Meet the new Norwegian Ambassador to Malaysia, Gunn Jorid Roset.
As one of Malaysia’s seven foreign missions in Southeast Asia, the Malaysian embassy in Kuala Lumpur is a strategically important body in promoting Norwegian business interests not only in Malaysia but also in the rest of the region. As ambassador, it is Ms Roset’s job to assist and support Norwegian companies’ interests in Malaysia. “The embassy is the official footprint of Norway in Malaysia,” explains Ms Roset. “We have around 50 Norwegian companies present in Malaysia and our number one priority is to work with them and assist them in their operations in the country.
Until recently, Norwegian businesses in Malaysia received support and assistance from Innovation Norway, the Norwegian government’s agency for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry at home and abroad. However, innovation Norway’s Malaysian office closed earlier this year and its day-to-day tasks are now undertaken by the embassy.
One of Ms Roset’s main objectives is that the transition will be as smooth as possible. “With the closure of Innovation Norway, the most important thing for the embassy is to communicate that we still offer services and advice to businesses.”
So far, no changes have been made to the number of diplomatic staff at the embassy, which comprise of the ambassador, a deputy head of mission and an administrative embassy secretary. “The full scale of the consequences of the closure in terms of work patterns is not yet known; we have to look at the workplace and evaluate how we are going to use our resources to make sure we are able to do what is required of us. Over the coming months, we will be in close dialogue with the Malaysia Norway Business Council and the business community in order to set clear objectives and find out how best to support Norwegian business. The main message is that businesses can feel confident that assisting them is our number one priority and that we are always here for advice and assistance.”
According to Ms Roset, the embassy is in a unique position to assist companies in foreign countries. The ambassador is the former Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Section for East Asia and Oceania and has worked extensively in the region. “Embassies have the ability to build local networks and discuss with the Malaysian governments any concerns or inputs from the Norwegian business community,” says Gunn Jorid. “It is our job to know about places where businesses can find the support they need.”
A permanent fixture of the Norwegian business community in Malaysia has been the Malaysia Norway Business Council (MNBC). Formed in 1990, it is independent organisation whose objective it is to provide a forum for discussion and exchanging views on business conditions, both domestic and international, affecting Malaysian and Norwegian firms. The council regularly
hosts events – the latest one took place in the end of September – something that Ms Roset promises will continue. “We will still organise regular activities,” she says. “We are very open to hosting regular events in the residence, for example networking events, MNBC board meetings or if the companies want to organise seminars, workshops or social events. Our plans for next year is to have events five times a year, but we will discuss this with the MNBC and see if we are on the right track.”
The Norwegian businesses in Malaysia have traditionally been concentrated in the oil and gas industry. “This hardly comes as a surprise, given our expertise in this field, and the majority of Norwegian companies in Malaysia will be operating in this and related fields for many years to come,” predicts Ms Roset. “But I think we will see an increase in Norwegian businesses operating in other sectors.”
Telecom is a good example. Telenor owns 49 percent of DiGi, which is the third largest mobile operator in Malaysia, with more than 12 million mobile subscriptions and a revenue of more than NOK 13.3 million (USD 1.6 million). The company has also been successful in adopting aspects of Norwegian work culture. It was the first company in Malaysia to introduce six months fully paid maternity leave for employees last year. In a company where 45 percent of the workforce are women and with strong representation of women in leadership positions – the board comprises 43 percent women, well beyond the Malaysian government’s target of 30% women participation in Boards of public listed companies – the initiative was seen as a way for the company to keep talent, regardless of gender.
Ms Roset expects to see more diversity in the type of Norwegian companies coming to operate in Malaysia. In Singapore, Norwegian companies are investing heavily in technology and education, and the ambassador believes a similar trend will be seen in Malaysia. “We would like to promote and discuss the potential for other types of industries investing in Malaysia,” explains Ms Roset. “Of course businesses will always base their decisions on economic and financial considerations, but there are industries outside of oil and gas that have been doing very well in recent years. For example, fin tech (financial technology, red.) saw strong growth in 2017 and we believe the industry will continue to see strong growth in the future.”
Ms Roset points to other new establishments in Malaysia such as Norway Connect, an organisation that is actively helping Norwegian companies explore investment opportunities in Southeast Asia. According to the organisation, Norway recorded at total of MYR 19.1 billion (USD 4.5 billion) worth of investment in Malaysia in 2016, making it one of the top 10 foreign direct investors in the country. In addition, Norway’s exports to Malaysia totalled MYR 1.1 billion (USD 260.8 million) in 2016.
One of the companies that is looking to increase its presence in Asia, starting with Malaysia, is Norwaybased OB Wilk (OBW). The company is a leading supplier of fabric covered buildings, sports halls and steel buildings, as well as tarpaulins and eventrelated products such as tents, tables and chairs. Recently, the Norwegian embassy hosted OBW and Kuala Lumpur-based agent Salcon Petroleum Services (SPS) for the signing of a so-called Cooperation Agreement with the aim of building local client relationships and supporting the sale of OBW products in Asia-Pacific.
This is the kind of activities that Ms Roset will continue to support in the future. “When we look into plans for the next three to four years, it is that kind of connecting companies and scoping work that will be important to assist businesses in Malaysia. There is a lot of activity, the economy is doing well and we are very optimistic about the future.”
H.E. Ambassador Gunn Jorid started as Norwegian ambassador to Malaysia on 31 July this year.
Above left: H.E. Norwegian Ambassador to Malaysia, Ms. Gunn Jorid Roset. Above: The bustling skyline of modern Kuala Lumpur is dominated by the Petronas Towers. Petronas Towers was the world’s tallest building from opening in 1998 to 2004, when it was surpassed by Taipei 101 in Taiwan.