New Malaysia should push for meritocracy

  • Nation
  • Friday, 31 Aug 2018

Interview with Tan Sri G.Gnanalingam

Pakatan Harapan’s unexpected win in the recent 14th General Elections sent a signal that it is time for the country to move towards focusing on being more performance oriented and making decisions on the basis of meritocracy for the long-term good of its citizens.

Westports Holdings Bhd’s chairman Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam says this is the basis of how the company has been operating all this and notes that it is paying off today.

“Westports has always prided itself on being a performance-oriented organisation, being innovative and treating our employees as family members,” he says.

Gnanalingam, who has been the face of Westports for more than 20 years, says this idea can be extended to how the country can be governed as well.

He says that in the company, everyone is treated equally irrespective of race or gender and this has worked tremendously well.

He notes that this also comes with some form of a safety net for those who can’t perform as well as their counterparts.

“The system should be such that we reward success but provide some safety needs for the unfortunate few who didn’t make it, but the safety net is not so big that it promotes complacency.

“There will always be some members of the community who do not do as well as others. This is where we need to lend a hand to support them, regardless of race or gender,” Gnanalingam adds.

This is important because innovation is best built on meritocracy and is a needed ingredient for the country to excel in the new economy of the Internet.

“Innovation is needed as the world prog­resses forward; we cannot move backward. Today, we have a computer in our pocket called the smartphone, which does all kinds of things.

“Malaysia needs to forge ahead as the future is increasingly influenced by information technology, artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0,” Gnanalingam says.

“As for the new Malaysia, I believe that transparency, good governance and people first should be values that are celebrated,” he adds.

Gnanalingam, who is the founder of Westports, also tells of the company’s humble roots, noting that it has grown by leaps and bounds and is now listed on Bursa Malaysia.

“The year 1994 was when we started building Westports. In fact, we were the first private company to build a port after the British left in 1957.

“Prior to the birth of Westports, Port Klang was a port that had less than one million container volume. Malaysia transshipped everything from Penang, Kuantan, Johor and even East Malaysia to Singapore,” he says.

He also highlighted that while the company is primarily a family-owned firm and is now helmed by his son Datuk Ruben Emir Gnanalingam, who is Westports’ group managing director, the family still takes heed of the advice of professional managers.

“Leading Westports is a bit like managing a football team. In order to win, we must assemble the best players, train very hard, formulate specific strategies and out-do our opponents. And we must continuously improve our skills and knowledge of the game. There will always be room for innovation and a better way to do things,” Gnanalingam says.

Westports has grown steadily since its inception in the year 1994.

Today, the company is a RM12.8bil company in market capitalisation on the Bursa Malaysia Main Board.

Recalling the the company’s early days, Gnanalingam says Westports had to focus on what was important: its productivity.

“I always tell our people to focus on raising productivity, being innovative and being cost-effective. Westports is ranked among the top five in the world in terms of productivity.

“Westports has also risen from 27th place to 12th place in the world port traffic league rankings.

“Once Westports was born, we focused on producing the best service for our customers, the shipping lines. To do that, we improved our productivity.

“Our crane operators are well trained. Their performance is world class as they are able to do 35 or more containermoves per hour,” he says.

The company’s terminal tractor operators and stowage clerks have also been upskilled to create a fast turnaround time for the cargo from the container yard to the vessel and vice versa.

While the going seems smooth now, Gnanalingam notes that it was not always smooth sailing for Westports, as it had to go through several financial crises and political uncertainty on the global front, where it threatened or slowed down shipping demand.

However, hHe notes that it has grown its market share steadily and incrementally over the past 20 years.

Today, he notes that Westports captures 16% of the container volume moving through the Straits of Malacca and supports 38% of all container volume in Malaysia.

“And today, we are proud to be one of only three mega-transhipment hubs in the entire Asean region,” he says.

Costs to ship and out of Malaysia have also fallen tremendously and Gnanalingam notes that both exporters and importers pay some 90% lower in freight charges today.

“Before 2005, it cost about US$800 (RM3,280) to freight a container from Port Klang to Busan in Korea. Today, the cost is about US$35 (RM143) only.

“To cite another example, before 2005, it cost about US$500 (RM2,050) to freight a container from Port Klang to Kaoshiung in China. Today, the cost is about US$110 (RM450), which is almost 80% lower,” he says.


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