By Ahmed Wafi
Last Friday, I was blessed with the opportunity to interview a financial journalist working at The Edge Malaysia. Mohd Sulhi Azman or better known as Max agreed to meet up with me at a local coffee shop near his office in Damansara and from the one-hour interview that was conducted, I can confirm that the level of dedication and commitment he shows for his job matches his name. Max is indeed dedicated to the max.
Initially, the interview was scheduled to take place on a Thursday evening but due to the busy nature of his job and a highly newsworthy event taking place on that day, we were forced to settle for a Friday morning. That morning, I was informed by Max that he would have to postpone the interview to 12 p.m. and so we had a chat over coffee at the said time.
He strolled in the café dressed in casual office clothes with the exception of the slippers he had on and took a seat opposite to me. He explained how he had just come from Putrajaya as an unexpected event took place at the time and the traffic did not help his endeavour for punctuality. I didn’t really mind the wait because I knew that waiting is very much a part of the journalism industry just as writing is.
I had prepared a number of questions to ask Max and made sure that they weren’t too much as I had to keep in mind that more questions may arise throughout the interview. Prior to the interview, I did a background check on Max in order to get a rough idea on who I was dealing with.
Max does not come from a journalistic background. He previously studied biology and chemistry before becoming a lecturer in a number of different universities including the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuantan campus for a brief period of time.
Prior to that, Max taught engineering at UCSI University in Cheras for nearly two years before moving on to become a manager at ING Public Takaful Ehsan Berhad.
Before this, Max had also spent a couple of years working as an engineer at Bosch.
When asked how he got into the profession of journalism, he explained that after the job at ING, he was looking for a stable job as his last two jobs failed to last a year.
He found assurance for job stability with The Edge and he has no regrets as he put pen to paper to secure a job with them in February of 2014.
After getting to know his academic background and previous job experiences, we began to talk about his notable experiences and fond memories in his field.
Max was grateful to not have been sued previously but talked about how he was nearly sued by the Prime Minister’s son, Mohd Nazifuddin Najib. He got himself into this mess after writing an article about the peculiarity and the strangeness of how Nazifuddin ran his business and Max felt that there was something shady about what was going on.
Shortly after, he received an invitation for lunch with Nazifuddin in which he kindly accepted. It was there that he was ‘threatened’ by the PM’s son to be sued. Max later dismissed the threat as just a scare tactic, a way of saying “do that again and you’ll be sorry”. Max also recalls how a minister once gave him a pat on the shoulder that may have packed a little more power than it should have and that left him rubbing his shoulder for a while.
The next question in store was regarding investigative journalism in the financial world.
Investigative journalism is an exciting field especially when it has to do with crime, when investigating a case, the investigator must remain anonymous at all times and basically, they have to think like a criminal, look for things that no one else would usually find.
At first glance, one would not expect investigation to be in the job scope of a financial journalist but when asked, Max refuted that claim and assured that investigation is an important part in any field of journalism.
He even cited a story of one of his colleagues who went as far as to disguise himself as a janitor working in a United Nations camp in order to get a story on human trafficking. The journalist responsible later won awards for his story and his commitment to his job.
Max also revealed the spy tools that some journalists have including cameras as small as pens that you can slip into your shirt pocket without suspicion.
The fact that he was very concerned with his anonymity prompted me to ask whether he adopted the name Max in order to maintain his anonymity when necessary. The answer was brief. No. He explained that he adopted the name Max because it was different compared to other names and in journalism, in order to have an advantage, you’re going to have to be someone worth remembering. You’ll be dealing with a lot of important people that meet a dozen people a day and shake a dozen hands a day so what makes you stand out? There are millions of people named Muhammad or Nurul but how Maxes are there?
Obviously, in the media industry, one will face competition from numerous other organisations especially in the print media industry. Naturally, he has to face this competition hands-on. He describes his competition as very fierce and he knows very well that financial journalism is a niche area but is also wary of the foreign competition that is present during international events.
When asked about his inspirations, without hesitation, the name Mahathir was mentioned. Of course, he was referring to the one and only Tun Mahathir Mohamad. “I look up to Mahathir although sometimes I think he should keep his mouth shut,” Max explained. Another one of the inspirations that he cited was the competition in his field. The competition that he faces spurs him to do better.
As a journalist, Max faces a lot of hardship and stress. I wanted to know whether the monetary reward that is paid to him compensates what he has to go through and he simply replied “no”.
Max clarified that he used to earn much more money working in previous jobs and as a journalist he only earns slightly over than half of what he used to but one of the perks of being a journalist is free travel. In 2014, Max had visited Langkawi so many times up to the point where he says he is bored of the place. Work also brought him to Poland, Japan, Greece, the United States, China, Vietnam and Myanmar. That was only last year.
He loves travelling and believes that the travel perks that he enjoys make up for the salary he feels is insufficient. The satisfaction that he gets comes from seeing his hard work make a change. “You can earn big bucks but if you’re not happy with where you are then it doesn’t make sense,” he remarked.
Among other perks that he enjoys does not necessarily come from the job itself but from the people that he deals with. Every now and again, Max will have to deal with wealthy business tycoons that are very generous with the fruits of their labour. To these multi-millionaires, a few thousand bucks don’t make much of a difference so they’ll be happy to reward their friends with some cash. Note that this is not a bribe but rather a token of appreciation and friendship.
Once he is assigned to deal with a businessman to write a story about him/her or has to study their business, they might be kind enough to slip in some money as a way of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘it was a pleasure of working with you’. This money is received strictly after business. Any cash offered during their dealings are bribes and he is against that. “After dealing, I can write a bad article about them and nothing would happen to me, maybe they’d get mad but that’s as far as it goes,” he reassured.
Before we ended our interview, I asked about what he does with his free time and like many teenagers, he says that he enjoys watching anime like Naruto and Bleach. Other than watching cartoons, Max also likes to catch up with his sleep. He claims to have been working every weekend since September due to the lack of staff and tight schedule at The Edge.
When asked what was next, he said ambitiously, “I want to become a CEO of a corporate company.” His plan is to achieve that goal in the next five years or so. He did not rule out returning to lecturing but assured that he would not want to pursue full-time lecturing but may consider part-time lecturing as he “loves teaching”.
Hopefully, he didn’t scare us too far from wanting to be a journalist.***