Key corporate personalities


  • Business
  • Saturday, 01 Jan 2011

Our take on some of those who made the news.

SHAHRIL RIDZA RIDZUAN

SHAHRIL Ridza Ridzuan's unwavering calm demeanour belies the Herculean task he carries on his shoulder as chief of the Employees Provident Fund's investments, not least because it is the country's biggest money pot, which runneth over RM400bil,

This year, the man who joined EPF as deputy chief executive officer of investments in November 2009, has led key changes in its investment profile. No mean feat considering the Fund's biggest challenge for decades was how to raise its investment game and up the returns while preserving the people's (all 12 million of them) retirement savings.

The forty-year-old professional manager zoomed into the harsh glare of Malaysia's corporate stage in 2001 to turn around the ailing and politically-linked MALAYSIAN RESOURCES CORP Bhd (MRCB).

Today, MRCB has morphed into a leading property developer.

Shahril may have exited MRCB last year as boss but the ties that bind remain intact.

In March, EPF launched a buyout of MRCB after triggering the takeover threshold but the offer flopped; EPF remains its single largest shareholder with a 42% interest.

Following hard on the heels of this, was the revelation that EPF, for the first time ever in its history, will join hands with the Government to develop the much and long sought after 1,214 ha land in Sungai Buloh which is dubbed as the “new hub” for the Klang Valley.

Still, concerns abound whether the EPF should in fact, embark on property development and if all of these changes are happening a tad too fast for comfort.

To bump up its real estate investment from a paltry 2% to 5%, the Fund is also investing some RM5bil in properties in the United Kingdom. Shahril also played a key role in EPF's joint bid with UEM Group Bhd for the planned RM23bil takeover of PLUS Expressways Bhd.

The deal is attached to a crucial agenda to restructure the toll concession agreements PLUS with the hope of reducing the toll rate hikes.

More recently, a plan was unveiled for the proposed merger of MRCB and IJM Land Bhd which will see the creation of the country's second largest property company with market value over RM7bil and landbank of 9,000 acres. EPF is a common shareholder of both these companies and will end up with a substantial stake in the enlarged entity.

Many perceive that Shahril has played a crucial role in these latest deals. If they pull through and millions of members eventually feel the tangible delivery of the lyrical promise of better dividends, Shahril would deserve heaps of accolades. - Anita Gabriel

TAN SRI AZMAN MOKHTAR

IT would be natural to assume that as Khazanah Nasional Bhd chief steward, every year would be unimaginably hectic for Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar,

What started out as a year for Khazanah and its investee companies to continue working on the pillars of transformation crafted half a decade ago while plumping up its portfolio of assets on the back of a recovery, very quickly turned out to be a lot more highly strung and eventful.

Azman not only managed to smack down attempts by wealthy and prominent individuals wanting a fat slice of the state-owned investment fund's assets, some of the investee companies under Khazanah's umbrella also pulled off some noteworthy out-of-the-box acquisitions (think UEM Land's buyout of Sunrise Bhd) over the year. But the most uncomfortable task for Azman, as for any true-blue professional manager could have been this keeping his seat rooted on steady ground despite murmurs earlier in the year over an imminent shake-up at the top.

One of the most dramatic and rare corporate battles this year was played out across the shore and it pit the state-owned fund against India's wealthy Singh brothers.

Khazanah found itself facing off with India's Fortis Healthcare Ltd to wrest control of Singapore-listed Parkway Holdings Ltd.

At the end, Khazanah took the prize home and the Singhs bowed out, but with a handsome profit.

As the ink was not yet dry on this RM10.6bil mega deal, another of Khazanah's asset, PLUS Expressways Bhd, ended up on the cross hairs of two prominent individuals Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary and Asas Serba Sdn Bhd, widely perceived to be linked to Tan Sri Halim Saad, with the latter banking the outcome of its proposal on the sweetener that it will cut toll rates. Hard to match, right? Wrong.

