[EXCLUSIVE] Tengku Noor Zakiah - Rising Above The Bull, The Bear & The Bursa

A FBy Andaq Fithry

The woman behind Malaysia's largest independent investment bank. Photo by Kenanga Investment Bank BerhadSource

“I was only at the boarding school for about two years. I left because World War II had spread to our quiet corner of the world. I boarded a train home in December only to realise that my timing was perfect, because by the next day - the invasion of Malaya began,” recalled Tengku Noor Zakiah.

She continued the harrowing details, “We soon learnt that Japan had not only attacked Pearl Harbour - they had also landed troops on the beaches of Kota Bharu. War we realised, had come knocking on our front door.”

Not many of us will have the same monumental memoir to tell, about the struggles of going through occupation and invasion - somewhat horrific first-hand experience and details of the Second World War but YM Tan Sri Dato’ Paduka Tengku Noor Zakiah Tengku Ismail is unlike many of us.
Malaysia's Pioneering Stockbroker, out now. Photo by

In her autobiography launched recently titled ‘Malaysia’s Pioneering Stockbroker’, Tengku Noor Zakiah though known by her peers in the industry as a force to be reckoned with, shares her personal recollections of how she went through the nation’s greatest benchmark disasters (WWII and Boh Meroh), meeting key historical figures along the way before climbing her way to become the country’s first-ever female stockbroker, eventually building one of the country’s most prolific financial fortress to date, Kenanga Investment Bank.

Silver, Silk and Stockbroking

Father, Tengku Ismail (left) and mother, Tengku Besar Zabedah.

Her journey to success may be considered to some as having it easy. While there’s no denying her fortunate bloodline (her father ran a 4,000-acre rubber plantation owned by Tengku Maryam, wife to Tengku Abdul Kadi, the last king of Patani - her grandfather) may have given her a little push but upon reading her endeavours, one might eventually discover that a big part of her success came from sheer will, passion and a serious knack for knowledge.

She started to dabble with fashion as early as 1940s.

The book outlines her earlier entrepreneurial encounters - from making her first profit, selling kenanga (ylang ylang) flowers at age seven to dipping her toes into fabric and fashion (with her Silver & Silk brand) before securing a stockbroking license during the period when the country was still teething from Merdeka.

Tengku when she began designing jewellery in the 50s (left). In front of her very first dress shop, Coronet before starting her Silver & Silk venture.

To most readers, the relevancy of Tengku Noor Zakiah’s journey may seem distant but the intriguing aspect of how things work out through the nine decades of her timeline would definitely fan the flames of interest to avid readers - hungry for success stories in intricate details, especially when one could name-spot some key figures who have crossed path with the Kenanga stockbroker from Kelantan through her years - with a notable one being a significant figure in the local politics and economic scene, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Rafidah Aziz.

A Little Piece of History

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Rafidah Aziz (midde), early in her political career. Photo by

Malaysia was still a young nation back in the 60s and like any other countries, gender equality was not a topic the general public would care to discuss about. The society simply accepted that men do the working deed and women stay in the kitchen.

Over the years when Tengku Noor Zakiah ran an office in the Bank Negara building, there was a young trainee who was still fresh off University Malaya, grinding her teeth to mould her own career path. The young trainee would later become the longest-serving woman MP (1978-2013), Minister of International Trade and Industry (1987-2008), the iron lady who was only known then as just Rafidah Aziz.

“Kak Engku, as I refer to her, broke new ground in a previously male-dominated sector and while it’s lauded that pioneers such as her are women, it’s not their gender that is important. Rather, it’s their competence and capabilities that made them successful.

They were not there because they were women. They were there because they had the knowledge and skills”, she recollected.

Throughout her journey, Tengku Noor Zakiah came into contact with the who’s who in the industry, political figures and even national heroes.

Coming from a lineage of the Patani kingdom, a south Thailand empire founded in the 14th century, the book tells her distanced but strong relationship with her grandfather, Sultan Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin, the last king of lost kingdom of Patani.

In her childhood days, her uncle, Tengku Mahmood Mahyideen would at times help her father, the late Tengku Ismail at the estate. Military trained by the Ottoman Empire, Tengku Mahmood would later be of aid to his country, waging guerilla warfare with the British against the Japanese during WWII in the famed Force 136.

She took care of the King (right) when he was just a little boy.

The war also connected Tengku Noor Zakiah to Tun Ismail Mohd Ali, a person who would be a key figure in giving Kenanga a push much later in the years as the first Malayan governor of Bank Negara. And in only a couple of years into marriage, young Tengku Noor had to babysit her nephew who decades later would become the country’s 12th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin.

Fans of the cult classic - A Clockwork Orange would be pleased to read the chapter about her run-in with Anthony Burgess and the friendship they made from his days as a lecturer in Kelantan.

Stanley Kubrick turned this classic by Burgess into a powerful film. Photo by

Not many would have such experience but in 1961 during a visit to the Istana Negara, she met the first Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman by chance before dabbling in stock market together with David Morgan and Ho Soo Tiang, the former director of Hallam & Co, one of the oldest stockbroking companies in Malaysia.

By the early 70s, former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghafar Baba (1986-1993) introduced Tengku Noor Zakiah to Kamaruddin Taha who would later help her co-found K&N Kenanga before it bloomed many years later into the prolific Kenanga Investment Bank.

Nine Decades of Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs

Flipping through the autobiography is akin to reading historical facts and figures, going through the past and figuring out the timeline to fit the names to the dates. It tells her story, her struggles and her kinship with personalities you only read in history books.

This book is not just about Tengku Noor Zakiah.

It’s about reaching for the stars, a real-life fairytale, a piece of Malaysian history from the recollection of someone that does not conform to society’s standards of a woman born in the 20s and how she soared past her sorrows. In her own words - A life that has spanned over 90 years does give you time to mull over some successes.

So who exactly is Tengku Zakiah?

She is the daughter of an estate manager, the first pioneering female stockbroker, the first woman accepted by Bursa Malaysia Securities, the first lady member of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, co-founder of Malaysia’s award-winning, largest independent investment bank established four decades ago - Kenanga Investment Bank.

You may own a piece of history and by using this promo code kenanga20 to get this limited edition autobiography from MPH HERE before it runs out.

A FBy Andaq Fithry