HE never planned to become a detective, either in the public or private sector, but ended up working in both capacities before eventually setting up a successful private investigation agency.
After graduating from a local university with a degree in social science in 1999, Wan Zairi found it difficult to find a steady job so he worked part-time as a replacement teacher.
“Those were bad economic times for Malaysia,” he recalls, adding: “So when I got the chance to join the police under an Assistant Superintendent of Police cadet scheme, I jumped at it. My parents were quite relieved too.”
He stayed on with the police force for six years before joining the corporate sector, working for Petronas as head of its intelligence unit. He also subsequently picked up a Master’s degree in forensic accounting.
Now, running his own private investigation agency, aptly named My Private Eye Consulting, Wan Zairi is doing what he loves and is happier than he has ever been. Suffice to say, he’s certainly got his sights on bigger things.
HOW DO THEY TRAIN YOU TO BECOME AN INVESTIGATOR IN THE POLICE FORCE?
I spent one year training at the Pusat Latihan Police (Police Training Centre) but I wasn’t really taught much about investigation techniques there. We were taught legal stuff like what powers you possess as a police officer. There was more focus on the statutes than on investigation techniques. I learnt how to do investigative work as I went along. It was very much an on-the-job training kind of thing.
BESIDES INVESTIGATION SKILLS, WHAT ELSE DID YOU PICK UP FROM BEING IN THE POLICE FORCE?
Discipline, time management and leadership skills. These are useful in the private sector too.
SPEAKING OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR, HOW LONG DID YOU WORK FOR PETRONAS AND WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU DO THERE?
I was with Petronas for six years. I was basically their in-house investigator, looking at a lot of misconduct cases involving staff and things like criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and so on.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DO A MASTER’S DEGREE IN FORENSIC ACCOUNTING?
I had no background in business or accounting. I was a social science student. So I felt that part of my skill sets as an investigator was lacking. It was a steep learning curve but it taught me how to analyse numbers and detect financial fraud. If someone had cooked the books, I’d be able to know about it.
BEING AN INVESTIGATOR IN THE POLICE FORCE AND BEING AN INVESTIGATOR IN A BIG CORPORATION — WHICH IS HARDER?
Each has its pros and cons. It’s easier as a police officer to conduct an investigation because you’re vested with the authority to investigate people. You can even arrest people if necessary. You have the full force of the law on your side. In contrast, in the corporate sector, people can question you and ask things like what authority do you have to investigate them? But there is one advantage in the corporate sector: The burden of proof required is much lower for civil cases than for criminal cases.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FORM YOUR OWN COMPANY?
The corporate sector pays well but I wanted more freedom and flexibility to do my own thing. I wasn’t too comfortable reporting to a boss, to management, to a board. I hated committee meetings.
YOU’VE WORKED IN THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS. NOW YOU’RE AN ENTREPRENEUR, RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS. WAS IT EASY MAKING THAT TRANSITION?
Quite honestly, it wasn’t that hard. By the time I started my company, people in the corporate world already knew me. So getting jobs wasn’t that difficult.
DID YOU START OFF AS A ONE-MAN SHOW OR DID YOU HIRE STAFF?
I had employees who were trained from scratch by me. I didn’t actually hire any policemen but rather a bunch of insurance adjusters.
WHY NOT HIRE EX-POLICEMEN?
This might come as a surprise given that I’m an ex-policeman but ex-police officers are generally not suited to become corporate investigators. They demand a lot and expect too much. And they don’t understand the industry. They can’t handle corporate cases. Insurance adjusters are much better for that.
IS MUCH OF YOUR WORK CORPORATE STUFF?
At the moment, I’d say it’s 60 per cent corporate and 40 per cent personal. Corporate work includes things like investigating cheating, bribery, procurement issues and so on. Meanwhile, personal work mainly involves marital and family issues.
DO YOU HANDLE KIDNAPPING CASES TOO?
We handle missing persons but not things like kidnapping for ransom. For such stuff, we leave it to the police.
HOW’S BUSINESS SO FAR?
I’m able to retain the same standard of living I had when I worked for the corporate sector. I’m not rich but I’m not struggling either. I’d say I’m in a comfortable situation.
ARE YOU A LOT HAPPIER?
I am. For one thing I have more control of my time. But it’s also a much more exciting job than the ones I had in the past. I deal with a wider range of cases and I get to meet so many different people.
WHAT’S YOUR LONG-TERM AMBITION?
I want my company to be on par with international detective agencies. Have you heard of Pinkerton or Kroll? That’s what I want my company to be like. That means hiring more people and expanding to other countries. I’d like to set up an agency in Hong Kong and perhaps another one in Singapore. These are the financial capitals of Asia. There’s lots of investigative work to be done in those two places.