A Look Into Islamic Finance with Abdullah Hidayat

12th #GreatHeights Series – Abdullah Hidayat

By Muiz Zafri & Yusuf Wildan

Joining us on this week’s edition of the #GreatHeights series is Abdullah Hidayat the head boy from the class of 2000. The once troublemaker and football lover is now the co-founder of Ficus Venture Capital along with 4 of his partners.

Ficus Venture Capital is the world’s first Shariah-compliant venture capital company that is currently in progress to create opportunities for many start-up companies to grow their businesses. 

Just like all our other successful KYSERs, Hidayat did not just magically get to this stage. With the right balance of work time and fun time, he teaches us that climbing to the top is not by beating everyone else but by standing out and capitalizing on our uniqueness. 

From Headboy to Prankster

 “KYS back in the day was not as structured as it is today”. Hidayat elaborated that in the late nineties the school was in the stage of shaping its culture and traditions. “Everything was trial and error. Students, teachers, and staff all worked together to figure out a system that worked. 

In school, Hidayat mostly enjoyed learning through non-formal lessons such as working with his housemates to win a Union Night or sports event. “Mr. Rama was an amazing strategist when it comes to winning sports day. Working with him made me realize that I love planning because after that we maintained a 5-year streak!”.

He moved on to study A-levels at Kolej Matrikulasi Yayasan Saad (KMYS), or currently known now as KYUEM after obtaining a full scholarship from Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB). After a long year of being the head boy back in high school, he sought a different kind of experience in Pre-U. 

Pulling pranks and introducing house spirit for his house Topaz were the memories that Hidayat cherishes till this very day. Despite having fun with friends and having to be called to the principal’s office several times he still managed to score in his A-levels. 

Those results eventually secured him a place to pursue a Bachelor in Actuarial Science at Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. 

Hidayat is still an active footballer from KYS till today

Actuarial Science > Selling Burgers 

He pursued this course after heeding advice from his beloved Mathematics teacher, Mr. Tan Cheh Li. Not knowing what he was getting into, he kept those words of advice very closely from the scholarship interview until his very first day as a freshman. 

 “Actuarial Science was bloody difficult, if you think Add Math is hard, you haven’t seen anything yet”. In the middle of his first year, he even called his mother to ask if he could go home and sell Ramly burgers by the roadside. “To keep my mind off things, I played a lot of football. Eventually, I persevered through the 3 years.

With his football classmates in Edinburgh

During his university years, Hidayat was very ambitious and selective with his degree subjects. Not like every tom dick and harry, Hidayat chose to take up advanced stochastic – the study of analysing randomness – in his 2nd and 3rd year. 

He knew that everyone else was not going to take the harder subjects to secure a pretty record, but Hidayat valued the fact that he was not going to be able to learn any of this in the future. 

“As cliché as it sounds, I learned for the knowledge, not for the grade”

  When There is a Will, There is a Way

Hidayat returned to Malaysia and started work and PNB in the Product Development department. Hidayat loves to take matters into his own hands and as a planner, he creates yearly targets while working for the company. 

One of the fields that he was particularly interested in was Islamic Finance. “I believe that when it comes to knowledge and values regarding the economy and finance, Islam as a religion has structured it very nicely based on religious scriptures”. At the time being, the application of these teachings was rapidly growing in the country. Thus, Hidayat saw the need and potential that Islamic Finance had for the future of the nation. 

The determination for knowledge brought him to learn regarding Islamic finance directly from the shariah law professors of the International Islamic University Malaysia. He was not enrolled in the university but his sessions with the academicians were mostly casual, meeting up at the university’s mosque. 

Coincidentally, PNB was going through problems with Amanah Saham Bumiputera related to matters regarding the Halal or Haram justification of their products. Hidayat took this opportunity to present a proposal to the CEO and management on the application of Islamic Finance for PNB which could be the solution to the problems present in the status quo. 

The board was impressed with the proposal, so impressed that the CEO, Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah created a new department under PNB which reported directly to him, specifically for the company’s development in Islamic Finance. This was a huge leap for Hidayat’s career, allowing him to expand his network by attending forums in the Middle East.

His last few years completing the 8-year bond was spent in the Corporate Strategy department. 

Going Global

“I didn’t want to work in Malaysia anymore so I could expand my horizons, plus my dad wanted to spend more time in the Middle East to be close to the Holy Land”. Hidayat was appalled to work for the Islamic Development Bank as they were offering places for a 2-year program called the Islamic Finance Talent Development Program in Jeddah.

Out of two thousand applicants, he was one of the 12 participants that got selected and the only person from the Asian region. The job required him to work for the bank and also pursue a master’s in Islamic Finance from the IE Business School, Spain. His lectures were mostly online and he only flew to Spain twice for specific programs.

Hidayat was the only Malaysian to be a part of the Islamic Finance Talent Development Program in Jeddah

While working at the bank, Hidayat was entrusted to be a part of a trillion-dollar project that was pioneering in Salam-Based Liquidity Management. Till this very day, Hidayat is still playing a huge role in this project working alongside CEOs of multinational banks and Bank Negara Malaysia. 

He returned to Malaysia and resigned from PNB in 2017.

Creating Opportunities for New Start-ups

To further expand the use of shariah-compliant companies in Malaysia, Hidayat along with 4 other co-founders decided to create Ficus Venture Capital (FVC). The company strives to invest in new start-up companies and is targeted to get the business running after collecting RM50 Million from investment companies around the world in April 2020. FVC gains profit from the re-selling of shares in their invested start-ups that would multiply over the years.

The 5 Founders of Ficus Venture Capital

Understanding that some start-up companies and owners are still unaware of the capacities they could achieve, Hidayat and his 2 of his partners started Fintech Lab. Fintech Lab was built to train and supervise potential companies that FVC could invest in. “I help small companies in rural areas to prepare a solid business model and educate them on using digital platforms to expand their businesses”. 

“I just recently returned from Sabah two weeks ago to launch our plans to assist rural start-ups along with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. At the end of the day, all of this is to ensure that it expands Malaysia’s capacity as a Shariah-compliant economy”.

Tips on Taking Control of your Interviews 

Regardless if it is a scholarship interview or a job interview, it is important to ensure that your life’s storyline is under your control. The best is to lead the interviewers into your realm of questions in which you are comfortable and well knowledgeable. 

“What I did when I was questioned on what my ambition was, I answered that I wanted to be the Prime Minister of Malaysia” From that moment onwards, the general scope of questions will be controlled by you. Why does this happen? Because they don’t get candidates with that kind of confidence and ambitions nowadays.

They will now question the vagueness of your answer and are intrigued to find out how you plan to reach that end goal but still serve the company. A brilliant way to run away from typical interview questions don’t you think?

During Hidayat’s interview with the Islamic Development Bank, the interviewers were blown away when he prepared his very own proposal for the company. He highlighted that to do that, you must read and analyse the problems that the particular company or organization is currently facing. 

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