Find out what these corporate leaders’ first jobs were!

By Ahmed Wafi

GRADUAN checked in with two prominent leaders from KPMG and Maxis to find out how they started their careers.

Climbing the corporate ladder does not happen overnight. It takes grit, determination, long hours, day in and day out coupled with mental fortitude and resilience.

And no matter who you are, everyone has to start somewhere! #teamGRADUAN spoke to Natalia Navin, Maxis’ Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), and Datuk Johan Idris, Managing Partner of KPMG in Malaysia, to learn more about their beginnings, what they learned from their experiences, and we even managed to get some tips for aspiring leaders.

Natalia Navin, CHRO at Maxis
When I was studying, I worked part-time as a model for a short period. I acted as a talent in TV commercials, modelled for fashion spreads in magazines, and did runway modelling at fashion shows. The job allowed me to express my creativity and passion, and it was lots of fun to meet people from the fashion industry.

After graduating, I took up a full-time professional role as a legal counsel at ZICO Law, then known as Zaid Ibrahim & Co, specialising in employment and human capital services. I first joined ZICO Law as a pupil in chambers and was 23 years old at the time

What were some things you liked and disliked about the job?
The things I enjoyed in my time as a lawyer in ZICO Law were the friends I made. As part of a pupillage programme, I built strong and enduring friendships with batchmates from the same cohort, and we are still friends to this day!

What I did not particularly enjoy about it was that striking a work-life balance was a challenge at that stage in my life. As I was still relatively new in the job market, the fast-paced nature of work, combined with the lack of working experience made it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle. By gaining more experience, these problems eventually went away as I adapted to the new environment and learned how to prioritise, and things picked up from there.

My experiences taught me the importance and value of resilience. When you are faced with adversity in your personal or professional life, it is not the adversity itself, but your reaction to it that determines the outcome. By being resilient towards hardship, you can take control of your actions and ultimately guide the circumstances towards a positive outcome.

Datuk Johan Idris, Managing Partner of KPMG in Malaysia
Believe it or not, my first job was an internship with KPMG! At that time, I was pursuing an undergraduate degree in accountancy while completing my professional papers. I embarked on this internship journey with a sole idea in mind—to fully experience being in the world of audit.

Looking back at my internship experience, I never would have imagined that I would be here a few decades later as Managing Partner of KPMG in Malaysia. Moral of the story is that you’d never know who the intern making the coffee might end up becoming one day. In all seriousness, to all KPMG interns out there, you might be up next!

What were some things you liked and disliked about the job?
From having regular team lunches at mouth-watering eateries to travelling to neighbouring states on audit engagements, I remember making every single second of my internship experience count. Of course, there were some challenges in the beginning as I had to hone my business acumen and polish up my industry knowledge. Yet that is the point of any internship—to learn.

The constant guidance I received from my seniors made my internship more rewarding and impactful. For that very reason, I am happy to say that some of the lessons I learned were to never be shy to ask questions and always stay “hungry” for success.

And lastly, Datuk Johan and Natalia shared some words of wisdom for the future leaders of tomorrow. Here’s what they had to say.

Datuk Johan: Always remember that nothing great ever comes easy—and that’s OK! It’s OK to fail so long as you never stop trying. In fact, you will never truly fail unless you give up and stop trying. Most of all, have the courage to seize every single opportunity that presents itself as you might just find yourself to be on one of the most amazing adventures of your career.

Natalia: Where your career starts is undoubtedly important but what you do during the journey is just as, if not more, important. Irrespective of the career path you are on, or the future path you will take, having a continuous learning mindset will be key towards making your career a meaningful journey of growth and progress.

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