Datuk Dr. Rosti Saruwono
Appointed as Rector from 1997 until 2005
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
A mechanical engineer by training, Datuk Dr Rosti Saruwono was initially overwhelmed when he was appointed the MD/CEO of Institute of Technology PETRONAS Sdn Bhd to spearhead the establishment of Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP).
“I never had any experience of being a university lecturer, let alone being a Dean or Vice Chancellor. I didn’t know how universities were run or how various academic systems with registrars, senates and chancellors were structured. But although I didn’t have the experience of running a university, I had the experience of running a company,” says Dr Rosti, who was at the time CEO of PETRONAS Management Training Sdn Bhd (PERMATA).
From the get-go, he knew that he had a challenging task on his hands. “There were too many things to be done in too short a time. We had to start from scratch. It was made clear to me that should I fail to deliver, I would be taken out of the project. And there were a few occasions when I was reminded of that. We were also often reminded that the university was part of PETRONAS, and as such whatever we do we cannot undermine the image of PETRONAS,” he recalls.
But he also knew that help and guidance were available for the asking. “That is the culture at PETRONAS. There is that strong sense of common ownership and team spirit. All I needed to do was to listen, learn and improvise. There was also support from the PETRONAS Group in management matters such as human resources, finance, legal, corporate affairs, security and property management. So at every stage, we would discuss and bounce ideas,” he says.
“There was never a dull moment in those early years,” says Dr Rosti. “As we were one of the pioneer private universities, we faced several challenges in setting up operations. Many policies and systems were not in place. ITP, and later UTP, were registered with the Ministry of Education and were lumped with other private institutions including kindergartens, international schools and private schools. Every step of the way required approval.
“Getting timely approval was a nightmare. At one stage, we had to wait at 7.30am for an official to arrive at his office from the airport and secure his signature, failing which we would be operating without a valid licence!”
Dr Rosti, who retired as UTP Rector in 2005, describes his tenure as satisfying. Looking back, he reckons that his lack of experience in running an educational institution turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “I didn’t have a fixed idea or perception of how a university should be. There was no single way of doing things. I could learn from as many sources as possible, from existing universities and other organisations, learn what works best, what pitfalls to avoid, and craft our own vision for the university.”
For Dr Rosti, his experience as one of the pioneers of UTP and its founder rector remains one of the most enjoyable moments of his 28-year career in PETRONAS. “It was a huge task, and when I look at the university and its graduates today, I am happy that I was given the opportunity to play a part in its initial establishment.”