Proton CEO, or more accurately the CEO of Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd (PONSB), Dr Li Chunrong, has been working 12 hours a day, six days a week for the past 17 months to revive the persistent loss-making company, The Star reports.

The long hours may seem gruelling to most, but for the 56-year-old Chinese national who was appointed to lead Proton, the long hours are necessary to revitalise Malaysia’s national car. “In Proton, I work 12 hours a day, six days per week. But I have been doing so since I started working,” Dr Li told Sunday Star.

In fact, there’s little choice for Dr Li but to lead the charge at Proton. Since his appointment as CEO, expectations on him to turn Proton into a viable and professionally-run company are high. His mission to revive Proton is part of a 10-year plan, and he’s tasked to restore Proton’s image to the respected brand it once was.

President of the China Entrepreneurs Association in Malaysia, Datuk Keith Li Zhongping said: “This mission is not just his own personal commitment, but also the dream of China.” The report adds that Proton is confident of generating profits in 2019 or 2020, and many are excited over the prospects.

Investment consultant for businesses from China, Ian Yoong said: “Inviting Geely to take a strategic stake in Proton is the best move our government has ever made. And appointing Li to be the Proton CEO is wise. We are witnessing the rebirth of Proton.”

Dr Li’s credentials are impressive, to say the least. Academically, he graduated from Huazhong University of Science and Technology with a Bachelor of Electrical Automation, followed by a Master in Industrial Engineering and Management. He pursued a second master’s degree in business at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. After that, he returned to Huazhong University to earn a PhD in Management Engineering.

Dr Li then began his career with Dongfeng Motor Corporation in 1987, where he was involved in Dongfeng’s joint ventures with Peugeot, Honda, Nissan, Kia and Cummins. In 2007, he set up Dongfeng Passenger Vehicle Company, and his efforts in establishing the company’s design, branding and production system led to its success.

While serving as executive vice president of Dongfeng Honda Engine Company, Dr Li was handpicked by Geely to spearhead Proton’s transformation. On September 29, 2017, Dr Li officially took over the role of Proton CEO from Datuk Ahmad Fuaad Kenali, and the new CEO pledged: “My job is not to look at the past. I will work day and night to make sure Proton is strongly successful.”

The Proton X70 has received over 20,000 orders, and is said to boost revenue for Proton this year

Proton, established in 1983 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the prime minister for the first time, had gone through a number of “rescue exercises” totalling over RM15 billion. Despite that, Proton continued to bleed, and debts piled on. In an effort to end that once and for all, a strategic partnership was formed with Geely, which saw the auto giant acquire a 49.9% stake in Proton from DRB-Hicom, and a 51% majority stake in Lotus Cars.

So what is it like for Dr Li? Well, he seems optimistic about Proton’s future, backed by months of planning, revamp, problem-solving and practicing leadership by example. However, success did not come easy for him, who knew little about Malaysia’s complex multi-racial society.

Last year, when Dr Li instituted reforms to upgrade Proton sales centres nationwide, his new management faced sharp criticism of harbouring discrimination against bumiputras. But that curveball has become history after the new Proton 3S and 4S centres began enjoying more businesses and higher profitability.

As a result of optimism, analysts expect financial improvement in DRB-Hicom (Proton’s parent company). Public Investment Bank recently maintained an “outperform” call on DRB-Hicom with a target price of RM2.10.

Inundated with good news, Dr Li wore a wide smile throughout his interview with Sunday Star. He said: “I am happy now. Things are on track. Starting from 60,000 units, my next target for Proton is 100,000 units, followed by 150,000 and 200,000. I now have the support of everybody. Malaysia is wonderful, the climate and air is good and the food is wonderful.” What do you think of this, folks?