Posts Tagged ‘football’

What’s Good About Malaysia?

May 3, 2013

Mal Krishnan Mal KuokMal Hussain Mal Syed M Mal Anwar Mal Jomo Mal Mahathir


Among the major economies of east Asia, Malaysia — which will hold a national election on  Sunday — is the most racially mixed, a melting pot of people of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan ancestry.

All the racial ingredients are present to foment east Asia’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan society — a California, Holland or south-east England of today, or a Tang China or Arab ascendancy of a earlier epoch.

Unfortunately, the ingredients have long been just that — ingredients. In 1965, Malay fear of being outnumbered by ethnic Chinese (and the reverse) was the background to the break-up of a union with Singapore. More recently, the cosmopolitan dream has languished under the affirmative action policies of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Affirmative action has too often meant filling the boots of a small Malay elite, and assorted running dogs, rather than taking the country forward.

Today, many Malaysians of all races reckon themselves less integrated and less happy than ever. And yet despite this, the signs of cosmopolitan promise in this most beautiful and enchanting of Asian nations never disappear.

The richest man in Malaysia is a reclusive Tamil, Ananda Krishan, an extraordinary entrepreneur who has bent every political leader for two generations to his will. Even politicians who hate each other end up agreeing with Krishnan’s agenda, and admiring the Islamic-art inspired Twin Towers he built in Kuala Lumpur. If government had forced him to do something more useful than run monopoly concessions from tv to telephones, and fret about the layout of his luxury yacht, this son of Sri Lankan railway clerks would surely have built one of the greatest branded businesses in the region.

The richest Malaysian long since moved on from Malaysia, in part because of his frustration at the place’s limited ambitions. Robert Kuok, commodities kingpin and Shangri-la hotelier has, in his latter years, put on an ever more Chinese face, but his own family is a wondrous assortment of different races, from West Indian to Welsh and Arab to Malay. His first, late wife was half-British.

The biggest financial services conglomerate put together in Malaysia is the work of a Malay-Arab-Indian, Rashid Hussain, whose inititals gave rise to the ubiquitous RHB logo seen everywhere in the country. One of the fastest growing businesses of late belongs to a Pashtun-Malay entrepreneur, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, so sharp that a Chinese billionaire once told me he refused to eat chocolates sent to him by Syed Mokhtar until they had been tried on his family pet (the tycoon and the animal survived). The best known Malaysian brand these days is low-cost airline Air Asia, run by an ethnic Indian, Tony Fernandes.

Nor is this cosmopolitan smorgasboard of talent limited to the business sphere. In Jomo Kwame Sundaram (Indian Tamil-Indonesian-Teochew Chinese), currently serving as Assistant Director General of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Malaysia produced south-east Asia’s most prolific and respected development economist.

In Mahathir Mohamad — one- or two-quarters Indian, two- or three-quarters Malay, though in power he declined to concede his mixed race ancestry for political reasons — Malaysia produced the south-east Asian politician who came closest to creating a viable industrialisation strategy, one that could have put his country on the track that Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and then China followed.

The mercurial Mahathir, however, studied but failed to digest the real lessons of north-east Asia. Agriculture was left stuck in the colonial mould, while industrial policy never harnessed competition to developmental ends in the manner of more successful east Asian states, as any businessman who works in both Malaysia and China will tell you.

Today, Malaysia’s businessmen goof around buying English soccer clubs (Queen’s Park Rangers, which came bottom of the Premiership this year, Cardiff which is joining it) when they could and should be driving their nation’s economic development.

UMNO’s defensive claim going into this Sunday’s election is that it is a tried and tested ‘product’. But given that Malaysia was much the most profitable British colony, and now has an even more formidable resource base after the discovery of vast natural gas resources, a modest GDP per capita lead over neighbouring Indonesia and Thailand is far from impressive. It is the US$15,000 GDP per capita lag on Taiwan and South Korea — much poorer states at the end of the Second World War — that tells.

Anwar Ibrahim (Malay-Indian), who leads the largest opposition party, Keadilan, has little to recommend him. A former Finance Minister, he has bent with the political winds for decades, only leaving UMNO after Mahathir turned on him. The leaders of allied opposition parties are untested in power beyond the local level — indeed sometimes at any level.

