Syed Azman Ibrahim's privately held Weststar Aviation is Southeast Asia's largest helicopter service for offshore oil rigs. Private equity firm KKR invested $200 million last October. Company also imports commercial vehicles and luxury cars, and customizes vehicles for the police and armed forces. FED up with traversing the country’s roads to grow his luxury car business, Tan Sri Syed Azman Syed Ibrahim acted on a bit of advice that made him one of the richest people in Malaysia. He was told to buy a helicopter if he is fatigued by the weariness of travelling by road. Syed Azman, a former military intelligence officer, did just that.
In 2003, he paid US$1.5mil to buy a second-hand helicopter for his travels and when he was not using the copter, he leased it out. It was then he realized there was huge demand for helicopter-based aviation services in Malaysia.
Five years later he won his first contract to offer offshore aviation services to the oil and gas sector.Today, as the owner of Weststar Aviation Services Sdn Bhd (WAS), he owns 40 helicopters and the company has over RM8bil worth of contracts to shuttle people and goods, predominantly offshore, for the massive oil and gas industry. He is angling for a further RM3bil worth of projects ranging from six months to 10 years.
“Now is also the window of opportunity and if we do not move fast enough we will miss it and have to wait ten years before a new set of contracts are given out by the oil and gas companies,’’ he tells StarBizWeek. He is group managing director of the Weststar group of companies in which WAS is a unit. Though he remains elusive and shuns the media limelight, his name was all over the newspapers in 2005 when the Government named the recipients of the AP (approved permits). He and the late Tan Sri Nasimuddin SM Amin of Naza Group topped the list with the most number of APs. Hence he was dubbed the “AP King’’, a monicker he is trying hard to lose. In 2009, Syed Azman created a stir in Britain when he staged a takeover of Birmingham-based van manufacturer LDV (formerly Leyland DAF Vans, then LDV Group Ltd), but pulled out of the deal as it did not fit his plans.
Last year, he was again in the spotlight for selling 30% of WAS to one of the United States’ biggest equity firms, KKR, for RM642mil. That values his company at RM2bil and he netted half of the sale proceeds. Now he is planning to float WAS on Bursa Malaysia next year but that depends on market conditions. He says he needs the lead time to “add value’’ so WAS gets the valuation he has in mind. “But I am looking to build the most profitable offshore aviation services company though it may not be the biggest,” he says.
“I love money and everything I do is about making money,’’ he says. Rise in the businesses world Azman rose in the business world by tapping on opportunities provided by the Government to bumiputra businessmen wanting to make a foray in the automotive business. He set up a company in 1994 after leaving the army. He and his wife had saved about RM200,000 and used it to get into the car business.
It is the passion for cars, nurtured since he was a boy, that saw him start by selling second-hand cars. As the business and profits grew, Azman secured APs from his friends and started bringing in more cars from Britain to be sold here.
The big break came in 2002. Then, Weststar secured the right to sell Honda cars from Honda Motor Co of Japan, a deal concluded after two years of negotiations. It broke the 30-year hold that Kah Motor had over the distribution of Honda marques in Malaysia. Via his majority-owned Weststar Holdings Sdn Bhd, he entered into agreements with Honda Motor Co Japan and Honda (M) Sdn Bhd to import and distribute certain Honda models, such as the Jazz, that were not locally assembled.Weststar Aviation Services helicopter fleet Weststar managed to obtain 1,000 APs, called “franchise APs” from the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) to import...
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