GS Gill: Malaysia’s Maharaja of Sports Business

6
1980
| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 27 Aug 2016 | Asia Samachar |
GS Gill
GS Gill

Sports outfitter GS Gill, who passed away today, was an iconic figure in Malaysia’s business of sports.

Gurdial Singh Gill, 91, had built a formidable sports-related business under GS Gill Sdn Bhd, which held the famous Adidas brand franchise for Asia for more than two decades.

As the years went by, he launched his own house brand McGill, while continuing to distribute Adidas and other global brands like Eider.

He ran his business empire from an 11-storey building  Wisma Harwant, named after his wife, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. His two daughters have been involved in the business for many years now. During the prime years, Gill was a household name in Malaysia. A brandname by itself.

“He had enjoyed close rapport with the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia. He played golf with them, and the Agong [nation’s constitutional monarch] as well,” a Sikh businessman tells Asia Samachar.

Gill, with the Tan Sri award from the Federal Government under his belt, had also played a role in the affairs of the Sikh community in Malaysia.

Among others, he was involved at the Tatt Khalsa Diwan Malaysia, a Sikh society and a gurdwara, located in the Chow Kit area, not many miles away from his business headquarters.

In 1975, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) had proposed to relocate the Tatt Khalsa Diwan Selangor. Gill was one of the Sikh leaders who met with the Land Office officials and the then Datuk Bandar, or the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur, to allow them to stay put.

Others in the team were Keshmahinder Singh and past presidents Naib Singh Kapure, Pall Singh Malhi and Ranjit Singh Kaleke. They successed.

Gill was also a founding member of the Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund (MSEAF).

Humble beginnings

But the beginnings were tough. In his younger days, Gill had dreamt of being a doctor. Well, it was a choiced profession back then, the others being engineering and law.

In an interview with the New Straits Times, which appeared in a personality piece entitled ‘Gill – maharajah of the sports world’ which appeared on 17 Sept 1989, he shares about the trials and tribulations of his early days.

“I didn’t know what to do and since I had $130, I decided to be a cowboy. So I bought a cow. I fed it with special grass that I grew myself and my cow yielded a lot of milk. My cows were very healthy. I made some money from the sale of milk. I also reared chickens – 300 of them. I even won a poultry award from the Malayan Agri-horticultural Association for rearing the biggest and healthiest chickens,” he said.

During the Japanese occupation, he worked as an engineer  at a Japanese broadcasting station in Kuala Lumpur.

“I was helping the Japanese to build transmitters for our boys landing in India. When the war was coming to an end, the Japanese told me to go to Vetnam. But the atomic bomb ended that and they told me to go wherever I liked.

“I didn’t know what to do so I came back to Malaya. I couldn’t get into medical school as I only had $200. So I went into business. I sold everything from jam to Camel cigarettes and textiles and made letterheads for Punjabi newspapers.

“Then a friend told me to go into the sports goods business as there was more money there. I started selling shuttlecocks and now I am still up to my chin with sports goods.”

His first overdraft was $2,500 from the Bank of America as the British had refused to loan him a cent, he said in the interview.

GSGILL-LOGOMaking of the Company

The sports equipment and accessories retailer G.S. Gill Sdn. Bhd was founded in 1946.

“We started out as a small business, selling bicycles and accessories in the heart of Kuala Lumpur,” according to information at the company’s website. “Over the decades we expanded and diversified our business, establishing a retail store and wholesale department offering premium sporting goods in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR), just two blocks away from our original location.”

In 1952, G.S. Gill became the licensor of Adidas, at the time an emerging brand in Europe.

“The mutual trust we had in each other ensured a long lasting partnership that saw Adidas rapidly become one of the biggest sports brands in Malaysia, and G.S Gill the biggest distributor of the famous brand,” it added.

GS Gill no longer holds the franchise of Adidas due to change in policy of the German multinational company.

