An Interview with
General Tan Sri Hashim bin Mohd Ali
Extracted from The Victorian, 2001
General (R) Tan Sri Mohammed Hashim bin Mohd Ali
was born in 1935 and attended the V.I. from 1948 to 1953. He was the
Hepponstall House hockey captain and represented the School in Swimming.
He was also a School Instructor for the Royal Life Saving Society
He was first commissioned in the Royal Malay Regiment
in December 1956 after attending a series of military officer cadet courses
both in Malaysia and overseas. On commissioning he was posted to the 3rd
Battalion, The Royal Malay Regiment in 1957.
During his career in the Malaysian Army, he commanded the 5th Battalion The Royal Malay Regiment, then operating in Sarawak and following other staff appointments and having attended several military courses, he, in the rank of Brigadier General, was given command of the Rejang Area Security Command (RASCOM) in Sarawak responsible for the restoration and maintenance of peace and stability in the region. As the Security Forces Commander, RASCOM contributed towards the total elimination of the North Kalimantan Communist Party in Sarawak.
He was appointed the Chief of Staff in the Ministry of Defence in 1980 holding the rank of Major General after attending the National Defence College Course in India.
In 1992, he assumed the Command of the 2nd Division stationed in Penang. As the General Officer Commanding of the Division, he worked closely with the 4th Royal Thai Army along the Malaysia/Thai border with the task of eliminating the elements of the Malayan Communist Party that operated along the border region. In this respect he was also the Co-Chairman of the Regional Border Committee Malaysia/Thailand and contributed towards the complete elimination of the Malayan Communist Party both along the Border regions and in Peninsular Malaysia.
After a tour of duty as the Deputy Chief of the Army, he was appointed the Chief of the Army in November 1985. In October 1987, General (R) Tan Sri Hashim was appointed the Chief of the Defence Forces - a post he held until his retirement in April 1992 after serving the Armed Forces for 38 years and 9 months. As Chief of the Defence Forces, he was responsible to the Government on all matters related to the Defence of the Country and was a member of the various defence and security related committees which were chaired by the Prime Minister.
General (R) Tan Sri Hashim was one of the three signatories of the Surrender Agreement between the Government of Malaysia and the Malayan Communist Party whereby the Malayan Communist Party agreed to lay down their arms and disband the Party.
Before his retirement, he attended the Harvard Business School Advance Management Programme Course in 1991 where he acquired a Diploma in Advanced Business Management.
General (R) Tan Sri Hashim was appointed to the Boards of Directors of Hong Leong Credit Berhad, Arab-Malaysian Corporation Berhad, Konsortium Lojistik Berhad, Ajinomoto (Malaysia) Berhad, Chiyoda Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Yokogawa Kontrol (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, Delloyds Ventures Sdn Bhd, amongst other local companies. He also sits in the Board of Pecanwood, a Joint Malaysian/South African Company.
He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) and he sits on the Advisory Council of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI).
General (R) Tan Sri Hashim is a very keen golfer with a golf handicap of 15. He is the Chairman of the Mines Resort and Golf Club - the host for the World Cup Golf 99 which took place from 18 - 21 November 1999.
General Hashim was the Executive Chairman and CEO of SUKOM NINETY EIGHT BERHAD, the Organising Committee established to run the Kuala Lumpur 98 - XVI Commonwealth Games which was succesfully held in Kuala Lumpur from 11 - 21 September 1998. The Kuala Lumpur 1998 Commonwealth Games was proclaimed the best Commonwealth Games of the Century and brought fame to Malaysia.
He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Salford of the United Kingdom on 14 January 1999.
General (R) Tan Sri Hashim is married with three children. He has two grand children.
xactly at the appointed time of 3.00 p.m., a towering man wearing a simple white shirt and neatly ironed black slacks appeared in front of us. We immediately recognised him as General (Retired) Tan Sri Hashim b. Mohd. Ali, most popularly known as the person responsible for the successful staging of the 1998 Commonwealth Games to international acclaim. His stature is one filled with noble dignity and his image of overwhelming discipline easily commands respect. Indeed, he may have left his Generalship, but the Generalship has certainly not left him.
