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Tan Sri Datuk Dr Lim Kok Wing has a checklist. Top on that list is to instill in Malaysian businesses a culture of creativity. It’s the way forward, he tells Umah Papachan.

Tan Sri Datuk Dr Lim Kok Wing is a man of boundless energy. The founder and president of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology is in pursuit of perfectionism. In that respect, he laments the many trials and tribulations of his long struggle to make design technology an acceptable part of Malaysian life.

“Owning ideas and owning brands - that is the way forward,” he says.

“When you have a generation of people who have the vision to innovate and design products that can capture the global market, we will have shaped our destiny.

“We have everything, as many Malaysians will tell you. We have skilled labour, natural resources, technology, good infrastructure, a stable government and economy. But we lack innovation. Innovation must be industry-led and supported by the government,” he adds.

For that reason, he says, the Malaysia Design Innovation Centre at Cyberjaya has been established.

“It’s the professional arm of the university college. Its motto reads: Fusing university education with industry. We want to nurture, create and develop a generation of designers who can design products from soaps to cars. We want to show the rest of the world that we can take on the big boys of design technology,” he says.

MDI is a stunning white building, a complete contrast to the black colour of the Limkokwing building. Shaped like a huge hockey stadium which can seat 10,000 spectators, its wing-shaped roof lends an open-air view of the oil palms fringing the Cyberjaya surroundings.

Some 7,000 students from 60 countries converge in the wide, open space to sit, eat, chat and hold discussions. The lower ground houses a gymnasium (called Fitofly), food stalls serving local and western food, and the Wings Coffee, the brainchild of Lim himself.

MDI is being developed as a fully integrated design centre within a university college. Working together with Limkokwing, it intends to link up with local and international design fraternities as well as the business community.

MDI will assist individuals, companies, government and academia to develop new products and services. It wants to create a whole new generation of students who are creative, inventive and innovative.

“MDI will be working closely with the government and industry,” says Lim.

“For over 20 years, Malaysia has been a manufacturing hub for the electronics industry, clothes, shoes, automotive accessories, sports goods, furniture and other products for foreign companies. Seventy per cent of Malaysia’s manufactured products are based on designs that come from abroad. We are losing out in terms of our competitive edge. What have we gained in the last 20 years?” he asks.

“We need to be innovative in designing products. According to the World Economic Report Global Competitiveness 2003-2004, 25 countries in the Business Competitiveness Index Ranking are from highly developed economies. Top on that list is Finland, the land of Nokia mobiles, followed by the United States, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Asian countries on the list are Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Malaysia is ranked 26th.

“Take Taiwan, for example. They are now designing hip, high-tech gadgets. Their personal computer designs are winning international awards and gaining a market share over foreign rivals.

“Taiwan’s industrial designers are building microprocessors and other key parts for personal computers. The island is already making three-quarters of the world’s notebook computers and its share of flat screen displays and other gadgets is growing.

“Its tech companies are moving from low cost production to high value product design, building own brands and boosting R&D spending in the process,” he adds.

“Malaysian manufacturers must think about reaching the global market, says Lim. “If they don’t, their competitive edge will fall because China is emerging as a huge manufacturing competitor.”

He says: “We must create smart partnerships. We have a huge 6.8-hectare campus. Companies can seek the assistance of our creative students to help them design and launch innovative products and services. We must celebrate innovation.”

MDI, he adds, can help hatch ideas and turn them into viable projects.

MDI will be officially opened on Oct 11 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.