Alumni Spotlight-Sazali Hamzah

June 2017

Sazali Hamzah '89 Vice President of PETRONAS shares about his pathway to success

Datuk Sazali Hamzah came to Lamar University to study abroad in 1985. He graduated in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and currently serves as Vice President of PETRONAS, an international oil and gas company, in Malaysia and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of its petrochemical entity, PETRONAS Chemicals Group Berhad.

Hamzah was offered a scholarship from PETRONAS after completing secondary school in Malaysia. Out of seven companies, he chose PETRONAS because becoming a chemical engineer was his dream. He was told he would be sent to school in the United States in the state of Texas.

"For a boy from a very small village like me, the joy of being offered to pursue my study overseas such as in the United States was a huge milestone in my life," Hamzah said. "I had no clue about living and studying abroad and it was the very first time in my life to travel by plane to a very far land known to be a land of opportunity and excitements."

Hamzah went to Austin to complete a six-month course in English and was given the choice to enroll in any Texas university. "Based on my research and feedback gained from some of the Malaysian students I knew, I chose Lamar University (LU) as it is known as a good chemical engineering school, simple, yet very effective," Hamzah said.

During his time at Lamar University, Hamzah was active in the Malaysian Student Association. He was on the Dean's List and a Magna Cum Laude graduate. He said Lamar University gave him the tools to pursue his dreams in chemical engineering and work his way up to CEO of a major chemical company.

"Lamar University provided me with a strong foundation and understanding of chemical engineering. My learning was put into practice during my first 10 years working as a process engineer, operation engineer and process technologist. I used some of the books as a reference and guide during evaluating plant performance, troubleshooting, optimization as well as predictive plant/process threats. LU also equipped me with a broad perspective of life beyond chemical engineering via elective subjects. American Literature and US History opened my eyes and mind on the evolution of people, politics, beliefs, and technology. It prepared me to be an explorer with a broad mind and to accept change in some of my earlier beliefs and views. This exposure is important as PETRONAS is an international Oil and Gas company that deals with many international partners, clients and contractors," Hamzah said.

Hamzah returned to Malaysia to work at a ceramic tiles manufacturing company, a local private company in Malaysia. In 1990, he joined PETRONAS as a process engineer. He worked his way up the corporate ladder, attending various management programs including at the London Business School and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He served as plant manager until being appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of PETRONAS' second refinery in Melaka, PETRONAS Penapisan Melaka. He was appointed President/CEO of PETRONAS Chemicals Group Berhad in 2014, now a company with $14 billion market capital, and was promoted to Vice President of PETRONAS in 2016.

Hamzah credits Lamar University as being a major part of his success, as well as studying abroad. "Going to University is probably the most impactful thing I have done in my life, other than becoming one of the VPs in PETRONAS and heading the petrochemical entity of company. It built my confidence for one. It taught me that I could leave home and be successful away from home. It taught me how to open up, how to try new things that might appear to be scary, how to achieve beyond expectations and beat the odds...On a broader context, studying at Lamar University allowed me to realize that countries all have a stake in each other's success. LU made me understand that studying abroad is about shaping the future of our countries and the world we all share. Studying in a different country gave me the chance to immerse myself in another culture. That's how I realized that we all have a stake in each other's success - that innovations discovered in the US could run plants in Malaysia. That clean energy technologies from Silicon Valley in the US could improve the environment here in Malaysia. You can't learn all of this only through books. You have to have an in-person experience. That's what helps you appreciate the subtleties and differences. Lamar University provided a place for me to have that exchange," continued Hamzah.

Hamzah said staying in touch with one's alma mater is important because it gives people a chance to collaborate and to learn new things after graduating. "I believe every alumnus brings to the table a wealth of opportunities that the University and current undergraduates can tap into. It's only apt for those who are already out there in industry to stay connected to their alma mater as a way of giving back to the institution...Current students can also gain valuable real-world experience from alumni. Among opportunities that can be beneficial to students via connections with alumni are namely work placements, internships, networking, CV writing, in-depth knowledge of their subject as well as advice and top tips for interviews. When alumni share their pathways to success, they are sharing a realistic path that can be emulated by current students," Hamzah said.

Lamar University Alumni in Malaysia have stayed connected to one another after moving back home, and they continue to learn from each other after graduation, said Hamzah. "I am proud to share that Malaysian LU Alumni are very active together with all Texas universities alumni here in Malaysia. We have done various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) engagement programs with students from local schools and universities on career path, motivational talks, CSR, contributions, etc. Our last reunion was conducted in April 2017, attended by more than 120 alumni," Hamzah said.

According to Hamzah, there are five qualities aspiring CEOs must have. He gave the following advice for the CEOs in-the-making at Lamar University. "Firstly, they should [love] what they do and be passionate about it. Once they graduate, they might not end up in a job that they had studied for, or the pay may not be as expected. But what matters is they need to be passionate about their jobs and love doing it, to be the best at that particular job. That will take them to the next level. So, to me, passion is important. Secondly, they need to think big. Think big by being able to plan for the future, even now as a student, chart their career goals, challenge themselves beyond their boundaries, continuously grow and be outstanding. Thirdly, they also need to be bold and courageous in taking calculated risks and to move forward without  being hesitant. Fourthly, is speed and a sense of urgency, which are key levers considering the current competitive business environment. The sooner one takes action, the sooner he/she gets the results. And finally, it is important as a leader to have humility. It is important for leaders to be modest, to appreciate their people, and believe that shared success is a vital quality in steering an organization towards the right direction," Hamzah said.