However, our awestruck minds were immediately put at ease when, with a disarming tone, he asked ‘Would you like hot or cold coffee?’ And as the interview unfolded, Tan Sri often deliberately littered the conversation with comments like ‘Aiyo’ and ‘Tsk, how can, lah?’ ‘Interview’ is a misnomer better replaced with ‘chat’ as we discovered the warm and cordial character that is the Tan Sri. Discipline and order are virtues he subscribes to, yet fun and enjoyment are not forgotten.
Listening to Tan Sri’s vivid recollections of his experiences in the V.I. for 2 hours, we were transported to an era when the V.I. was at the pinnacle of excellence in both academia and extra-curricular activities. He was a student at the school between 1948 and 1953.
Discipline was upheld to the highest degree by the stern headmasters of the time, namely, Mr. F. Daniel and Mr. E.M.F. Payne. Mr. Daniel, the famous science master who authored General Science for Schools in Malaya, had been a World War Two prisoner of the Japanese Army in Changi Prison, Singapore. This experience must have intensified his zeal as a strict disciplinarian with and intolerance for disorderliness and wastefulness. This was amply illustrated when, one day, Mr Daniel saw a boy throwing some bread crust into the dust bin. He charged up to the poor boy, ordered him to pick it up the crust and then yelled ‘Eat!’ The trembling boy had no alternative but to obey. (The boy probably never ever wasted food again!).
As for Mr. Payne, he had a collection of canes ranging in sizes from 1 to 7, neatly arranged in a cabinet in his office. A gush of fear would rush through the spines of any student who received the advice ‘HM wants to see you’ from the school clerk, Mr Richard Pavee. Those whom he was about to punish would be asked to choose the cane to be used on them. Yet there was never any remorse in the boy who was punished because, whenever punishment was meted out by the H.M. or teachers, there always were good reasons and intentions behind it.
And the good intentions of these teachers were to ensure that their charges excelled in whatever they did. Tan Sri still remembers Miss Khong Swee Tin and the late Mrs Devadason, two skilled history teachers, Mr. Lim Hock Han, Tan Sri’s P.E. and swimming instructor, and Mr. Harry Lau. These teachers were respected as excellent educators, very capable in their field of knowledge and as caring persons.
Hence, even ruthless disciplinarians like Mr Lim Eng Thye are still fondly remembered by their students today. The burly Mr Lim used to frequently knock his pupils on the head with a pencil and call them ‘stupid boy’. Alternatively, he would sink his huge fingers into the waist of the hapless victim, grab as much flesh as possible and then squeeze as hard as he could. Yet, there was much love and care in his actions. At times he or a senior prefect would stay behind in the library after school to help students who had problems with their studies. With dedicated teachers such as Mr. Lim Eng Thye, who needs private tuition? Tan Sri and many generations of Victorians regard Mr Lim with the highest esteem as an excellent science master who imparted not only a solid knowledge of science but also a love for the subject in his students.
Yet Mr Lim was not without his hallmark quirks. In those days, the tuck shop was directly behind the hall (where the Bilik Tayangan now stands). Every day, standing at the window of the corner science lab (just above where the library archives stand today), Mr Lim would clap his hands and wave his signature ‘V’-finger signal to the tuck shop boy across the lawn. It was his sign language for ordering 2 pieces of bread with kaya and a cup of black coffee. One day, one of Tan Sri’s mischievous friends, looking for revenge on Mr Lim for punishing him, crept out of class about 5 minutes after that order was signalled to the tuck shop boy and intercepted the food as it was being delivered to Mr Lim! So a student got a free hot meal while Mr Lim got hungrier and hungrier and very hot under his collar waiting for his food that never arrived!