Yet Keadilan and its allies do offer Malaysia the chance of rule by a different party after 56 years of UMNO incumbency. It is a chance worth taking, even if — as appears to be happening to Japan’s LDP after defeat by its opposition — the main benefit would be to shake UMNO out of its corrupt and navel-gazing torpor.

Sunday is also a chance to change the nature of racial politics in Malaysia. Race has become an albatross around the country’s neck. It should be Malaysia’s greatest asset.


Tony down, Vince up

April 29, 2013

Cardiff promotion Tan and Chan Tien Ghee Fernandes QPR sad

The weekend’s English Premier League soccer results confirm that the team controlled by Malaysian billionaire Tony Fernandes will go down, while the team controlled by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan (currently in the league below) will go up.

What makes Third World billionaires waste their money on Premier League soccer clubs?

My working theory is that the habit reflects a desperation for recognition among people whose businesses will never buy them respect. (Actually, Tony Fernandes is a poor example because his Air Asia business is a relatively ‘normal’.)

The typical Third World billionaire who buys a Premier League club does not do something at the office that allows them to hold their heads high in the company of those they would like to be seen with. To wit:

‘So, how did you make your money?’

‘My dad fucked my mum.’


‘Well, I got my start robbing a train. Then a I cornered a bank. And now I’m in minerals. It’s important to have good bodyguards.’


‘In essence, I gave these guys who run my country a huge bung, and they gave me a licence to print money. So I did.’

So you buy a soccer club. Of course it is also useful to be in London on a regular basis to stash and invest some of your cash, while the UK’s tax laws have been redesigned around the needs of footloose billionaires.

But, in the end, no one will respect you even if, like Abramovich, you win the Champions League.

Methinks it a mug’s game.


Premiership clubs controlled by billy-willies:

Abramovich controls Chelsea and, according to Forbes, has spent US$3bn on the club. Meanwhile life expectancy for men in Russia is just 60 years.

Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov and partner Farhad Moshiri control 30% of Arsenal. Usmanov has long indicated his willingness to increase his stake in Arsenal to full control but has yet to lay his hands on the shares.

Sheik  Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan owns  Manchester City.

Mohamed El-Fayed, erstwhile owner of Harrods, still owner of the Paris Ritz, controls Fulham.

Tony Fernandes and Lakshmi Mittal control Queens Park Rangers, who are already relegated. It looked like a good networking opportunity for Tony, founder of Malaysian Ryanair tribute company Air Asia, but will the two still be pals after losing tons of money while achieving nothing?

Vincent Tan, a master of the untendered Malaysian government monopoly concession, controls Cardiff, who are coming up from the division below to replace Tony’s QPR. Other Malaysian billionaires love to hate Vince, but the children of Cardiff momentarily love him. Note that Vince has also signed up to the Gates/Buffett GivingPledge, promising to give away at least half his loot ‘to help address society’s most pressing problems’; (here is his personal pledge). Now that Vince has got his team into the Premiership, he could choose to regard the losses required to stay there as fulfilment of his GivingPledge. What more pressing problem is there than Wales’s lack of a Premiership football team? If other premiership billionaires grasp the angle, Melinda Gates’s phone will be ringing off the hook. Soccer as philanthropy — allowing Third World tycoons to feel better about themselves while watching football. If any of them get the idea from this blog, I would like some tickets please.

There is a Wikipedia table of English football club owners here.

Thoughts beyond the premiership

European businesspeople who constructed more regular businesses invest in clubs some times, but seem to go for smaller clubs. Amancio Ortega, behind Spanish retailer Inditex, put money into Deportivo La Coruna. Francois Pinault, who controls the likes of Gucci and YSL, also controls the football team Rennes. Delia Smith, of English cookbook fame, has a major stake in Norwich. George Soros does have 10% of Manchester United, but that is a big club run for profit.

Just look at the state of…

September 11, 2011

The British middle class

A great story by Zoe Williams about the national education system, national education versus private education, and middle-class selfishness. For me, the ghettoised education system remains the thing to like least in Britain.

Premiership football

The tale of how footballer Wayne Bridge decided to stay at Manchester City on his £4.7 million salary even though the team is unlikely to give him first team football and he has been left out of the Champions League squad. Somehow the price mechanism doesn’t seem to be extracting peak performance from Wayne.

Continental Europe

Still, being here in the UK you get to look at certain other places in Europe and reflect that things could be so much worse.