Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gnanalingam's Biggest Regret

Westports executive chairman Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam fields the 10 questions posed to him by readers of THE STAR and I have picked the questions related to sports for the benefit of readers of this blog.

Maybe with FAM in such a position, Tan Sri G could be the man to help Malaysian football.

Happy 65th Birthday, Tan Sri. What are your biggest regrets and what haven’t you done which you would love to pursue?
– Angelina, Penang

Thank You Angelina. The one regret I have is 20 years ago, I should have picked 50 young Malaysians, 6 feet tall and groom them into becoming some of the best footballers in the world, especially since Ghana (Michael Esien), Ivory Coast (Didier Drogba) and Togo (Emmanuel Adebayor) can do it.

Today, I would have sold them to the European Leagues for £10 million each at least, and once in 4 years, I would re-assemble these 50 guys for the World Cup!

This would have been a great achievement since all Malaysians are football fanatics and would have cheered for 1Malaysia. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds at that time.

What does 1Malaysia mean to you? – Martin, PJ

For us Malaysians, when squash prodigy, Nicol David wins the world championship, we are all proud of her regardless of race, religion or age. That is 1Malaysia to me.

There were also few sporting events that we stood as 1Malaysia, namely the 1989 SEA Games when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was the Minister of Sports, the 1998 Commonwealth Games as well as whenever we won the Thomas Cup in badminton.

At the RMC, I had friends like Azzat, Jui Leng and Gurdial Singh. It was an institution where 60% Malays, 30% Chinese and 10% Indians. That was 1Malaysia to me.

In United Malaysia, we tolerate other religions. In a Malaysian Malaysia, other religions are acceptable. To me, 1Malaysia is where we respect each other’s religion.

Personally speaking, I am a Hindu, my wife is a Buddhist, my son is a Muslim and my daughter is going to marry a Christian and I love them all. Perhaps, this is the ultimate 1Malaysia!

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 Government.