The V.I. during Tan Sri’s days as a student saw the V.I. spirit at its strongest. He believes that this is the result of the diversity of activities in which pupils were encouraged to take part. His cohort includes T. Ananda Krishnan (presently Tan Sri and one of the richest men in Malaysia) whom he recalls as an excellent orator, even winning the All-Malayan Oratorical Contest. Also, he recalls the debaters: Khoo Teng Bin (a successful businessman and a close partner of Tan Sri Ananda), M Shankar (now a judge) and Zain Azraai (the late Tan Sri, whose achievements as Asian Development Bank director and Chairman of MAS among other things are well-known). Another famous Victorian from his batch is Ramon Navaratnam (now Tan Sri, with a string of directorships past and present including sitting on the board of Bank Negara) who was a fine actor in the many plays that the V.I. staged in the 1950’s. To paraphrase Tan Sri, "Play something, lah. Of course, study is important, but – haiyo - you cannot do it all the time." Many of these successful personalities were not the top scholars, yet they have managed to succeed in their fields because of their strong character, attributable to their energetic involvement in many activities. Whatever they did, they did their best and they did well in it.
Tan Sri lived this philosophy to the fullest by actively participating in drama, scouting and various sports. The V.I. Dramatic Society was extremely active then, producing annual plays like Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night. Tan Sri played the part of the Prince of Aragon in the The Merchant of Venice and was a stage hand in Twelfth Night. He was also a stage hand in the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Malayan Arts and Theatre Group, performed in open air in the Lake Gardens in 1952.
Perhaps as a prelude to his colourful career in the army, Tan Sri was a member of the First KL scout group, rising to become a Queen’s Scout in 1953. He fondly remembers his many travels including the frequent forays to Loke Yew Mansion to catch spiders and fish. He also cycled from KL to Port Dickson with Khoo Teng Bin. Those were the days when there were no smooth bitumen roads and one had to navigate up and down hill, bumping along the pebbly road. After a hard day of pedalling, one would sleep under the stars, enjoying a simple meal on the beach.
But it was not all fun and games. Tan Sri remembers how scout masters Ariff Yahya and Chin Peng Lam would tie dirty cans around their necks if those same cans were found lying around the ground. If their pots and pans had any trace of soot, the scout masters would fling them away from the kitchen table. Such was the level of discipline and respect for cleanliness. One of Tan Sri’s proudest moments was when the Queen’s Scout badge was pinned on him by General Sir Gerald Templer at Castle Camp (now Kem Kota Raya). One of his good friends, Kong Ted Yen, was also awarded the badge during that ceremony. They still keep in contact to this day.
It must have been Tan Sri’s passion for sports in school that ultimately groomed him for the post of C.E.O of Sukom 1998. In the V.I., he swam, played water polo, paddle tennis and tennis. He has vivid memories of swimming sessions under the regimental Mr Lim Hock Han, a most talented man in sports instruction. His swimming mates included Thomas Lee and Khoo Teng Bin. In padder tennis, Tan Sri partnered Kamaleswaren Kandiah, more popularly known today as Kamahl, a world famous singer residing in Australia. Padder tennis is a miniature version of tennis played with a bat instead of a tennis racquet and the dimensions of the court are smaller than those of a conventional tennis court. The game was only played in 1952 before it was discontinued. In Tan Sri’s words "No challenge, lah. It’s like forcing a good footballer to play a small, soft ball". Hence, people like Tan Sri flocked to the game of tennis. At that time, the school had no tennis courts, but thanks to the sponsorship of Esso and Shell, players like Tan Sri, Thomas Lee and girls from St Mary’s and Convent Bukit Nanas practised at the Royal Selangor Club and the Selangor Chinese Association.
At the House level, he was captain of the hockey and padder tennis teams for Hepponstall in 1952. Tan Sri was also involved in gymnastics and judo at the YMCA. Whenever his mother got worried about the dangers of the wooden horse and parallel bars, he always had to re-assure her that such risks were fine because there was someone watching over them and that safety precautions had been taken. Truly, Tan Sri is a strong advocate for the importance of sports. He remembers those days when every boy, unless he had a doctor’s excuse certificate, had to run the mile in the equivalent of today’s Standard Sports (Datar Layak). Anyone who ran that distance under 8 minutes would score 1 point for his house.
