AB (CEVT AB), a centrum part of ZEEKR (GEELY Electric Vehicles) in the European Union since September 2021, Umar’s role includes “leading the strategy for Zeekr’s digital and software-related products in the European Union market.” His journey began in Kuala Lumpur and quickly expanded, allowing him to represent Malaysia and Southeast Asia globally.
Life in the Nordics
Umar’s transition from Malaysia to Finland before moving to Sweden, where he currently resides, was transformative. He recalls the most significant shift being “the level of trust in a professional environment”. This newfound environment instilled confidence in Umar. When presenting technology ideas for the first time abroad, he was pleasantly surprised by the respect and attention his expertise received.
“Not everyone has the same expertise,” he asserts, emphasising that Malaysians must recognise and harness their unique strengths.
Life in the Nordics also introduced Umar to a different work-life balance, where he could maintain a healthy equilibrium between his personal and professional life. He experienced the benefits of a culture that values individual growth and quality of life. Umar’s professional journey led him to work in a European automotive conglomerate, leveraging his international experience to contribute to the industry significantly.
Overcoming the Inferiority Complex
According to Umar, a significant challenge that many Malaysians experience is an inferiority complex. He believes this could result from cultural norms that encourage caution in communication. Living abroad, particularly in Finland, opened Umar’s eyes to the value of directness and transparency in communication.
“Transparent and honest feedback enhances communication,” he explains, emphasising the importance of such candid exchanges in business.
His experiences abroad taught him the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and confidently expressing his ideas, regardless of cultural differences.
Roots and Recognition
Although Umar has lived abroad for over ten years, he has never lost his connection to his Malaysian heritage. He has introduced the diligent and tireless work ethic of Malaysians to his community in Sweden. He has taught his children about the Malay language and culture using textbooks from Malaysia. Despite being far away, Umar’s efforts have helped his family stay connected to their home country.
“I take pride in representing Malaysia on the global stage,” he shares. Through his speeches, where he mentions iconic symbols like the Petronas Twin Towers or teaching his children about their Malaysian heritage, Umar’s love for his homeland shines through.
This pride was further cemented when he received the Young Industry Leadership Award from Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a significant recognition in the automotive industry. “This award is a significant achievement as it highlights the success of someone from Southeast Asia working in Europe’s automotive industry. It also puts me on par with industry leaders,” he beams.
Addressing the Brain Drain
Umar’s success abroad sheds light on a significant issue: the brain drain in Malaysia. While he acknowledges the country’s potential to nurture world-class talent, many leave for various reasons. “It’s not because people want to leave, but certain factors need to be addressed to improve the situation,” he opines.
To address this issue, Umar believes that companies need to offer appropriate measures for talent retention and collaborate with the government to create an environment conducive to growth.
As Umar balances his professional pursuits abroad, he remains committed to preserving his Malaysian identity. His experiences offer valuable lessons for aspiring talents, emphasising the importance of collaboration, transparency, and unwavering belief in Malaysia’s potential. Umar eloquently says, “We need more Malaysians abroad with the mindset of eventually returning. This is a path to becoming a developed nation.” With Umar’s journey as inspiration, the legacy of the Malaysian diaspora continues to flourish, igniting a brighter future for all.
As of October 2023, Umar has returned to Malaysia under the Returning Expert Programme (REP). “I’ve been thinking about returning to Malaysia since late 2022, but I have been waiting for the right opportunity that can allow me to still maintain that international presence and growth while also being local in Malaysia.”
Umar is now the Senior Program Manager for Product Export and International Product Marketing at PROTON, a role that allows him to stay within the GEELY ecosystem but contributing something back to Malaysia. He believes that the exposure and experience he gained from his journey abroad has allowed him to build up his confidence and broaden his horizons.
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