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Saturday June 23, 2007
By JOSE BARROCK
I have very big shoes to fill,” confesses
Ruben Gnanalingam. It must be daunting
but he displays no sign of it. At 31 years
old, he is heir apparent to the throne his
father Tan Sri G Gnanalingam or as he is
fondly known, Tan Sri G, has steered and
built successfully over the years.
Westports, nestled in Pulau Indah, makes
up one half of Port Klang, the world’s
eleventh largest container terminal and
since inception in 1995, has been commended
for its revolutionary concepts, and
garden port landscape. All of these have
long been attributed to a single individual –
It appears the time has come to to pass
the baton on to the next generation.
Ruben Gnanalingam 31, was appointed
executive director of Westports in January
2006 and has been running the day-to-day
operations since, but not without the
watchful gaze of his father's keen eye.
He reflects: “I must say he provided me
with very good training. At a young age he
used to send me for Harvard courses. If it
was not Harvard, it would be some other
course like MIM (Malaysian Institute of
Management) and so forth.”
Reminiscing with a smile, Ruben says
that he attended one of his first of what
would eventually turn out to be a series of
courses when he was 19: “It was a senior
management development programme. The
others present were over 40 years old!”
The courses served its purpose or that of
his father's - “The courses broadened my
understanding and taught me much about
business. These courses give you the edge;
the university and school give you the discipline
of learning. My dad knew that already
and that was why he did it,” says Ruben.
Gnanalingam’s prowess as a marketing
guru is widely documented. But like many
of his established peers in the elite circles of
corporate Malaysia, the beginning was not
easy. He almost dropped out of university
following his father's demise in the mid 60s
as someone needed to support the family.
But he held out on a limb and infallible
traits such as persistence and perseverance.
He made his name as a marketing whiz
after successful stints with Malaysian
Tobacco Co (now British American Tobacco)
and was appointed marketing director at
the age of 34.
After a 19-year stint, nine as the marketing
director Gnanalingam left Malaysian
Tobacco Co to join Radio Television
Malaysia (RTM) to reposition the station’s
two channels. Although the task was considered
impossible by many, he came out
smelling like roses, having successfully
pulled the company out of the rut it fell into
as a result of stiff competition from TV3.
Gnanalingam also played a key role in
the 1989 South East Asian Games held in
Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia as the host nation
came out tops, and the profits amounted
to more than RM16mil, surpassing the
modest target of RM5mil set by the
Five years later, his rainbow arrived, in
the form of Westports. As the man at the
helm of the port company, Gnanalingam
made waves in the sector, calling for new
rules and higher benchmarks for the industry.
His pragmatic ways appear to have
rubbed off on to his son:”
It appears that Gnanalingam was not a
disciplinarian but left his children pretty
much to do what they wanted to. That
came with predictably and universally common
conditions though - their school
grades had to be satisfactory.
He treated us as adults. He taught us to
tackle issues without getting emotional...to
focus on practical solutions,” says Ruben.
That aside, it was pretty much a dream
childhood for the Gnanalingam brood: “We
could stay up late...watching TV. It was like
that even when I was as young as 10. He
was basically a result-oriented person, a
trait that he practises till today.
“His rule was very simple. If the results
don’t come in, the axe would fall and
changes would take place. His rules are
strict, very strict. He’s the kind who goes to
bed at 9 pm and gets up at 5 am, basically
RMC (Royal Military College) training.
“It was quite simple. He set a benchmark
for me, and if I achieved it, he would not
interfere. He treated my siblings and me as
adults even when we were young, which
meant we had to make choices and take
responsibility for our actions and our lives
even at a young age. He only stepped in
when we faltered. This makes you challenge
yourself to see how far you can go.
“When we were older, he focused on the
integrity of doing things the right way,
doing things in the right manner. Without
scheming or looking for the easy way out.
Put our heart and soul into whatever we
wanted to do.
“Even if I said I didn’t want to work with
him and I wanted to become a painter I
don’t think he would mind, so long as I did
it well ... One of his key requirements was
that we have integrity in whatever we do,”
Ruben readily admits that his father is his
role model. He often shares his views with
Gnanalingam, picking his brains and tapping
into the man’s wealth of information
“I try as much as I can to understand his
thinking process as I spend time with him.
This is the benefit of being his son, I get to
see him on a daily basis and pick his brains,
he is a very knowledgeable man and a
wealth of information,” he says.
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