Durian is in season again. This king of fruits, which smells like hell yet tastes like heaven, is selling well at KL night buffets. These have lately sprouted all over the city. Durian lovers do not mind the high prices. Some stalls charge as much as RM60 per person. At this time, the fruits come mainly from Perak, probably Changkat Jering. They never fail to attract big crowds addicted to their unique taste and aroma.
Each year, my classmates and I adjourn to a mansion in Janda Baik to feast on durian. Our generous host is a classmate, with a science background, who has made good in the world of business. Datuk Khalilur Rahman Ebrahim would easily qualify as a true achiever in the subject of commercialising science.
His story fits in well with the current government initiative to raise the level of entrepreneurship among youth. Kudos to the government for this noble initiative by the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) , an entity within the Finance Ministry.
Khalilur, or Datuk Karl as he is affectionately known, ventured into his current business before the establishment of MaGIC. Trained as an engineer and scientist, he was one of those Tenaga scholars who studied at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom.
Later he obtained a Master’s degree from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Scientists usually shy away from business. Not Datuk Karl. After spending a few years as an engineer with Tenaga Nasional, he moved to Sapura Holdings as head of R&D. That was where the business of commercialising R&D proved to be handy. Under his leadership the R&D team came up with many products, mostly telecommunications related, which were successfully commercialised by Sapura. He may even be the first Malaysian to design and produce a smartphone!
After 10 years at Sapura he was ready to seek a new challenge. He founded System Consultancy Services Sdn Bhd which went from strength to strength. It is now a major force in technology-driven business with investment in R&D that can match some of the outfits in the West.
Over the years, Datuk Karl’s company has been involved in all kinds of technology-driven projects. One of his subsidiaries, DK Composites, manufactures yachts using advanced composite materials. Some of his projects took him to countries in the Middle East, including Iraq where his company built the domes of mosques during the time of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Most of his other projects revolved around telecommunication technologies, which must surely count among his pet technology areas. Now he is delving into cybersecurity and drones, components of the 4th industrial revolution.
I know for a fact that his passion for such science and technologies started way back during his high school days at Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).
He was fond of tinkering with electrical equipment, taking them apart and putting them back together. This may have contributed to his innovative nature. He was also providing the electrical backup for the musical bands. He would always be on hand, taking care of the amplifiers or speakers.
We all know that commercialising R&D is one of the biggest challenges faced by the nation’s universities and R&D institutes. The government has struggled to create R&D intensive SMEs for many years, but with little success. If the government is looking for an individual to showcase the new initiative on entrepreneurship championed by MaGIC, especially those related to science and technology, he would be an excellent candidate. Datuk Karl has shown that science and entrepreneurship can be a potent combination!
Professor Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim
Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia UCSI University