I shall miss Tan Sri Gee dearly…

The late chairman and founder of Westports Holdings Bhd Tan Sri G.Gnanalingam. Westports announced his death on Tuesday, July 11.

By Jeff Yong

The late Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam,78, was already a legend when I got to know him in the early 1990s because of what he had done in soccer circles in the 1970s and 1980s.

He had just started managing Westports, a privatised port operator at Pulau Indah in Port Klang that eventually eclipsed the older North Port and it was scoring all sorts of records in port management in Malaysia.

Prior to that, many of my sportswriter friends told me of the marketing and public relations (PR) coup that he did with Pestabola Merdeka, then one of the most successful and coveted soccer tournaments in Asia some 50 years ago.

Although his name was a tongue-twister, he usually spoke in a simple manner that was easy to understand. Perhaps that was why he was affectionately known as Tan Sri G or Gee.

But as he got older in recent years, sometimes his sentences became even shorter as he trailed off, making a tad harder to know what he was trying to expound.

Gnanalingam was a gem of a man, a person who often smiled easily despite having to often tilt his head due to his early rugby-playing days. Staff at Westports can vouch for his fairness and kindness anytime.

And if not for him, I wouldn’t have learnt terms like transshipments, container yards, bonded warehouse, gantry cranes, turnaround times, twenty-foot equivalents or TEUs, breakbulk, reefers, inter-modal, harbour dues, waybill, wharfage, demurrage, and the like!

What I found fascinating about Gnanalingam was his PR acumen. I can’t say for sure it was due to him entirely or strong influences from his Puan Sri Siew Yong, whom I regard as one of the top PR practitioners in Malaysia and the best PR spokesperson that Malaysia Airlines ever had!

As a journo, I benefited immensely from Ngangalingam’s occasionally select roundtable dinners where he’d invite the crème la crème of political life and government for us scribes to know what was really happening in the country, administration-wise.

But we were sworn to secrecy not to write or break the embargo. Together with his able “assistants” the late Tony V. Francis (who was once Chief News Editor at NST), ex-RTM staffer Martin Soosay and in recent times, Westports’ Yogan Gunalan, we’d get deep insights into a particularly tricky situation.

I’d never forget the one and only event where Tan Sri Gee did outside of Kuala Lumpur in 2011. It was in Kuching. His guest of honour? None other than Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, then Chief Minister of Sarawak and currently its Yang Dipertua Negeri.

For me as a business journalist, it was a quick deep dive into East Malaysian politics and behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring. I’d be forever indebted to Gnanalingam and Taib for the valuable insights, especially what ticks in Sarawak, and profound matters that are still very much relevant till this day.

Our last dinner with Gnanalingam together was on May 19 last year at PRIME, Le Meridien in Kuala Lumpur, just him and a few journos whom he had known from before. Still sharp and affable but it wasn’t like the time when he was able to roar and banter years ago at Decanter, a quiet restaurant in leafy Damansara Heights. I shall miss Tan Sri Gee dearly.