An Expat's Working Experience in Malaysia

As Malaysia strives to be a high-income nation by 2020, enticing multinational companies to invest in the greater KL area is a priority tasked to Invest KL. Editor Chad Merchant recently talked to the Managing Director of one such company about his thoughts on living here.

James de Caluwé probably didn’t expect a life in the tropics when he was growing up in Belgium. Nevertheless, he and his wife, Ann Gellens, have become “professional expats,” having spent many years living in Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand. James came to Malaysia in August 2007 for the setup of a new production plant for Oleon NV, a Belgian-based multinational that is Europe’s largest oleo-chemical group with plants in Belgium, Germany, Norway, France, and Malaysia.

“We love South and Southeast Asia,” James told us. “We have actually spent 14 of our last 18 years in the region.” Indeed, he explains, Ann was pregnant with the couple’s first child when they moved to Malaysia nearly six years ago. “Our oldest son, Julius, was born at the Subang Jaya Medical Centre at the end of 2007, and our second son, Perceval, also saw his first light in Malaysia in February 2010. For both our children, Malaysia is home and Belgium is a remote place they visit once a year in the summer.”

When asked about the lifestyle he and his family have here, James breezily pointed out that for him, there is no specific “expat lifestyle” that differs from any other lifestyle. “Our six years here have been wonderful. We found a place to stay in a guarded and gated community in Port Klang where we felt we could raise our kids with a maximum of ‘tropical exposure’: a large garden where they could play without worry of traffic and safety.” He continued, “We strongly believe in living next to and close to the Malaysian people. As we live a bit far from KL, our contacts with the Belgian community in Malaysia haven’t been intense, but our lifestyle here has been very satisfactory.”

James added a wistful caveat, however: “Have two young children and being extremely caught up in developing and growing Oleon’s business here, the opportunities to travel around Malaysia have been few. However, my favourite spot here so far is Fraser’s Hill. The children enjoy Pangkor and Langkawi… and of course Legoland!”

I asked James if he felt Greater KL provided a good environment for foreign countries and what he felt could be done to make the area even more appealing. “It’s a very good business environment, especially for export-oriented, resource-based industries like ours who relate well to the chemistry of palm oil.” As for potential challenges that lie ahead, however, James added, “Global competition never stops and there are a few things Malaysia will have to monitor closely in order to keep attracting foreign investments of high value. Energy costs are one factor, as is a skilled workforce. So far, we have had the luck to attract good and skilful staff, but I hear from many colleagues that this is becoming more and more of a challenge.”

Greater KL offers expats – even seasoned global citizens like James and his wife – a terrific chance to live in a well-developed tropical country that isn’t polished to the point of eroding the Asian experience. James notes, “Klang Valley is really a global place: highly developed with good infrastructure for a family – schools, hospitals, shopping – yet has maintained more of an ‘Asian feeling’ versus Singapore.” When asked pointedly if he would recommend Malaysia as a foreign posting to other potential expats, James didn’t hesitate. “I would certainly recommend Malaysia, especially for those considering their first posting overseas or in Asia. It’s convenient here, though not too much of an enclosed and safe environment as, for example again, Singapore. Living in Greater KL really allows a family to feel they are living in Asia. It is a melting pot of a variety of different Asian cultures, and expats living here can enjoy a wonderful lifestyle.” James wrapped up his endorsement in a way that would make Tourism Malaysia proud: “Living here,” he said, “expats can indulge in the best Asia has to offer. Malaysia remains truly Asia.”

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Source: The Expat July 2013
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