Tatparanandam Ananda Krishnan keeps out of the media glare, but that hasn’t stopped the reclusive billionaire from making bold bets.
Two years after he took Malaysia’s top telecoms firm private and enraged shareholders, Ananda is winning them back with a $3.3 billion IPO of his flagship firm in Southeast Asia’s biggest ever offering.
Ranked by Forbes magazine as Southeast Asia’s richest man with $7 billion in assets, the 71-year-old is viewed as someone who holds the remote control for a business empire that spans telecoms, gaming, property, oil exploration and pay-TV.
The shrewd tycoon, however, doesn’t hold any executive positions in the four main Malaysian firms he controls and is credited with building a strong leadership team.
“I suppose in some ways he provides some inspiration, but the mark of a leader is someone who makes sure the company can run without him,” said Peter Elston, a Singapore-based strategist at Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore.
“I met the company a few weeks ago when they were doing their roadshow and I met seven executives from the group – Ananda was not among them,” said Elston.
Ananda, known as TAK within his inner circle, graduated from Harvard and made his first millions as an oil trader, leveraging on friendships made during his business school days.
Born to a Sri Lankan Tamil civil servant, Ananda keeps a low profile and little is known about his private life.
He hit the headlines in the mid-1980s when he financed the Live Aid concert organized by anti-poverty activist and rock celebrity Bob Geldof.
Ananda is said to leave the execution of his business strategies to trusted aides, Ralph Marshall and Chan Chee Beng. Both are directors of the privately-held Usaha Tegas, Ananda’s investment vehicle.
“He’s a humble man, but is tough during negotiations. He generally leaves the slaying to Ralph,” said a person with knowledge of the billionaire, referring to Marshall. The person asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
An avid collector of modern art, Ananda lives mostly in the south of France with his wife and young daughter, visiting Kuala Lumpur occasionally.
Media reports say the tycoon’s two children from a first marriage are not keen in his business empire. A son is a monk and a daughter lives in Britain.
Ananda’s flagship telecoms company Maxis, Malaysia’s biggest mobile operator, listed on Thursday after it was privatised in 2007.
Maxis brought in Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and others for the IPO. Malaysia’s top deal maker, CIMB Group, which had advised Maxis during its 2002 listing and its privatisation, is also on the list.
CIMB’s CEO Nazir Razak, younger brother of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib, is the main banker in all three deals.
Ananda’s privatisation of Maxis angered investors who had accepted 15.60 ringgit ($4.64) a share. Ananda soon sold a 25 percent stake to Saudi Telecom at 16.40 ringgit apiece.
“It’s a masterstroke, he forked out money to privatise and then made more selling it to the Arabs,” said the person with knowledge of the billionaire.
The re-listing of Maxis comes after the prime minister called for firms to list in a bid to boost Malaysia’s sluggish and illiquid stock market.
Ananda obliged, but this time he is listing only the Malaysian operations, leaving the fast-growing Indian and Indonesian businesses with the parent Maxis Communications Bhd.
Ananda was said to have played a key role in restructuring Malaysia’s oil and gas sector, culminating in the setting up of national oil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas).
Ananda, who was closely linked to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, had sold the idea of building Malaysia’s iconic 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers to Mahathir in the early 1990s. One of his companies now co-owns the building.
Usaha Tegas has significant interests in Malaysian gaming firm Tanjong Plc, power producer Powertek and pay-TV operator Astro All Asia Networks Plc. It also controls Singapore property developer Overseas Union Enterprise Ltd and Hong Kong trader Arnhold Holdings Ltd.
Last year, Ananda bailed out British regional newspaper chain Johnston Press and he has since expanded his stake in India’s booming radio network business.