Monday 22 Jul 2024
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 25, 2023 - December 31, 2023

Corporate chieftains and figures are often in the news, but who were the ones creating ripples or grabbing headlines this year?




Datuk Lin Yun Ling

Group managing director of Gamuda Bhd


It is not often that a Malaysian construction company is awarded projects abroad, but Gamuda Bhd seems to be making it seem so easy — except it isn’t.

According to group managing director Datuk Lin Yun Ling, the group had to pay learning fees in each of the markets it entered in the early years. Those “tuition fees” are now bearing fruit as Gamuda’s overseas orders eclipse its domestic ones.

The latest comes in the form of the RM1.77 billion contract to design and construct an underground station and two tunnels, covering 1.9km, for the West Coast station of the Cross Island Line Phase 2 Mass Rapid Transit line in Singapore.

What makes this contract groundbreaking for Gamuda is that it is the first overseas contract secured without a local partner. It shows the confidence of the client, the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, in the group’s capability.

Gamuda is also securing big contracts in Taiwan and becoming a major player in the country’s construction sector. The company secured a RM3.45 billion contract to design and build a 4.4km railway track in Kaohsiung as the lead contractor, with an 80% stake in an unincorporated joint venture.

While Gamuda has been securing jobs overseas, it has been a while since it secured a major contract locally (other than the Silicon Island reclamation in Penang — a project the group is championing).

With the government in a tight fiscal position, none of the major infrastructure projects have kicked off, leaving the construction sector, including Gamuda, high and dry.

The situation was dire enough for Lin to voice his concerns in a media interview, lamenting the lack of political will to remove subsidies that have hamstrung the government’s ability to spend on infrastructure projects. — By Kamarul Azhar


Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong

Managing director of YTL Power International Bhd


Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong leads YTL Corp Bhd’s listed utility arm YTL Power International Bhd, which has been in the news for three reasons.

First, YTL Power ended the year with a bang as it announced a collaboration with global artificial intelligence (AI) computing leader Nvidia Corp to develop AI infrastructure in Malaysia under a RM20 billion investment deal, with the first phase to commence operations as soon as six months from now.

The Nvidia deal adds another feather to YTL Power’s cap, especially in the data centre space, and points to its success in capturing the “fast internet” movement, an extension of its telecommunications venture under the YES brand established 13 years ago through 60%-owned YTL Communications Sdn Bhd.

Second, YTL Communications is also making ripples in the highway sector after it was revealed to be the alternative private sector developer of the multi-lane free-flow (MLFF) toll collection system.

A joint venture it is in is proposing to provide a digitalised and centralised nationwide toll collection system for the government, at a price claimed to be cheaper than what it currently costs highway concessionaires to operate tolls.

Most importantly, YTL Power booked a record profit and revenue of RM2.02 billion and RM21.89 billion respectively in the year ended June (FY2023), as efforts to consolidate its position in Singapore’s electricity market rewarded the group in a big way.

In a recent interview, YTL Group executive chairman and Seok Hong’s eldest brother Tan Sri Francis Yeoh said the group was “building physical infrastructure and layering it with digital infrastructure”, as it intends to widen its footprint in the Malaysian market. YTL Group has a presence in construction, cement manufacturing, hospitality and property development.

At the same time, YTL Power is also building a presence in digital banking, as well as the local utilities segment with the acquisition of a 19% stake in Ranhill Utilities Bhd.

With the theme of digitalisation and energy transition taking centre stage, YTL Group, and especially YTL Power, will continue to be in the spotlight as the plans brewing in the group come to light. — By Adam Aziz


Syed Feizal Syed Mohammad

Group CEO of MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd


Since taking the helm as group CEO of MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd in February 2021, Syed Feizal Syed Mohammad has had his hands full. From fending off takeover attempts, including from tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, engaging with the government on adjusting or removing the ceiling price of sugar (which has been unchanged without subsidies over the last 10 years), grappling with high costs of raw sugar, which rose because of higher freight charges and natural gas costs, and a weak ringgit.

On top of that, MSM has been loss-making for eight straight quarters and is likely to make its second consecutive yearly loss in FY2023.

The drawback for MSM is that regional producers in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have gone upstream and own sugar cane plantations. As a result, they use bagasse — waste from sugar cane — as an integrated energy source to generate electricity. MSM requires some 100,000ha of sugar cane plantations if it is to meaningfully compete, and the government is understood to be weighing its options in assisting MSSM with this venture.