Gill - maharajah of the sports world, New Straits Times (17 Sept 1989)
Gill – maharajah of the sports world, New Straits Times (17 Sept 1989)

Colourful Family

Gill’s family makes equally riveting reading. His father, an Indian freedom fighter, came to Kuala Lumpur in 1898. His group had sailed a Japanese ship to America on an unsuccessful mission to secure arms to fight the British.

On the way back, he ‘hopped off at Singapore as a jail sentence awaited him in India’, according to the article. He then earned a living by selling tickets for a ship sailing to Madras from Port Swethenham, according to the narrative in the same NST article.

Gill had three brothers and two sisters. His eldest brother was attached to the Force 138 during the Japanese occupation and was  known as the Singa Malaya, or the Lion of Malaya.

One brother, Gurbachan Singh, died in the Indian army while another, Amrit Singh, was knighted by the Japanese.

Colourful Personality

Gill had certainly stamped his name in the world of sports business in Malaysia.

The 1989 NST article  that badged him as the ‘Maharajah of the sports world’ begins with the following observation: “Datuk G.S. Gill’s most lethal weapon must be his beautifully coiffured moustache. The ends look dangerously stiff, thin and sharp. But otherwise the rest of him seems big, strong and friendly….He certainy has style too, and carries his turban with great dignity.”

The same article captures Gill who remembers his humble beginning, and Gill the man who has not stopped dreaming.

In that interview, he said: “Life has been tough but good. I never ever dreamt that I would get a Datukship…Another thing that I really would like to see is that all of us born here should be considered Bumiputeras.”

Saskaar/Cremation: Cheras Crematorium, Jalan Kuari, Kuala Lumpur at 3pm, 28 Aug 2016 (Sun)

 

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Kuldip Singh s/o Durbara,
    We are doing a biography on Tan Sri Gill and would like to contact you. Please call me at 0198160663

  2. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/08/28/sports-equipment-icon-gs-gill-passes-away-at-92/

    THE STAR, 28 AUG 2016

    Sports equipment icon G.S. Gill passes away at 92

    BY NICHOLAS CHENG

    KUALA LUMPUR: Tan Sri G.S. Gill (pic), the man who brought Adidas to Malaysia and ran the country’s largest sporting goods shop, has died at the age of 92.

    The sports business veteran passed away peacefully surrounded by his family members at the Damansara Specialist Centre, at about 1.50pm yesterday.

    His grandson Mahaveer Singh said that Gill was admitted to the hospital on Thursday after complaining of stomach pain.

    “My grandfather was a very hardworking man, he never took a day off from work. And he was helpful and generous to many people. He put me and others through our school, college and university. He opened up a hospital in India to help the poor,” said Mahaveer, who now also helps run G.S. Gill Sdn Bhd in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.

    Prayers for Gill will be performed at 10.30am today at his home off Bukit Tunku and his remains will be cremated in Jalan Kuari at 3pm.

    He leaves behind his wife, two daughters, three grandchildren and a great grandson.

    Gill originally intended to study medicine but his family’s poor financial situation pushed him to go into business, beginning with raising chickens and then selling everything from jam to cigarettes and textiles.

    An avid sportsman, having competed in professional tennis and cycling, Gill began distributing bicycles, shuttlecocks, footballs and many other sporting items in 1946.

    Back then, he worked from a small shop in Batu Road, now known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

    Seven years later, he landed the distribution rights for Adidas to Malaysia and Singapore, and later expanded his business to Indonesia and Thailand – with the namesake of his business becoming synonymous with the German sporting brand.

    His business then expanded from a small shop to an 11-storey building, named Wisma Harwant after his wife, in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

    Gill’s contribution to Malaysian sports, especially in its early days, is well regarded, said former sprinter Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan.

    “He was one of the earliest people to start a comprehensive sports equipment shop here, even before independence. For the track and field community, we usually would go down to his shop to pick up the spikes that we needed and he and his staff always ensured we got a good pair,” he said.

    Gill was treasurer of the Malayan Amateur Athletic Association in the 1950s before he became president of the Malaysian Cycling Association from 1961. He was secretary of the Asian Cycling Federation and also served in 16 other sporting associations and clubs in his time.

