June 2008 • Vol. 87: No. 3 : Alumni Profiles

Starting from scratch

by John English

For the last decade, Hamdan K.C. Ahammu (MA ’88) has been involved in a truly monumental task—building a new city to relocate the federal government of Malaysia.

“Ten years ago, this 11,000 acres was an oil palm plantation,” Ahammu (MAJ ’88) says, looking over a series of huge office complexes. “Now it’s a mega-development called Putrajaya.”

The impulse for the project was practical and economic.

“Government offices were scattered all over Kuala Lumpur and most were in rented premises,” he says. “Obviously it would be cheaper in the long run and more efficient to put everything in one place.”

The Malaysian government created Putrajaya Holdings as the master developer of the new city. Putrajaya Holdings has since become a subsidiary of PETRONAS, Malaysia’s national oil company, which is on Fortune magazine’s Global 500, a list of the world’s largest corporations.

“We tried to learn from other new administrative centers, such as Canberra and Brasilia,” Ahammu says. “My task as general manager for communications is to position the project in the media, do image building and manage the controversies that pop up. My staff and I develop branding campaigns in the media, including one launched in July promoting the arts in Putrajaya. I’ve also done several books documenting the project—the largest man-made wetlands in the country, our dramatically beautiful bridges and a huge volume on the first five years of planning and construction.”

The project has been on a fast track all the way. Less than three years after the land was cleared, the first buildings were ready for occupancy. Putrajaya ’s population—currently 70,000—will be 330,000 when all 67,000 new homes are completed.

“Our master plan earmarks every space for something specific,” Ahammu says.“For example, 37 per cent of the acreage is for parks and green space. All our contractors must adhere to high standards for safety and quality. Aesthetics and sustainability are also important.”

At 47, Ahammu is a man in motion. He began his career at the public affairs consulting firm Burson-Marsteller in Kuala Lumpur, and then worked for the Guthrie Group plantation conglomerate, American Express and the national rail system KTM Bhd. before being recruited for Putrajaya. In his off hours, he hosted live talk shows on the national television channel TV1. “I enjoyed interviewing government ministers, corporate leaders and consumer-group reps and interacting with the studio audience and call-ins,” he recalls.

As Putrajaya’s final phase looms ahead in 2015, Ahammu already is mulling his next move. Consulting is one option, he says, adding, “I’ve also been thinking about going back to television and eventually teaching at a university and imparting some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated.”

“I’d like to bring my family to the U.S. and come back to Athens,” he says. “Maybe in a few more years.”

(top photo) Hamdan Ahammu oversees development of Putrajaya (in background) to house the Malaysian federal government. Special photo.