While trying to return the company to the black, Syed Feizal and MSM have also been in the news, as the garden leave of chief financial officer Mazatul ’Aini Shahar Abdul Malek Shahar was recently extended until Jan 15 to facilitate an ongoing investigation. Her three-month garden leave was slated to end on Dec 15.

Both Syed Feizal and MSM will be watched next year, as the government may adjust the ceiling prices of sugar, which could immediately give the sugar refiner a shot in the arm. Other than that, MSM, which exports its premium offering — Gula Super — to 17 countries, mainly in the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East region and Pakistan, is looking to make inroads into Singapore, owing to its proximity to the company’s manufacturing plant in Tanjung Langsat, Johor. — By Jose Barrock


Datuk Sulaiman Mohd Tahir

Former group CEO of AMMB Holdings Bhd


After eight years, Datuk Sulaiman Mohd Tahir stepped down as group CEO of AMMB Holdings Bhd (AmBank Group), the country’s sixth-largest banking group by assets, on Nov 22.

The move came as no surprise, as there had already been market talk some two months before that Sulaiman, 60, was planning to retire once his contract came to an end in November. AmBank Group announced Sulaiman’s resignation in early November and declared Jamie Ling — its chief financial officer since June 2017 — as his successor effective from Nov 23.

Sulaiman was ready to hand over the reins after a rollercoaster eight years that saw him having to manage, over and above the complexities of the increasingly challenging banking operating environment, the fallout from the group’s historical dealings with the now-defunct 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and its subsidiaries. As he put it in a recent interview with The Edge: “No other bank has gone through what AmBank Group has gone through, that is for sure.”

Notably, in February 2021, in a move many did not see coming, the group agreed to pay the government a massive RM2.83 billion as global settlement for its past dealings with 1MDB and related entities, which led to it posting a net loss of RM3.83 billion in the financial year ended March 31, 2021 (FY2021).

To its credit, AmBank Group bounced back quickly and strongly, and Sulaiman was able to leave on a high note. The group posted a net profit of RM1.74 billion in FY2023 — its highest in nine years, hitting a targeted 10% return on equity one year earlier than expected — from RM1.5 billion in FY2022.

It will be interesting to see where Sulaiman emerges next, as he has indicated that he “still has room” to contribute. — By Adeline Paul Raj


Datuk Ibrahim Baki

Non-independent, non-executive director of Petroliam Nasional Bhd


Datuk Ibrahim Baki is not a very well-known personality in Peninsular Malaysia, but in Sarawak, he is known as a close associate of premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, or Abang Johari, as he is popularly known.

Ibrahim was appointed as a non-independent, non-executive director of national oil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) in August 2020. He is also non-executive chairman and shareholder of Ace Market-bound Supreme Consolidated Resources Bhd, whose mainstay is fast-moving consumer goods, mainly in the import, trading and distribution of frozen, chilled foods and dairy products in East Malaysia. Supreme Consolidated Resources, which is controlled by Datuk Richard Wee Liang Chiat, made its debut on the LEAP Market of Bursa Malaysia in January 2019.

Another firm controlled by Wee is shipping company Hubline Bhd, in which Ibrahim had a stake of almost 3% as at Dec 30, 2022, according to the group’s latest annual report. He was a director of Hubline from the 1990s and later became chairman but resigned in October 2020. Wee is the nephew of Wee Cho Yaw, a prominent Singaporean billionaire banker of United Overseas Bank Ltd fame.

Ibrahim is listed in its FY2022 annual report as having a 4.42% interest in developer Ibraco Bhd.

Ibrahim won the Satok state seat, taking over from Abang Johari, who shifted to Gedung in the 2021 Sarawak elections. Other than being the Satok state assemblyman, Ibrahim was appointed as Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s (GPS) State Legislative Assembly’s chief whip. GPS comprises four parties — Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Sarawak, Parti Rakyat Sarawak, Parti Rakyat Bersatu Sarawak and Parti Demokratik Progresif Sarawak — and its chairman is premier Abang Johari.

Ibrahim is no newcomer to Petronas, having served as its legal officer in 1984. He worked there for only a year before setting up Messrs Idris Buang, Ibrahim Baki & Co, Advocates & Solicitors, in Sarawak.

In a nutshell, Ibrahim is a key player in the Sarawak political and business scene and should be watched, with Sarawak flexing its muscles, demanding a greater say in the affairs of the state and the running of the country. — By Jose Barrock


Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary

Shareholder of MMC Corp Bhd and Tradewinds Corp Bhd


Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has consistently appeared on the list of newsmakers published by The Edge for more than two decades. This is no surprise, considering his influence and the diverse assets he has accumulated over the years.

