When his name is mentioned, the quick response would be “One of the richest Malaysian, if not the richest Malay”. Known for a corporate man. A courageous businessman. Some other would acknowledge the fact that he is great philanthropist.
Regardless, he did so many things that changed the lives of many others. His discipline, focus and steadfastness has many times proven his visions, gambits and decisions right. He ventured into turfs and waters previously unthinkable to be challenged. He re-wrote the strategy and tactics of the game.
Yes, it is Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary.
His humble beginnings and hardship taught him the resilience, discipline and values such as his tight-knit family, being a Muslim and a Kedahan. These are the key to his success story. He was prudent with his management, careful with his spending, capitalized on opportunities, innovative with his business strategy and bold with business decisions. As a Malay businessman, ventured into traditional turfs controlled by Non Malays. In fact, he ‘Baba-Ali’ed these business turfs’ ‘rules of engagement’.
Syed Mokhtar made strategic partnerships. He insists to be actively involved and participative in all his partnerships. Any proceeds derived from his business ventures either saved or re-invested into the business.
He started as a cattle trader. Then he started to supply meat. That grew into rice trading. From that, he went into partnerships with Chinese businessmen for rice milling. All these opened opportunities for his own transportation. When the logistics networked expanded, he capitalized the value chain for corresponding businesses.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched 1971, at the times where Syed Mokhtar had just got his business incorporated into a formal structure. As a Bumiputera businessman, he was awarded contracts. These contracts were expanded and the operations grew that warrant for him to acquire more businesses. As the business obtained economies of scale, he capitalized these production capabilities and capacities for Non Governmental businesses, which also include outside the country.
Excerpts from the book ‘Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary: A Biography':
“Events then took a sudden turn when my Chinese partner declared we needed to increase the paid up capital to RM 400,000.00. He had the funds. I did not. If I did not make up the difference, my shares would be diluted, and he would become the major shareholder instead. I refused to let this happen”.
“I turned to my parents for help. They had two plots of land that were mortgaged to secure a loan from the United Malayan Banking Corporation. I was thus able to raise the necessary funds to retain my controlling stake in Bukhary Sdn. Bhd. In the Memorandum of Association that was later drawn up for Bukhary Sdn. Bhd., I instructed the lawyer to include an additional clause, which stated that the Bumiputera stake in the company should not be diluted under any circumstances”.
That was in the mid 70s. He made sure his businesses grew and capitalized the opportunities created from activities, that were generated from socio-economic programs to generate growth.
“As a trader, it is important not to just be a delivery boy. The Government made this clear, especially when awarding contracts to Bumiputeras. The contracts required us to pack our products and encouraged us to become involved in manufacturing. I took the cue, and started to set up factories”.
His initial contract from MINDEF to supply uniforms to the Malaysian Armed Forces was expanded into manufacturing. Then he secured deals to supply to American brands such as JC Penney and K-Mart. As this business expand along with his rice trading, milling and wholesale, Syed Mokhtar dwelt into logistics operations. By 1982, Bukhary Shipping Sdn. Bhd. was formed and started operations to utilize Kontena Nasional’s business.
Less than 3 years later, this company bought their first vessel.
Within the same time as all these business were being developed and expanding, Syed Mokhtar also got into construction and property development. He was probably one of the earliest Malay property developer in Kedah.
It was without doubt that Syed Mokhtar was one of the most active Bumiputera entrepreneurs in the 80s. This opened more opportunities for him as there were so few Malay businessmen with the necessary capital, experience and business network. Hence, he started to embark on bigger projects awarded by the Federal Government.
The boom on early 1990s opened up opportunities for a Malay businessman who already has made a bit of money. It was the era of IPOs and Syed Mokhtar started his shopping spree as the ‘market is open for business’. He started to socialize and entertain Chinese business owners, winning them over with his business acumen.They were men who wanted to list their companies.
“They found in him a serious investor, who refused to be involved in ‘Ali-Baba’ deals. He earned their respect, and was recognized as a respectable Bumiputera partner” says Peter Chong, Syed Mokhtar’s accountant and close business confidante “Syed Mokhtar does not sell his shares after listing. In fact, when he buys into a company, it is to add value to the shares. He does not buy and sell shares”.
Says Syed Mokhtar,
“I enjoyed this phase of corporate acquisition that occurred between 1990 and 1997. No one knew me, and no one detected main the market. I borrowed from Singapore banks, and my moves remained secret. They were so quiet that even my wife did not know what I was up to”.
By 1995, he was a shareholder in 15 PLCs. They include Elba, Amtek, BCB, Binapuri, Eden. IJM, Latitude Tree, Oriental Garments, Padini, Pilecon, TGL and The Star. It was a mixed portfolio, from garments to food, manufacturing and construction. He was also actively involved in logistics. Even though he was a major player, he remained elusive from public knowledge and media coverage.
Naturally, with these track records and holdings, Syed Mokhtar qualified for privatization programs. In 1995, he won the privatisation of Kejora’s commercial arm because of better proposal and price, against more notable plantation groups such as IOI and KL Kepong. The company was restructured and listed as Johor Tenggara Oil Plantations at then KLSE. Today, it has been restructured as Tradewinds Bhd.
