BESSA Ambassador: How my boarding school moulded me

BESSA Ambassador, Tunku Abang Faisal Amir (better known as Mac Bakar amongst friends), gives us this frank and open account of how experiences in his teenage years at top British boarding school, Harrow, moulded him into who he is today in Malaysia.

First of all I would like put on record that if I eventually have sons, no question hundred percent I would send them to boarding school.  And only one school and that would be Harrow – probably the greatest school on earth.

As a young boy growing up my father’ s ambition was for my twin brother and I to enter Harrow.  To be honest, we had no idea what to expect but our early education in Malaysia was to prepare ourselves for life at Harrow.  Eventually we went a year earlier than expected at age 12 – to a prep school that was a “feeder” school.  Frankly, in the beginning it was actually quite a nightmare.  Having been completely spoilt with an army of maids back home to a life as a boarder in the brutally cold winters of England in a wee village near Ipswich – a massive eye opener to say the least.  There were tears and attempts at running away from school but let’s not get into that!  I learnt so much that year, it made the transition to Harrow far easier.

Being away from the pampered life in Malaysia certainly gave me a sense of independence.  Quickly I had to make new friends – a very international bunch – of different faiths, race, background.  This I cherish enormously.  In fact, just 2 years ago we celebrated 20 years since leaving the Hill.  All 15 of us and other halves, dining together with our housemaster who tragically died last year.  We had the current head of music perform on the piano so that we could sing our beloved Churchill songs.  One of the best nights in my life.  These boys are my brothers and we regularly meet up.

Boarding school life gives one a sense of discipline.  There were rules and regulations to adhere to. If you did not, then we had to face the music in the form of “double” (copy lines from the bible or Shakespeare on special paper provided) dished out by our teachers, or within our boarding house we were sentenced to the ‘bog squad’ to help clean the toilets!

From a very early age we learned how to compete; whether on the football or rugby pitch, inter-house music competitions, and so on.  It was great training ground for life, both personal and work; the virtues of team work and playing to win for your house or at a higher level for your school.  An education at Harrow makes you well rounded. Not only is the emphasis on education for which I believe today the school still fairs reasonably well, but you are able to compete in sports, play a musical instrument, probably act, sing and dance too.  I did all this, feeling the tremendous honour of playing in the 1st VI tennis team at Harrow, being in the concert band and singing for the house competitively.

The ages of 13 to 18 are formative years and boarding school life definitely shaped my character.  My confidence for sure – they say you can spot an Old Harrovian from a mile away!  One learns to be a gentleman… opening doors with chivalry, making small talk and the ability to charm people without really knowing the subject in question.  In the humblest way it sets you up for the future – believing that you can achieve just about anything.  If you look at those that attended the school:  Nehru, Churchill, Baldwin, Peel to the more recent Ben Cumberbatch (my classmate) and James Blunt, there is a sense and slight pressure that you will succeed at whatever you do.

This brings me to a by-product of having attended Harrow: the alumni network.  In my world of insurance broking, which I was thrown into immediately upon graduating from university, I had to mingle with clients and the market.  When people heard I was educated at Harrow, it gave me (more often than not) a big advantage.  As fate would have it, I forged business partnerships with many Old Harrovians (usually by chance) and that comradeship definitely gave me an edge over others.

My nephew is now at Harrow and for better or for worse, things are not quite the same, but it pleases me to see how he is growing into a gentleman. Stet fortuna domus

A business management graduate of King’s College, London, Tunku Abang Faisal Amir is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Malene Insurance Brokers in Malaysia.  He assumed this role on 1st January 2001, making him the youngest Central Bank approved CEO at the time.  Under his leadership, Malene has become the leading independent broker in the Malaysian market, dealing with clients such as Tenaga Nasional Berhad, ExxonMobil, MISC and Westports.  Malene has links with Lloyd’s and the insurance markets in London, including a partnership with Miller Insurance Services, who provide technical back-up in marine and energy sectors.  Tunku Amir was educated at Harrow School in the 1990s.