Thursday, July 29, 2010
Right place, right time, right people
Thursday July 29, 2010
Right place, right time, right people
Q: You did your A-Levels at Harrow. How important was that to you being who you are today?
A: There were a few key relationships which I started to develop there. Harrow had lots of children of prominent European, Asian and Middle Eastern families. That’s when I met the former King of Jordan’s son, among others.
That time was a very important time for me. That’s when I felt that I built the core foundation of contacts for the future. That’s quite important, because that’s when you know them as friends and you build the trust level for the future as opposed to meeting someone during the course of your business life.
After Harrow I went to Wharton and expanded my network. Throughout the course from 1998 to 2005, it turned out to be a key development period. I believe in hard work and persistence.
But admittedly, success is also attributable to being at the right place and right time and meeting the right people coupled with a trusting relationship.
Q: Tell us about your time in The Wynton Group.
A: I took a semester off when I was in Wharton to start an investment company called The Wynton Group. It had an initial capital of US$25mil (RM79.8mil) mainly provided by my family and close Middle Eastern and South-East Asian friends.
We started out with mainly portfolio investments around the world. Subsequently, we decided to move from just buying and selling public shares to private equity.
As of today, Wynton’s investments stand in excess of US$1bil. When I started the company I was still in university, I had a SOHO, home-office type concept. Subsequently, it was formalised and we had offices in Malaysia, Singapore and headquarters in British Virgin Island.
Q: What were the best stocks you invested in?
A: The funny thing is, when I was in university, I wrote a couple of articles for the Wharton journal. Some recommendations turned out well, some were terrible. Wharton educates you to look at a diverse portfolio. At the end of the day, it was about returns and diversification.
Q: In the Middle East, which countries do you spend the majority of your time?
A: I started with the relationships I built during the days I spent in London, particularly with good friends in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. I see a lot of opportunities for Malaysians, especially in the Middle East, just purely because there is so much liquidity and capital and vice versa from Middle East to Malaysia, which is where my interest is.
Ultimately, I am Malaysian. I am one who does not forget my country and I think there is a lot we can do for Malaysia. But when you build the trust of investors, you need to deliver what you promised.
Q: So who is this person that you know in Abu Dhabi?
A: I have a lot of close friends and close contacts in Abu Dhabi. In particular, I am very good friends with His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, who was formerly the director of international relations at the Crown Prince’s court and he is currently the ambassador for UAE to the US and Mexico. Yousef is the son of Dr Mana Al Otaiba who is the first oil minister for the UAE.
Q: He was someone you met at Harrow?
A: No, he was someone who was introduced by my friends. Of course, I am also close friends with several members of the Abu Dhabi royal family. It’s a very small circle of key movers and shakers in Abu Dhabi.
I think the great thing between Abu Dhabi and Malaysia is that they have really committed a lot to Malaysia and I think it is not only what we can see from the press, on the G-to-G (government-to-government) level but even at the private business levels. There is a lot of turst from them with respect to Malaysian companies operating there especially in the construction sector.
Q: What is your relationship with Hamad Al-Wazzan?
A: He is a friend of mine from the Wharton School and was several years my junior. He is from the Al-Wazzan family, a fairly prominent family in Kuwait. His uncle is quite important there and he is purely a friend of mine who spent a lot of time with our usual group of friends in New York, that probably led to the New York Post article, in which there is some points that need clarification. (Hamad is a successful investment banker and entreprenuer)
I spent a lot of time in New York and I have a lot of friends that studied at Wharton who subsequently ended up in Wall Street. In the course of raising funds for our new investments, we believed we should expand to the Middle East and look at some institutional investors in the US. So we spent a lot of time in New York. It’s true that were are all staying at the same apartment, called the Park Imperial. But no, I did not rent the Park Imperial, but I would say it was a very nice apartment. There were about 12 of us, so it was a fairly large place. I think it was about 5,000 sq ft.
Q: It was obviously rented. Who paid for it?
A: Neither me nor Hamad. It was another friend of ours who rented the apartment.
Q: Is it true that it was US$100,000 a month to rent?
A: I’m not sure although I can say that I contributed to the food budget.
Q: It was more like a schoolboy crash-together sort of thing?
A: Yes, it was 12 friends in one place and spending time together because we had not caught up in a long time.
Q: Were these all Wharton boys?
A: Some from Wharton, some from Harrow. It was a mixture. It was exaggerated somewhat in terms of the spending. During the time there, we enjoyed dinner in nice places and they all came from pretty wealthy families so they had spending power. And sometimes the Wall Street friends invited us for events. On that particular occasion when the New York Post ran the article, it was in reference to a party that was thrown for a friend’s engagement.
