Gnanalingam Emerges as Billionaire on Malaysian Port IPO

Westports Holdings Bhd. Executive Chairman G. Gnanalingam has become a billionaire as the main operator at one of Malaysia’s biggest ports sells shares in the country’s largest initial public offering this year.

Gnanalingam, 69, and his family will reduce their stake in Westports to 46.8 percent from 60 percent previously, according to the company’s prospectus. Their stake in the company after the share sale is valued at about $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He and his family are also getting about $350 million from selling some stock. Shares will start trading in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 18.

Westports operates facilities at Port Klang, one of the main hubs serving container traffic along the Straits of Malacca, which links Asia with the Middle East and Europe. Westports has a 69 percent share of container volume at the port, with six terminals and the potential to build another three, according to its website.

“It is strategic in terms of shipping logistics,” said Alan Richardson, a Hong Kong-based money manager at Samsung Asset Management, which bought the company’s shares. “It is well located along the Straits of Malacca, which is the key shipping route from the west to the east.”

Westports raised 2.03 billion ringgit ($635 million) in the IPO. The port operator priced its shares at 2.50 ringgit apiece, at the top end of a range offered to investors, after getting excess demand from investors.

Soccer Team Manager

The billionaire, who declined to comment on the share sale or plans for Westports, said that he runs the company like a soccer team manager.

“You prepare the team, and train them up and let them play their own game,” he said in an interview by phone today. “At the end of the season, you look for better players.”

Known as “Tan Sri G” -- Tan Sri is an honorific title bestowed by the Malaysian King -- the billionaire is preparing to hand over the reins of the company to his 37-year-old son, Ruben Emir Gnanalingam, the chief executive officer. Ruben joined Westports in 2005 after graduating from the London School of Economics & Political Science.

Born in Singapore, the patriarch grew up in Port Dickson on Malaysia’s west coast and Kuala Pilah town in Negeri Sembilan state. He graduated from the University of Malaya and Harvard Business School, according to his biography on Westports’ website.

Start at BAT

He started his career as a sales representative with British American Tobacco group and advanced to become marketing director at age 34. He stayed on for another 19 years before setting up a marketing company, G-team Consultants, which handled the commercial operations of Malaysia’s state-owned broadcast station.

In 1994, he started Westports “from a barren, swampy island” and transformed it into the main container terminal operator in Port Klang, according to the website.

He urges his operations team to embrace the “F1 Spirit” and emulate the swiftness of the engineers at a pit stop in being able to change the tires of a Formula One car and service it in just seconds.

“If I have to change the tires of my car, that will take half an hour,” he said in the interview. “If you get organized and ready for everything, it will just take six seconds.”

Each crane at Westports moves 35 containers an hour, compared with the industry standard of 27, giving faster turnaround for vessels, Gnanalingam said on the company’s website. It handled container throughput of 6.9 million 20-foot equivalent units last year, the company said.

“The growth outlook is promising,” Samsung Asset’s Richardson said. “Fifteen percent annual earnings growth is targeted over the next three years based on shipping container growth and higher tariffs.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.