Tan Sri’s love for cleanliness, neat uniforms and orderliness (plus some prompting by his brother, Tun Ismail, another eminent Victorian) inspired him to join the army after leaving school. Interestingly, he had initially applied to be a teacher with the Education Department but never passed the interview. Tan Sri spent 3 years, from 1954 to 1956, at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England. His foster family belonged to a farming community. He fondly recalls waking up as early as 5.00 a.m. to help in chores like cleaning and milking cows. There were many happy memories. One of them was that of his holiday stay with the Bishop of Portsmouth during one Christmas. When Tan Sri spoke about the V.I. and his family, the bishop got up and left the room to shortly re-appear with a photograph. It was a photograph of the bishop with Tan Sri’s brother, Ismail Ali (later Tun) when the latter was a student at Cambridge in the late 1930s and early 1940s! The bishop was then the Dean of Ismail’s college. Truly, the V.I. spins its web far and wide!
When Tan Sri graduated from Sandhurst and joined the army, he became the first Malayan to assume the rank of group sergeant. Even though he is short-sighted, his spectacles never prevented him from working hard and accomplishing his tasks in the army. Such grit and commitment earned him the rank of General. Tan Sri attributes this achievement to two important lessons he gained from the V.I., namely, the skill of problem solving and the experience of student independence and leadership. This, he says, can be gained whether in running a patrol or a troop, whether as a class monitor or a prefect (Tan Sri was a temporary prefect). In all, Tan Sri spent 38 years and 9 months in the army.
Talking to Tan Sri, one is deeply impressed by the way he cherishes the ideals of cleanliness, discipline and co-operation. Every V.I. student was fiercely competitive when it came to the class cleanliness competitions. Mr F. Daniel instituted this competition to promote health-consciousness and to cultivate a sense of responsibility among the students. The shining door hinges of the classrooms could be seen from afar, and woe betide the class that lost. The shame was punishment enough to deter the losers from shirking their responsibility. There was no need for material reward. Pupils willingly gave their best to compete for a challenge shield which the weekly winner would proudly hang in the front of the classroom.
Discipline was maintained at the highest order. There was no need for any brazen show of authority as even the click-clack of the school captains’ heels would hush the classes into immediate silence. He remembers Zain Azraai’s posture and stature as one that commanded the greatest awe and respect. Tan Sri also emphasises the importance of co-operation and team work. In his words "If you’re in the band and you don’t turn up on time, everyone cannot practice because you are late. If you play football, what happens if you are the goalkeeper and you don’t turn up?" His message was all too clear - responsibility and accountability have to come from the heart and not just because there is a reward at the end of the day.
Tan Sri waxes lyrical when talking about the V.I. Perhaps the more recent Victorians will remember him as one of those who saved the school’s name from being hurled into the dustbin of history. In the 1980s, when there were moves to change the name of the school, it was Tan Sri Hashim, together with Tan Sri Zain Azraai and Justice M. Shankar who confronted the Minister of Education and appealed to him to leave the name that the School had carried for almost century. That we are still called Victorians today is due to the efforts of these three Old Victorians.
Yet, what’s in a name? Tan Sri gave us his thoughts on the formula for maintaining the greatness of the school. Students have to be involved in a wide variety of activities because society needs more than mere scholars. Yet in whatever the students do, they have to be committed to the task at hand and not give up easily. When this virtue flows naturally from the student, coupled with respect for discipline and orderliness, excellence comes to fruition. Such were the attitudes of students in Tan Sri’s days. Teachers then, too, were energetic and devoted to the school’s undertakings. Former students should contribute their talents to the school. Parents, too, have to be involved, whether by supporting and cheering their children from the side-lines of the sports field, or by getting to know the parents of their childrens’ friends. All this is what the excellence of the V.I. is founded on.
Last update on 23 November 2003.
Contributed by: Shien Chiun, Wendy Wee and Loh Kok Kin