Q: How do you feel being in the spotlight when your friends have managed to somehow escape the spotlight?
A: That’s the interesting part. I think probably it was more to do with the public relations aspect of it because, as a Malaysian, I come from a fairly okay family but nowhere as close to the prominence and wealth levels of the people that I usually spend time with who also are my very good friends. So generally, I am usually the concierge service that arranges everything, and thus my name is all over the place.
Q: So you were the fall guy?
A: I wouldn’t say I was the fall guy. I am the person who called and made the reservations, the bookings and so on. Unless of course, we were invited by others, then the others made the arrangements.
Q: Was it because they were less well-organised and you more organised?
A: No, I think it was more because most of their families were my investors.
Q: So you were looking after your investors?
A: Yes. I go through the entire motion. I think a relationship with an investor is not just about managing their money well. Although it is not in my job scope, but if my friend says he wants a flight urgently to somewhere or he wants a dinner reservation at a well known place, I’ll do my best to make it happen.
Q: Was there a US$160,000 bill in Avenue (nightclub)?
A: I think factually there was a party being thrown for a friend’s engagement which I was told cost around US$160,000. Left to me, I would not spend that kind of money.
Q: So what about your birthday party in Las Vegas?
A: It was actually a group of my close friends; some of them were my investors who threw me this surprise party which I must say was memorable and phenomenal and I was very surprised by it. I guess that is what good friends are for. It was for my 28th birthday last November.
Q: Did you guys book almost the entire Caesar’s Palace for this?
A: No, it was a party they threw for me at the poolside of Caesar’s Palace.
Q: Did you send Cristal champagne to Lindsay Lohan?
A: I think there is a pattern of trying to paint me as this person who orders a lot of champagne excessively. But I think the fact is to realise that these are special instances where different events have been held and in many cases not organised by me. One point I want to clarify for certain is neither me nor my brother spent in excess of US$2mil in St Tropez. That is 100% factually not true, for sure. It was 40-50 of us friends who ordered some drinks and had a good relaxing night. For me, we all work very hard. Of course, we have a disadvantage where at our age, people may perceive it differently. At the end of the day, I run my investors’ money prudently. I generate returns for them. I am not an excessive person but I do have my breaks for relaxation with friends.
Q: So you are not this international man of mystery?
A: I guess I was known as the international man of mystery because nothing is known about me. And I hope after today, it addresses a lot of points.
Q: All this publicity, has it helped or hindered you?
A: A lot of people have talked to me about it and if it will affect my business because some of my investors are from Islamic countries. Firstly, an important key point is trust. If you don’t trust me, you won’t trust me to invest in me. Second, it is a gross exaggeration of facts. Third, with the amount media attention, although it has been very challenging on me, it is through this rising above from challenges that we learn to better ourselves, so I decided that it was an opportune time to come out and state the facts.
Q: Your father was quoted in Chinese newspapers as asking you to lie low. Did he?
A: I spoke to my father and I was actually informed that he did not talk to the press. I think maybe that was a casual conversation or misquote, I’m not sure. But I have spoken to my parents and of course they were quite concerned with all the publicity and how that may negatively impact us. As what I learnt in business school, in life if you don’t take challenges, you will never grow. I think it served an important experience for me in self-improvement.
Party friend: Paris Hilton at the Activision E3 Preview Event in Los Angeles last month. - Reuters
Q: Lets talk about Paris Hilton. Are the two of you dating?
A: Rick and Kathy Hilton, Paris and Nikki’s parents, are a prominent real estate family based out of LA and I was introduced to the family by a good friend of mine. I have actually known the family for a while now. So that was how I know the children. The girls were on this trip with a whole list of other people, about 40-plus people. We had very prominent and successful friends from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Middle East too. We are all in the same group and we introduced ourselves to each other.
Q: During the World Cup in South Africa, did you have a corporate box at Johannesburg Soccer Citystadium?
A: First, there was some talk that I chartered a plane from London to South Africa. Just for clarification, I did not charter a plane but I was on a chartered flight with close to 20-30 people. What’s important to realise is half the time or most of the time, I’m with my investors or the children of my investors or together with a bunch of friends that have worked very hard to build their own entrepreneurial businesses or inherited from their parents. They have very good lifestyles and I guess, I’m fortunate in some ways because I get to enjoy their lifestyles but unfortunately I’m painted as the one that is leading an excessive kind of lifestyle.
Q: There is another story that you are not interested in Paris but in Nicky Hilton.
A: That’s factually not true. I actually know Nicky’s boyfriend. He is called David Katzenberg, the father is actually one of the founders of Dreamworks (Studios).
No ordinary Jho
A millionaire before graduating
Paris just part of the group
No website and no Twitt