Striding through the corridors of Rantau’s Petaling Jaya office, Chief Executive Officer Gogulan Dorairajoo cuts a tall, trim figure with legs up to his eyeballs.

Kitted out in a smart blue-and-white small-check shirt and not a hair out of place, you’d think the dapper CEO wouldn’t be getting himself dirty and sweat-soaked at the end of his working days being head honcho of the boutique PR, communications and consulting powerhouse.

You’d be mistaken. At the end of the same day that I managed to squeeze an hour out of his packed schedule for our chat, he was at bootcamp.

But it gets more hardcore.

He’s completed the Viper challenge, the Spartan race and a host of other runs and endurance events, come rain, impossible Malaysian heatwave or mud underfoot.

“I’ll run till I can no longer walk,” he laughs, while he casually brushes off my open-mouthed wide-eyed gape at the golden trophy perched on a table in his office. It is the size of a small child (the trophy, not the office.)

“Oh yeah, that’s one of the trophies we won,” he says. For which team?

“For KL Galaxy,” he smiles.

Ah yes. The football team of which he’s a part and in which he plays, when he’s not fielding off good-natured ribbing from friends for Aston Villa FC’s recent relegation from the Premier League. (Gogzta — he jokes some find his name hard to pronounce so he makes it easy for them, like a champ — is an ardent Villa supporter.)

So. Running a company, running in all weather, football (playing and supporting, in equal measures of enthusiasm) and fatherhood.

What else, I think. Running for president? Saving a small nation? (“If I weren’t doing this,” — he gestures around the office — “I’d be teaching kids how to play football.”)

Not yet. The calm and cheerful fortysomething (must be all those endorphins) also elbows three other blokes for chair and air space at BFM’s studio every Friday between 7 to 8 pm while host Ross Yusof captains the four of them as they dissect and talk about — a guess, anyone? — football. He’s only been joining in on-air the last five years. No big deal.

I jest. And he knows it, for he takes a lot of things in good humour, except when it comes to common sense. Or the frustrating lack thereof.

Don’t ask him about what’s needed to best groom the next generation of empire-builders for he has a lot to say, and he doesn’t sugar-coat his words.

(Rightfully so. He’s only clocked up 23 years of working experience, 15 of which are with Rantau, and the rest, as he says, covering the “gamut of communications and media disciplines, from 3D animation, production, events and PR to digital billboards.”)Rantau

You cannot always be a fully hands-on CEO, he believes, for good reason.

“You need to entrust people with work,” he explains, “and through experience you realise they can do their jobs.”

“You need to take the shelter off them and that’s when they grow up.”

The final authority rests with him, obviously, as the CEO, but as he reminds me, even when critical decisions need to be made, “I am just a text away.”

In these contemporary times of cloud computing, he asserts, you don’t even need a laptop to check on your work: you just need your phone.

But (and there is always a but) “I’ve seen a lot of newbies — I interview them, I work with them — and what’s missing is common sense.”

One of the quirky (but effective) signs at the Rantau PR office.
One of the quirky (but effective) signs at the Rantau office.

He relates, with frustration creasing his features slightly, about 22-year-olds who use their boyfriends or parents to drive them to interviews and then bring said boyfriends or parents into the office at which they’re being interviewed. No leaving the parent or paramour at the cafe or asking them to drive somewhere nearby. No. The personal entourage sits in the office while they interview for a job.

“If you don’t know how to take a bus or a cab when you’re 22 to attend an interview….” and he is shaking his head to conclude the observation.

He has a point. In an age where there is a multitude of public transportation and ride-sharing services, there really is little need to be driven and hand-held when you’re asking someone to hire you when you have no work experience.

“Don’t think you’re entitled to anything,”

he says, the emphasis on the word ‘entitled’ making me think if it stays on his tongue a second longer it might scald it.

He is not alone in thinking this. After speaking with dozens of CFOs, COOs and CEOs, this seems to be a common lament.

“I would throw them in the deep end and see how they survive. That’s when their instincts kick in. And that’s when you know when the person is worth keeping.”

He’s not being vicious — that’s not his style at all — he’s simply imparting valuable nuggets of CEO-level insights that cover both ends of experience, as an employee and as a business leader. CEOs are not exactly born the minute they exit the varsity campus gates.

But like Rantau, he has a youthful appreciation for innovation and fluid market responsiveness.

“This,” he declares, tapping on the screen of his smartphone, “is the screen now. In the 70s, it was the TV, billboards, and then other media came along and everyone was competing — media managers were telling advertisers, tell me what your message is and we’ll tell you where to put it. Then the job fell to corporate communicators. Now, in this day and age, it is the age of PR, and now the phone is the screen that people cannot live without.”

It might seem obvious to a Gen-Y or Gen-Z, but saying this out loud sounds like (another) clarion call for business evolution — specifically, the business of PR, for Rantau and for its clients, some of whom may be stubbornly insistent that their digital presence is a by-the-way rather than a we-need-to-do-this pressing matter.

He’s equally comfortable reiterating the importance of the old-school ways of the business (“Taking editors out for drinks and building relationships with them — does anyone do that anymore?” he wonders out loud,) as he is learning about new ways and lightning-fast developments.

“I’m a paid-up member of the relationship management club,” he says, without a trace of apology. Even though he recognises the liquid nature of media ownership and media presence in 2016’s capricious economy.

“Everyone who has a Facebook page is a media owner,” he says, not unkindly.

He also understands part of his job is to manage a client’s aversion to change. (Such as making space for digital branding and communication amidst the thick undergrowth of traditional communication.)

But change is what his team of 12 manages well, and not just crisis management.

Rantau, founded by his wife Janitha and her friends in 1992, can now include Big Blue Marble in their family as the new addition takes care of strategy-based consulting. Give me a ‘for instance’?

“If a bank has an internal comms team, it needs senior leadership to guide it. Instead of hiring an entire agency, which is the more prevalent route with SMEs, we at Big Blue Marble will come in and provide strategic and policy guidance, and the execution can subsequently be carried out by the internal comms team.”

This is when his wife — now Consulting Director, after taking a sabbatical in 2008 to spend more time with their children — steps in, fully armed and loaded with expertise, to help clients figuratively look their best in the marketplace.

 

Toy planes on Gogulan's desk, left there by his son.
Toy planes on Gogulan’s desk, left there by his son.

 

“We help you identify where and why you need to speak to which people,” he smiles confidently, “and what messages you need to craft.”

Of course. Because, as most of us know, messages can get lost in translation.


In a market as bustling, competitive and borderless as today’s, everyone could use all the help they need to look their best. Even the longest-standing behemoths.

We talk about some big (and I mean really big) players, what went wrong where, and what could have been done better. (I know what you did last summer.)

I can’t share what we talked about, because that would just be terrible PR.