To safeguard this prized asset, UEM Group, controlled by Khazanah and the Employees Provident Fund launched a takeover of PLUS, with a more credible promise that the toll rate hikes would be reduced and that EPF members could see better returns as PLUS was a steady cash-flow asset.

Then, UEM Group Bhd's UEM Land planned a takeover of property developer Sunrise Bhd to up the ante on its status in the highly competitive and brand-driven property sector. A major GLC buying out a privately-owned niche developer indeed, that's a first in corporate Malaysia. - Anita Gabriel

T. ANANDA KRISHNAN

THOSE who dare omit Ananda Krishnan's name from the movers and shakers list this year deserve a mental check. Of course, the financial and legal advisers who received celebration-worthy fees from AK's blockbuster deals over the year wouldn't dispute that either.

Fresh out of a year of relisting Maxis Bhd (December 2009), an exercise that very much hogged all (and some) of the IPO limelight in Malaysia in 2009, this year marked a major turning point for the low-key elusive tycoon.

That would be an understatement considering that he wrested three companies valued at a whopping RM19bil from the stock exchange with the last two, being proposed back to back. “Only AK...”, as some would say.

The drumroll of privatisation in his stable of companies started out in March involving pay TV operator ASTRO All Asia Networks Plc (AK and Khazanah Nasional Bhd carried out the buyout) followed by satellite operator Measat Global Bhd and power and gaming company Tanjong plc five months later.

The rationale for these privatisation exercises were accompanied by a common script these companies' shares were trading at below their “intrinsic value” and dividends could be compromised as capital expenditure would need to be cranked up going forward. Also, his advisers say it would be easier to restructure these operations once they're in private domain.

Could there be more than meets the eye behind this massive restructuring agenda? That's a tough question to answer as AK is known to hold his cards close to his chest.

Even so, as far as minority shareholders are concerned, there's little to quibble over his exit offer. For almost all the deals, some more than the other, the buyout price has been palatable and definitely more so, compared to a lot of other buyouts that took place this year.

For exactly that reason, if ever AK plans a comeback for these entities to the exchange, the drum roll will be nothing short of a euphoric beat. - Anita Gabriel

TAN SRI G. GNANALINGAM

IN a year largely driven by mega multi-billion ringgit deals, Westports Malaysia executive chairman Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam's RM100mil takeover of beleaguered Maika Holdings Bhd may pale in terms of value and complexity. But it stacks up high as far as reach and implication are concerned. In April, when he revealed his plan to buyout MIC's investment arm, many wondered about his “real gameplan”.

It seemed hard to believe that a multi-millionaire who owns a billion-dollar port empire would volunteer to get tangled up in the Maika fiasco.

The suspicions were not surprising touted as the “all Indian dream” two decades ago, the MIC's investment arm then pitched as a tool to create wealth for the community, very soon turned into a nest of discontent for shareholders as returns became evasive and the corporation was stricken by one scandal after another, tottering on heavy losses.

But despite the rising suspicion and criticisms then, Gnanalingam soldiered on with his plan to “close the chapter on Maika”. “My ultimate aim is to provide a solution for the shareholders who have been suffering all this while,” he had said.

And to a great extent, he has done so. That and the winds of change in the leadership of MIC adds to the general sentiments that this could be the turning point for the country's Indian community to let go of past bitterness and move forward.

The task ahead was tedious. Apart from the political hurdles, the deal had to overcome some major administrative obstacles.

Gnanalingam's offer had to reach out to all Maika shareholders; as these investments took place over two decades ago, many shareholders have changed addresses while others had lost their share certificates or have passed on.

Whatever your reading of the deal or its true intent, this, Gnanalingam has done he has returned to almost all shareholders of Maika a dollar-for-dollar of their hard-earned investments and in one fell swoop, finally lifted the lid off one of the community's long-standing wounds. If the community can heal from this debacle, Gnanalingam's contributions would be far reaching.

Indeed, in a corporate environment where size or value dictates a deal's real worth, Gnanalingam has proven that this is not always the case. - Anita Gabriel


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