I got to know Wan since end of 2010 when UEM Land Holdings Bhd acquired Sunrise Bhd and I subsequently joined the board of UEM Land. I am not his close or family friend, nor am I his golfing buddy. I am sure many of his friends can write far better tributes to a man who was genuinely warm, fair, honest, humble and hard-working.
There is one very positive aspect of Wan that I know well, and I feel it will be a loss if I do not share. He is genuinely inclusive and not egocentric. This is a trait not often found in corporate Malaysia.
Post-acquisition of Sunrise Bhd, Wan warmly embraced the staff, the processes and the values of Sunrise into the enlarged entity. So much so that UEM Land Holdings Bhd is now renamed UEM Sunrise Bhd. Of course, this is also made possible by a majority of the board members who are equally inclusive and open-minded.
Operationally, many of the senior staff of UEM Sunrise were from the former Sunrise, including both the current Chief Operating Officers. Unlike some other acquisitions we are familiar with, most of the staff of Sunrise stayed on, years after the completion of the acquisition.
If you ask any of the senior staff, there is no question that the main contributing factor was Wan Abdullah.
The fact that he accepted me as the Chairman of the Development Committee, even as I was the previous CEO of the acquired company, speaks volume of his humility. Wan is a man with a big heart rather than a big ego.
What does this mean to the company Wan led? By any financial measurements, it has been a success. Pre-tax profit rose from RM129 million in 2006 (when he joined UEM Land as CEO) to RM686 million in 2013. Total assets now stand at almost RM10 billion, up from just RM3.5 billion in 2006.
As my colleague on the board of M+S Pte Ltd, he proved to be also willing to listen and learn, just as he is ever willing to lead.
While some may see Wan as fairly impatient at times, my own impression of him is quite the opposite. So very often, I saw some people putting his patience to the test. Yet, Wan always came through. He was always willing to be tolerant, to be patient and to slowly win over his detractors. I would have blown my top many times over.
I have a few fond memories of Wan as a friend. Together with his family, they visited me in Vancouver, Canada. In England on a business trip, we managed to watch a couple of football matches, including the game between Manchester United and Arsenal, and the game between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
Wan led a good life. He left many legacies too, including the success of UEM Sunrise and his many contributions to Iskandar Malaysia and the M+S projects in Singapore. These are only those I am personally aware, and I am sure there are plenty more.
More than anything else, in the few occasions I shared with him as a friend, I believe he is first and foremost a family man. To his family, I pray that God will continue to bless all of you and that his life’s story will be the light that shines your future path.
To the rest of us, it’s a reminder that life is short. Go do something great this year. Do something kind this week. Go hug your kids today.