Some of the larger companies under his control are DRB Hicom Bhd, in which he has 55.92% equity interest. Companies under the DRB banner include Pos Malaysia Bhd, in which it has a 53.5% stake; Bank Muamalat Bhd, with 70%; Proton Holdings Bhd, with 50.1%; wholly-owned Edaran Otomobil Nasional Bhd; and wholly-owned Composites Technology Research Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

Companies and assets held by his wholly-owned Tradewinds Corp Bhd include Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), Tradewinds Plantations Bhd and a large number of hotels and choice land banks.

While his flagship MMC Corp Bhd has been privatised, a multibillion-ringgit flotation exercise of the company’s port business is slated to take place soon, possibly as early as next year. With news of a global fund buying into MMC’s port business, however, it remains to be seen whether the possible sale is a prelude to an initial public offering or would result in a further delay of the IPO.

Other than the thriving port business comprising the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, the NCB Holdings Bhd-controlled Northport, Johor Port and Penang Port, among others, MMC has a 30.93% stake in Gas Malaysia Bhd, 38.45% in power generation company Malakoff Corp Bhd, and wholly owns water treatment outfit Aliran Ihsan Resources Bhd and Senai Airport in Johor, among others.

Interestingly, Syed Mokhtar also has a 49% stake in automobile company Lotus, which is looking to merge with L Catterton Asia Acquisition Corp, a special-purpose acquisition vehicle listed on Nasdaq. L Catterton Asia Acquisition was founded by LVMH-backed investment group L Catterton.

DRB recently entered into an agreement to form a joint venture with China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd for the development and construction of an Automotive Hi-Tech Valley project in Tanjung Malim, Perak. Similar to its shareholding in Proton Holdings, DRB will hold a 50.1% stake in the joint venture, while Geely will hold the remaining shareholding.

This year, Bernas, which has the mandate to import rice and manage stockpiles, came under fire because of a shortage of rice in the country. Making things worse was the fact that, from FY2020 to FY2022, Bernas had paid out RM996.22 million in dividends to its shareholder, Tradewinds Group (M) Sdn Bhd (formerly Perspective Lane (M) Sdn Bhd), a company controlled by Syed Mokhtar.

He was also reportedly looking to swap Bernas for sugar refiner MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd, but these plans are understood to have been thwarted.

How Syed Mokhtar will make the news next year remains to be seen, but he will certainly be in it, as always. — By Jose Barrock


Tan Sri Halim Saad

Former shareholder of Renong Bhd


In August this year, businessman Tan Sri Halim Saad filed a suit against former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former minister in the prime minister’s department and Finance Minister 2 Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop as well as the federal government for losses suffered because his efforts to take over United Engineers Malaysia Bhd (UEM) had been thwarted.

In the late 1990s, Halim’s vehicles UEM and Renong Bhd controlled assets such as highway operator PLUS, which held the North-South Expressway toll concession; 14 publicly traded companies, including Cement Industries of Malaysia Bhd, Time dotCom Bhd, what is today CIMB Group Holdings Bhd, and UEM Builders Bhd (then Intria Bhd); and 24,000 acres in Nusajaya, Johor. Today, most of these assets are held by sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd, after the government stepped in because Halim’s empire was crumbling under immense debts.

Halim has always claimed that he could have restructured and kept things afloat at his companies without the government needing to intervene and take over his assets.

It is also nothing new that Halim claims he suffered huge losses from being prevented by the authorities from attempting to take over UEM, which owned prized assets but was mired in debt.

In the recently filed claim, the Attorney General’s Chambers, appearing for Mahathir, Nor Mohamed Yakcop and the government, has applied to strike out Halim’s suit, alleging it to be frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process, and has sought to stay all proceedings until the determination of its striking-out application, which has been fixed for hearing on May 14 next year.

There is a sense of déjà vu, as 10 years ago — in 2013 — Halim had filed a RM1.8 billion civil suit against the government, Khazanah and Nor Mohamed Yakcop, but lost the case in the Federal Court in 2015.

Over the years, Halim has been consistent in alleging that Mahathir and Nor Mohamed Yakcop forced him to sell his stakes in Renong and UEM, causing a huge loss to him and constituting a breach of his rights.

Will Halim have better luck this time against Mahathir and the others for allegedly infringing on his rights? — By Jose Barrock


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