The Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) will see the departure of its iconic chief executive officer, Cheryl Yeoh, from its team as she steps down from her role on January 14, 2016.
She said in a statement that she and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) have mutually agreed to end her contract at the one-year and nine-month point.
Yeoh signed a contract of two-plus-one years to head MaGIC as its inaugural CEO in April 2014. The entrepreneurship agency was first announced by the Prime Minister Najib Razak during the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit in October 2013.
“MoF has given me a wonderful opportunity to set up MaGIC and steer it in the right direction where it will benefit entrepreneurs not only within Malaysia but the larger Southeast Asia, and to truly put Malaysia on the map for the right reasons because we have so much untapped potential,” she said.
While Yeoh did not specify her reasons for leaving, she said that she will be taking a three- to six-month break to recharge, travel and focus on personal growth, as well as spend time with friends and family.
“I might consider some advisory or consulting role on my ‘sabbatical’ as I’ve had a lot of requests to ‘pick my brains’”, she added.
Digital News Asia reported, citing sources, that the Yeoh’s tenure was cut short likely due to pressure on MaGIC to adhere to its original mandate of reaching out to entrepreneurs of all types, and not just technology-based ones.
Under Yeoh’s steering, MaGIC has launched its e@Stanford programme, which saw two batches of entrepreneurs from 31 startups participating in a two-week immersion programme at Stanford University and Silicon Valley.
She also launched the MaGIC Accelerator Programme (MAP), in which 50 startups from around Asean and Uruguay participated.
Yeoh thanked the MaGIC chairman Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah for convincing her to return to Malaysia to be the founding CEO of MaGIC.
“To all our ecosystem partners who’ve collaborated with us, to the mentors, instructors and investors who’ve generously stepped forth to give back to the community, to the entrepreneurs who believed in MaGIC, and last but not least, the MaGIC family who’ve worked so hard to make sure we create a sustainable and impactful ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive in – especially my first 10 hires who believed in me and my vision back when I had nothing,” she said.
It is noteworthy that Yeoh had conveyed in a heartfelt speech during the MAP Social Enterprise Track Demo Day on November 17, that it was always her dream to set up a social enterprise, based on the idea of love.
“I have always wanted to build a social enterprise (to do with) love. I don’t know what the business will be or how it will work yet, but I know that that is what I want to do. Maybe after MaGIC, and maybe after another few ventures,” she had said to the graduates of the MAP SE Track programme.
MaGIC to look for new CEO
Ecosystem players and observers will no doubt wonder what will happen to the existing team and culture, without the leader it was moulded by, who brought with her a Silicon Valley vibe.
Digital News Asia reported that MaGIC has engaged a headhunting agency for the new CEO appointment.
Sources told the news site that the government is also looking at the other two shortlisted candidates from the initial batch, but acknowledged that this may be a long-shot.
“You want someone who understands entrepreneurs, but also able to deal with public sector concerns,” the source said, “It’s going to be tough.”
Yeoh was appointed by a selection committee of six people from both the public and private sectors.
Yeoh will not be involved in the selection process of the new CEO but she believed that the chairman and board of directors of MaGIC will choose the best person for the job, who will continue to lead the existing team, and “who will hopefully continue all the great programmes and initiatives that we’ve started here at MaGIC and provide the vision for a future roadmap that will truly benefit the entrepreneurs and the country”.
“I hope the new CEO will also continue to build on the company culture we have because MaGIC’s success is built on the fact that our team operates in an environment that lets them be at their full potential,” she said.
Yeoh is not the only key personnel to leave MaGIC, as Entrepreneurship Development executive director Warren Leow has also terminated his tenure at the agency.
DEALSTREETASIA reached out to Leow, who responded that he was already on his annual leave. To his leaving, he told DEALSTREETASIA that “it was always my intention to leave after the first batch of MAP.”
He announced on his Facebook account on Thursday that he has decided to set up a startup in the insurance business.
“I have decided. I am going to try to build a billion dollar company in the fintech insurance space within SEA. I might fail, but Adrian Vanzyl and Arnaud Bonzom are right. It is time to bat for sixes and the stars can be aligned,” his Facebook status read on Thursday, tagging Vanzyl of Ardent Capital and 500 Startups special projects director Bonzom.
He also posted on Facebook: “I need an underwriting partner who can price risk. A recognised brand name but willing to be the backend and has the ability to move fast whilst my bunch of merry men and women string the pieces together. Now, who owns an insurance company with SEA or Malaysia-focus but with autonomy to move really fast?”
Leow first took up the position as director of accelerator programmes and investor relations when he joined MaGIC. He headed MAP, which saw a participation of 50 startups from 20 countries in its first cohort.
Responding to the news break, the Malaysian startup community has also weighed in their thoughts on Yeoh’s leaving, on Facebook.
NeonRunner founder and CEO M Kanashan said: “I think I speak for the ecosystem when I say that this is a dark day for MaGIC, entrepreneurship and Malaysia. I really hope some other body who is interested in grooming startups invests in keeping her here in Malaysia. She has definitely more to offer.”
KFit co-founder Yeoh Chen Chow commented that “Yeoh has done an amazing job in putting Malaysia onto the global map of startup world! I can’t imagine another person doing a better job than her. Lots has been achieved in 1.5 years. Hope that her legacy would continue with the amazing MaGIC team!”