Successful Entertaining in Malaysia

It is very common to be invited out for lunch or dinner in Malaysia as business entertainment performs an important function in the all-important relationship building process. (Business breakfasts would be much less commonplace.)

Although it is not always the case, most detailed business issues are left to the confines of the office. It is a good idea to try to use the meal as an opportunity to broaden out the topics of conversation and develop your personal relationship more fully. Good topics of conversation might be Malaysia as a country, mutual acquaintances, food and sport (football is very popular.)
Whenever eating, passing or receiving food, use the right hand as the left hand is considered to be unclean. (This rule applies even if you are left handed.)
Malaysian food can be very spicy but less spicy alternatives are available. It is polite to leave some food on your plate as a sign that you have been well satisfied with the amount of food provided.

Remember that many Malaysians are Muslims and may not, therefore, drink alcohol and will definitely not eat pork. Most people though (unless very orthodox) will not object to you drinking alcohol.

In Malaysia, in a system that the locals call “plus plus,” a 5% tax is added to bills of hotels and restaurants classified as tourist class, along with a 10% service charge. You can add an additional gratuity if you wish (5% is usually adequate) but it is not absolutely necessary.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Malaysia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Malaysia often appears very near the top of the tree in the ‘Best Country to Invest in’ league tables. With a highly skilled, well-educated workforce and a pro-business government Malaysia attracts high levels of foreign direct investment and Kuala Lumpur is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for global organisations who are looking to establish an Asian head office. In fact, more than 5000 companies from over 40 countries have established operations in Malaysia and that trend looks set to continue.

It would appear then that lots of global organisations consider doing business in Malaysia to be an attractive proposition. You should ask yourself why you haven’t considered Malaysia as a potential market if you are still to make that move. Political stability, great infrastructure, a highly motivated workforce and ideal geographic location make doing business in Malaysia sound like good business sense.

Yet Malaysia is a complex mix of different ethnicities all working and living together. This mix has produced a very distinctive local business culture which you need to understand before starting to build relationships and sell your good or services. Traditionally the minority Chinese section of society ran most business activities in the country but changing demographics and pro-Malay legislation have altered this picture over the past few decades. How have these changes impacted on day-to-day business dealings in Malaysia? What type of communication style can you expect from such a mixed-race culture? How do traditional hierarchical mindsets fit with the more modern matrixed approach used by so many foreign capital companies? You need to think about these things before you arrive in Kuala Lumpur rather than on the plane home. Don’t leave things to chance; do some homework.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Malaysian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips