Making impossible possible: Anuar Ismail’s life story a testament of rural child making it in the world

Anuar Ismail.

It all began with a seemingly simple word — “SALE”.

In a classroom filled with curious minds and eager learners, Anuar Ismail found himself struggling with nuances of the English language.

When asked to read a sentence on the blackboard, he stumbled over the pronunciation, turning “SALE” into “SA-LE (pronounced as SA-LAY)”.

The innocent misstep led to a round of laughter from his classmates, leaving an indelible scar on Anuar’s young soul.

“I remember feeling so bad because I could not be as good as the others,” Anuar reflects as he recounts the moment.

Unbeknownst to him, this incident would serve as the catalyst for his remarkable journey of self-improvement and resilience.

Determined to overcome his linguistic hurdles, Anuar made a solemn promise to himself to become a better person, not just academically but in every facet of his life.

Today, Anuar, 55, has assumed the role of Senior General Manager at PETRONAS Carigali Sdn Bhd-Sarawak Asset (PCSB-SKA), bringing with him a wealth of experience and a passion for advancing the energy industry.

In his new capacity, Anuar takes on the mantle of providing stewardship and oversight for the overall operations of PCSB-SKA, the operating unit that currently contributes, on average, 50 per cent of the total gas supply in Sarawak, catering to both liquified natural gas (LNG) and domestic gas needs, as well as 70 per cent of the State’s crude oil production.

Hardy kampung life 

As a child, Anuar embraced the typical experience of rural life at Kampung Hulu, Sri Aman.

He did everything a normal kampung boy would do — he swam across the Batang Lupar river, took odd jobs, and earned some money by helping farmers harvest their paddy, climbed trees to collect fruits to sell, sold prawns from his father’s nightly catches and sold clean bottles to patients at Sri Aman Hospital.

“In those days, I remember being paid RM5 a day for my hard work. That RM5 was very valuable to me because I felt compelled to support my family.

“Back then, my father was working as an office boy before he switched jobs as a hospital attendant. It’s amazing how he continued to strive to provide for our family of six, with me being the second oldest sibling.”

Anuar recalled one night when he accompanied his father to Batang Lupar River to catch some fish and prawns.

When his father brought him back to the jetty at 9.30 pm, he assumed their night had ended. Little did he know, his father returned to the river to catch more prawns and fish, leaving him behind.

“Witnessing his resilience and persistence reminded me that no one can change your life except yourself,” he continued.

Education, passport to the world 

Anuar’s academic diligence bore fruit with commendable results in the Lower Certificate Examination (LCE) from Sekolah Menengah Bantuan (SMB) St Luke, Sri Aman.

This achievement opened doors, leading him to further studies on a scholarship at Kolej Tun Datu Hj Bujang in Miri to complete his Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE).

His keen interests on Mathematics and Science propelled him toward a path that would take him far from the familiarity of his kampung.

Armed with ambition and a thirst for knowledge, Anuar was granted a scholarship to pursue his education in Electrical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, USA. In his later years, he pursued a Senior Management Programme at Duke University, USA in 2011.

“I chose electrical engineering course by chance. My decision was shaped by the admiration I held for engineers working at the Sarawak Electricity Corporation (SESCO). I also have strong interest in Science and Mathematics that drove me to pursue my studies abroad,” said Anuar.

No winter lasts forever

His first journey to the United States, a leap for a young boy who never ventured beyond the boundaries of the kampung, he experienced a culture shock.

From witnessing public displays of affection on a plane to facing the harsh winter cold without adequate clothing, Anuar traversed through unfamiliar environments.

Yet, these experiences served as milestones in his pursuit of a dream, shaping his perspective and fostering personal growth.

“What I still remember till today was the moment I stepped out of the airport, upon arriving in the U.S. It was winter then, but I was not aware of the need to wear thicker clothes. So, I walked around shivering until a helpful individual, a Caucasian man, advised me to switch to warmer clothing,” he explained.

After five years in the United States, Anuar returned to Malaysia with a degree in Electrical Engineering.

However, he faced the challenges of an economic downturn, which resulted in him not being able to find any job at that point in time.

Undeterred, he applied and seized the opportunity to teach at SMK Melugu in Sri Aman. He was asked to teach English, Mathematics and Art.

As a temporary teacher, commuting daily by bus or van from Sri Aman to Melugu for a modest RM500 monthly salary, he found joy and satisfaction in shaping young minds.

Even after leaving the teaching profession, the echoes of his impact lingered, as ex-students continued to address him affectionately as “Cikgu” during his visits to his hometown.

A Colourful Professional Journey in PETRONAS 

In 1991, Anuar embarked on his professional journey with PETRONAS at Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd-Sarawak Operations as a Materials Analyst.

Over the years, he experienced continuous career progression.

From Manager (Operating Performance Improvement) to Senior Manager (Field Operations – Baronia / Betty / Bokor) and further to roles such as General Manager of Strategic Planning, General Manager of Operations Management and General Manager of Operational Excellence, Anuar’s professional journey was marked by consistent growth and impactful contributions.

His expertise and leadership were further put to the test in 2017 when he assumed the role of Senior General Manager, PCSB-Sarawak Oil, overseeing mature and complex Sarawak Oil assets.

In this capacity, he not only strengthened health, safety, and environmental (HSE) practices, but also fostered collaborative solutions with key stakeholders and joint venture partners.

The pinnacle of his international exposure came with his role as the PETRONAS’ Country Chairman in South Sudan from 2019 to 2021.

Anuar played a crucial role in overseeing PETRONAS’ investments in three Joint Operating Companies (JOCs) and navigating challenges stemming from the country’s internal conflicts.

“Working in a foreign country posed its own set of challenges, especially when there was no Malaysian ambassador in South Sudan.

“Whenever issues arose, I had to be resilient and took a proactive approach by establishing a strong working relationship with the Malaysian Embassy in Kenya, the nearest diplomatic representation.”

Upon his return to Kuala Lumpur in August 2021, Anuar was appointed as the chief government and regulatory advisor, where he played a pivotal role in building and maintaining trust among key stakeholders, including Federal and State Governments in Malaysia.

Additionally, he took on the responsibility of being a member of the Consultative Council on Foreign Policy (CCFP), contributing to the development of Malaysia’s post-pandemic foreign policy framework.

Be yourself

Anuar is one of the few rural children from the interior of Sarawak who beat all odds to find success in life.

He hoped his early struggle and success in life may serve as motivation and inspiration for the rural children.

“Be yourself. You need to value yourself…you must believe in yourself. Don’t try to imitate others. We have something in ourselves that can be uncovered and harnessed.

“In life, it’s not just about skill and knowledge. If you want to be successful, skills and knowledge must be complemented with the right attitude and behaviour.

‘Whatever you do in life, do it sincerely even when no one is watching. Be humble and always keep your integrity.” — DayakDaily