“In the 1990s, people did not know who I was, what I did, how much I had. The privatization awards were federal projects that were evaluated by the Economic Planning Unit in Kuala Lumpur. I participated in the bids because I am a well-established businessman with a strong credit rating. Nothing was given to me on a silver plate. All my money came from handwork and sweat”.
He also privatized Johor Port. Then, he embarked into the most ambitious project at the time, which is the Port of Tanjung Pelepas. He wanted to take on the Port of Singapore. When he presented his ambitious plans to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on his encounter with the Father of Modernisation and Industrialisation for the first time on 16 January 1997, this was the latter’s remarks:
“I remembered him showing me his plans for the Port of Tanjung Pelepas. I admit I found it grand and thought he would not succeed”.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also said,
“Syed Mokhtar distinguishes himself from other Malay and Malaysian businessmen because he is a man with great ambition. He is a cattle and rice trader, and there are very few Malays in this business. It is also not common for people with this background to aspire for big projects such as container port”.
Today after 13 years of operations, PTP is handling one third of TEUs that is passing through Port of Singapore. He has proven his worthiness to be a captain-of-the-industry. The man who saw the opportunity to start a lorry transportation company forty years ago, now has his own shipping company and two respectable ports in the region.
He also took challenges laid to him by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He developed the Islamic Arts Museum, next to National Mosque. And it was done in record breaking speed. He also developed Kompleks Ilmu Sharifah Rokiah in Alor Setar.
Syed Mokhtar was asked to take over certain companies which is necessary to be rescued, for the strategic importance. In 2001, PERNAS was acquired. He paid much more than it was worth. PERNAS was turned around. The same happened for DRB-Hicom. Before that was Malaysian Mining Corporation. When he wanted to inject Johor Port into MMC, against the advise of a financial consultant who suggested that that he could make a lot of money by keeping it private and farming it out.
“Syed Mokhtar flatly refused. His aim was to raise the value of MMC. If he was selfish, he would have kept Johor Port for himself. Instead, he chose to forgo personal profit for the benefit of his new acquisition. It maybe a related party transaction but there was also a personal sacrifice”.
All these acquisitions were generated from his own funds and borrowings raised. He turned around all these PLCs and now, clearly transformed them into bigger operations and value. In the acquisition of PERNAS, he even put in his own personal money. The investment community was dumbstruck, Syed Mokhtar says,
“It was a difficult deal and people say I was mad. It was technically bankrupt, with RM 2.6 billion of liabilities. I paid RM 500 million for a company that was worth RM 120 million on Bursa Malaysia. Although it was listed as Pernas International Hotel and Properties (PIHP), I saw it as more than just hotels. It also had plantations. There was potential for synergy with my other companies”.
“I spent RM 1.4 billion cash and assets to stabiles the group. The acquisition cost was RM 500 million, and I injected assets worth RM 700 million, and personal cash of RM 200 million”.
When Syed Mokhtar acquired MMC, it was valued at RM 1.5 billion. After the transformation, which include injections of businesses, MMC rose to a value of RM 8 billion.
The more recent acquisition is Proton. The Federal Government is putting a lot of confidence on him to deliver. His track record of turning around DRB-Hicom and enhanced its operations and value, especially in the automotive and defense industry is the strong testimony to pick up where Khazanah failed to do.
The name Syed Mokhtar is also synonymous to someone who has done a lot of charity. He built mosques. He gave money to the poor, orphans and under privileged. He gave money to schools and education establishments. He top-up savings of poor and old folks who desire to perform Hajj for the first time. He incorporated an international university in Alor Setar. He gave sponsorship not only to Malaysians, but Muslims from other nations.
Today, the Al Bukhary Group embarked into partnerships and business ventures with corporations from Saudi Arabia and gulf states, especially United Arab Emirates. His UAE partner Chairman of Emaar Group Mohamed Ali Alabbar described him as:
“The only Malaysian businessman who is actively engaging with the Arab world on either business or humanitarian projects through his involvement with me. He also known as one of the businessmen to have contributed to the Malaysian economy, which is highly regarded in the Arab world”.
Governor and Chairman of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority Amr Al-Dabbagh who appointed Al Bukhary Group as a joint master developer of the USD 30 billion Jazan Economic City, had this to say about Syed Mokhtar,
“My first and lasting impression of Syed Mokhtar was formed during a presentation he gave when we visited him and his management team at Port of Tanjung Pelepas, in south western Johor. After several of his top management team had walked us through presentations of some of the MMC subsidiary companies, Syed Mokhtar gave a presentation of his humanitarian activities, which at that time were many and very impressive. We had already done our due diligence on MMC as a possible joint venture master developer for Jazan Economic City, but it was that point I felt Syed Mokhtar would be able to bring the kind of leadership we needed into our project. In addition to creating a viable product, we also wanted a team that could take a long term, humanitarian view in contributing to both the Saudi economy and society”.
Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary is someone who has brought a lot of transformation, ranging from the development of the people, landscape of business and Islam. So many people benefitted from his continuous generosity. 110,000 people are employed directly under his group and another 250,000 indirectly. He is the ‘soap-box’ who has made someone from the Malaysian business community at par with world class businessmen of other races.
He is the ‘Hijrah Man’.
Selamat menyambut Awal Muharam 1424H.
*The Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary Biography is available at MPH stores nationwide