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Seeing opportunities in times of change

Seeing opportunities in times of change

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The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was the symbolic start that paved the way to eventual German Reunification process, that took place about a year later.

The idea of reunification, championed by then chancellor Helmut Kohl, was naturally met with opposition, fearing negative economic impacts on West Germany – in fact, even met with scepticism from ally nations of the United States of America, Britain and France.

Domestic opposition, although a minority, pointed to the possible impacts of East German immigration to economic growth, unemployment rates and so fourth.

Looking back at the history of the reunification process, the ones that revered the unification the most were the East German populace.

Perhaps it was a no-brainer given their dire economic situation, but everybody knew that the East Germans were not used to liberalised economic structures and the tough competition of the modern western capitalist economy.

Fast forward three decades later, unified Germany has emerged into a European economic powerhouse.

It is seen as the economic leader of the European Union (EU) – those within the EU turn first to Germany in times of need.

Last year, Germany’s gross domestic product stood at US$3.5 trillion (RM13.6 trillion), compared with US$1.7 trillion in 1990.

There were of course times of turmoil, particularly due to the vast difference in wealth and skills between the West and East Germans at the time of reunification.

However, the German nation saw opportunity first, and worked on shortfalls – income disparities are narrowing, and the country as a whole has seen more gain than losses.

Today, portions of the Berlin wall still stand to remind us of the fall of the barriers that hold us back and the aspirations to live in a world of equal competition and a change towards competitive mindsets.

For Malaysia to walk in the same steps as the advanced nations of the world, it is not enough for us to merely stand in awe of current achievements, and brush off the stories in reaching those historical milestones.

As the saying goes, “Success is a journey, not a destination”.

To be successful, we need to take the mindset of learning from the success of those ahead of us.

While it is perfectly fine to learn from our own mistakes, there are numerous resources easily available to us that allow us to learn from the experiences of others.

Such is the power of willingness to work towards becoming competitive in a liberalised economy.

While protectionist strategies are valid for infant industries to bloom, they must always be seen as temporary measures, and a model towards competition based business must be formulated.

One interesting thing I learned during my visit to Berlin was the circumstances surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The historical moment was a result of an accident – the announcement of the relaxation of immigration between the East and West was meant to be implemented over a longer period of time.

However, the government spokesperson at the time mistakenly implied that the new regulations would take place immediately.

Within the next few hours, thousands of East Germans came to the border wall, and the rest was history.

Most interestingly though, was the chancellor’s reaction. He took advantage of the “accident” and used the momentum to gain the support of the international community – and a united Germany was announced just a year later.

It just goes to show that opportunities can arise when you least expect and often they stem from problems and adversities. Every cloud has a silver lining, it is our mindset that teaches us to spot them, or cloud our view from ever noticing.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.

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