Westports said in a stock exchange filing that it was “deeply saddened to announce the demise of our beloved executive chairman, Tan Sri Gnanalingam Gunanath Lingam, who passed away peacefully today, at the age of 78.”
“He touched our lives and the community with his compassion, generosity and kindness. Westports and Port Klang have grown and changed under his leadership to become the preeminent gateway port in Malaysia and one of the transhipment hubs in Southeast Asia, said Westports.
In 1994, as a part of the government’s privatisation programme, Gnanalingam was awarded the contract to manage a port terminal, shocking many of his friends and business associates because he had no experience in the seaport industry.
He started the port in Pulau Indah two years later, in 1996, with ten cranes, and he overcame all obstacles to see it grow significantly, including the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997–1998.
With a market capitalization of RM12.04 billion and a container handling capacity of more than 13.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units, Westports has since developed into one of the largest companies on Bursa Malaysia.
The self-made billionaire first gained notoriety in the 1970s as the marketing director of a consumer-based multinational corporation. He is credited with helping to raise funds that allowed Malaysians to watch World Cup football matches live for the first time in 1982, though many of the younger generation know him as a seasoned port operator.
Later, Gnanalingam successfully commercialised Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) operations. His marketing firm, G-Team Consultants Sdn Bhd, helped make the 1989 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur a profitable and successful event.
An earlier recognition of his success in port business came in 2000, when then Hong Kong richest man Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa took a 30% stake in Westports, ahead of the latter’s initial public offering in 2013.
Through South Port Investment Holdings Ltd, CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd still holds a 23.55% stake in Westports.
In 2017, Gnanalingam was named The Edge Billion Ringgit Club Outstanding CEO of Malaysia.
According to Westports’ annual report, Gnanalingam attended the Royal Military College from 1960 until 1964, before obtaining his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Universiti Malaya in 1968. He is also an alumnus of the Harvard Business School in Boston, US, having attended the School’s Advanced Management Programme in 1983.
Gnanalingam began working for the British American Tobacco company in 1968 as a sales representative. In 1980, he received a promotion to become the company’s marketing director.
G-Team Consultants, established in 1988, acted as the corporate consultant for the marketing operations of RTM from 1988 to 2000.