TAN Sri Mustapha Kamal Abu Bakar, the chairman of Setia Haruman Sdn Bhd, is very concerned about Cyberjaya. The intelligent city, birthed under former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has not turned out as envisioned.
The 2,800ha Cyberjaya was meant to be the "heart" of the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia and transform the country into a knowledge-based economy.
At the Setia Haruman headquarters in Cyberjaya recently, Mustapha Kamal walked journalists through the mega development's history, what has become of it today and what he hopes will be its future.
Originally, Cyberjaya's real estate implementation was handed over to a quartet of property developers parked under master developer Setia Haruman.
They were Mustapha Kamal's Emkay Group, UEM Group, Landmarks Group and Country Heights group, with each given a 25 per cent stake in the development of Cyberjaya.
Mustapha Kamal said Setia Haruman had the exclusive rights to develop and sell land parcels to developers and investors to move Cyberjaya forward.
The plan was for foreign information, communications and technology (ICT) companies, such as Microsoft, to buy large parcels of land and house their offices there.
However, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, followed by the dot.com crash of 2000 and the September 11 2001 attacks, had a dampening impact on Cyberjaya's development.
Mustapha Kamal saw that it was prudent for him to take charge and ensure that Emkay had a majority stake in Setia Haruman to steer Cyberjaya forward.
In 2004, Emkay bought stakes in Landmarks and Country Heights that has enabled it to own 75 per cent of Setia Haruman.
The balance of 25 per cent is held by UEM.
For a start, Mustapha Kamal conducted working visits to high-impact cities, such as Dubai in the Middle East and Bangalore in India, to see what made them tick.
He was impressed by the large pool of intellectual capital in Bangalore who were highly skilled in engineering, sciences and information technology, as well as were proficient in English.
"India churns out three million graduates every year, with 16 per cent specialising in science and technology. To attract new investments and keep existing ones in Malaysia, we must produce knowledge- workers," Mustapha Kamal said.
As a testament to his commitment, in 2005, the second wave of development swept through Cyberjaya under his watchful eyes.
The early days of Cyberjaya saw the conundrum of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
"Restaurants refused to open unless there were residents, while people did not want to relocate to Cyberjaya if there were no restaurants and public facilities. Offices would not open unless people and restaurants were there, and people did not want to relocate unless offices operated there.
"Public transport companies also did not want to operate if there were no people," he added.
Being the forceful man that he is, Mustapha Kamal, who is also Emkay group chief executive officer, forced the issue and led the way by offering subsidised park-and-ride bus shuttle services for workers and students in Cyberjaya.
"Emkay poured money into Cyberjaya and built offices and the MKN TechZone to attract tenants. We also built retail shops. With these in place, a steady transformation took place and a new township started growing," he said.
By 2009, many developers started buying large parcels of land in Cyberjaya and the transformation began.
Statistics show that at its inception in 1997, it had a population of 20,000 people, 2.7 million square feet of completed office space, eight completed shops, 2,000 completed residential units, three schools, two universities and a total investment of RM5.5 billion.
In 2012, the population grew to 53,000. Total investments were RM15 billion. There were 11.1 million sq ft of completed office space, 4,394 completed residential units, four schools, 566 completed shops and five universities and colleges.
By 2016, the projected numbers are a population of 100,000, 18 million sq ft of office space, 1,863 completed shops, 28,762 residential units, seven schools and eight universities and colleges.
By 2020, Mustapha Kamal is confident that Cyberjaya will be moving up the value chain with plenty of high-impact companies.
At present, the top employers in Cyberjaya are Hewlett Packard (6,000 employees), HSBC Bank (4,000 employees), Shell (2,200 employees), T-Systems (1,500 employees), IBM (1,300 employees), DHL (1,090 employees) and Dell (800 employees).
While far from being the Silicon Valley of the East, Cyberjaya has become the next best thing - a support services hub.
Twenty major developers are expected to invest a total of RM20 billion in Cyberjaya by 2016, pumping up the supply of residential and commercial developments.
"We have solved all the teething problems of a new township. Today, there are more than 60 multinational corporations (MNCs), government and private data centres, contact centres, research and development centres as well as more than 30,000 knowledge-workers," said Mustapha Kamal.
Cyberjaya is shaping up nicely as a world-class education hub, too.
He notes that 40 per cent of varsity students in Cyberjaya are foreigners.
He is proud of the higher learning institutions such as Kirkby International College, Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and Multimedia University.
However, Mustapha Kamal expressed his disappointment over the lack of knowledge-workers produced by local institutions.
He said a number of expatriate workers are being employed by MNCs in Cyberjaya.
He wants more Malaysians to hold these high-paying jobs.
He also observes that many local graduates are unable to speak English fluently.
Mustapha Kamal has initiated discussions with vice-chancellors of local universities to ensure that the universities are aware of the industries' needs. He calls it the knowledge-workers' development initiative.
Mustapha Kamal knows very well that he is sitting on a gold mine. This wired-up ICT city in Selangor is poised to become a valuable real estate investment.
Does Mustapha Kamal have any other issues on his wish-list besides a big pool of Malaysian knowledge-workers?
For one, he can't for the world understand why the Klang Valley MRT project is not linked to Cyberjaya. That, in his eyes, is lacking in common sense. And Malaysians, in general, are sure to agree with him.