    His business has also been a sponsor of the national women’s hockey team since 2000.

    Former sports journalist Randhir Singh said Gill’s passing was the “end of an era”.

    “He was an iconic figure in the sports and sports equipment industries. The Agongs and Prime Ministers went to his shop to buy sports equipment,” he said.

  3. Gill was also a founding member of the Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund (MSEAF).

    My condolences to the family on the departure of Tan Sri GS Gill. Being a leading member of the Sikh community and a founding member of the Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund (MSEAF) may be it will be an appropriate recognition of his services to Sanggat by naming the ‘MSEAF’ as ‘GS GILL SIKH EDUCATION AID FUND’.
    This may be best way to perpetuate his good work as it can be used to provide
    FINANCIAL -OTHER ASSISTANCE TO SIKHS IN NEED TO ADVANCE IN EDUCATION-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-COMMERCE-SPORTS to name a few sectors. The scope can be expanded as and when resources are available.

    There are currently several SIKH NGOs and Professionals involved in some of the above fields. All of them should join hands for common good instead of being compartmentalized which can result in duplication and waste of avoidable resources-facilities.

    Above is a suggestion for consideration of SANGGAT LEADERS who should look beyond and expand.
    UNITY WILL PROVIDE FINANCIAL-ORGANIZATION STRENGTH AND THUS PROVIDE MAXIMUM BENEFITS AS LIMITED RESOURCES CAN BE OPTIMIZED. SIKHS ARE GREAT INDIVIDUALLY BUT PERCEIVED AS WEAK IN WORKING TOGETHER DUE TO REASONS BEST KNOWN TO THEMSELVES.

    GUR FATEH

  4. Tan Sri Gill has been one of the Sikhs of Malaysia I admired when I returned after my tertiary education from India in 1984. I went up to meet him one day. i still remember him sitting in his showroom in Wisma Harwant in KL. We were strangers as i was not introduced to him by anyone. He humbly greeted me and soon after we started chatting like as though we were some kind of long lost friends. He took me for an orientation of his center and showed me his sports club in the same building that has a gym. I had earlier introduced myself as a Physiotherapist.

    What i admired in him was that he was a soft spoken and a humble man. I looked up at him as a wise man of the Sikh Society of Malaysia with so much to share behind his eyes.

    He remembers me as Bains and each time we meet he would call me with that name and would share some words of wisdom. One of the wisdom he shared with me that always rings in my mind is. “Love your country…it has provided you with good life, happiness and a good family: And once during the Independence day of India hosted by the High Commission of India, A toss was dedicated to our YDP Agong. I was not a Dato then. In my mind I was wondering how respect was given to the King even without His Majesty’s presence. I innocently, asked him if this was done as a norm? He told me we respect the King where ever we go. After God is the King then the PM then the father of the house. This is social hierarchy. I carishEvery wisdom that he had shared with me. I normally share this wisdom with people i meet including my children. We have lost a Social Sikh Wisdom Icon.

    May The Almighty God bestow his soul with Peace, Tranquility and Bliss.

  5. NEW STRAITS TIMES

    Sports equipment icon Tan Sri G. S. Gill dies at age 92

    BY TASNIM LOKMAN – 27 AUGUST 2016 @ 7:08 PM

    KUALA LUMPUR: Local sports equipment icon Tan Sri G. S. Gill has died at the age of 92 this morning. Family members, in confirming this, told the New Straits Times that Gill had taken ill and was admitted to hospital several days ago.

    A funeral will be held at the Cheras Crematorium, Jalan Kuari at 3pm tomorrow.

    Gill’s brother-in-law, Jeswant Singh described Gill as a humble, cheerful and an inspiring figure who motivates others to do better. “He will be missed by everyone.” he said.

    Gill, was born in Kampung Benggali, Brickfields, on Feb 4, 1924. It was reported that in 1946, he took all of his savings and opened a small shop at No.108 Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman), selling everything from jam to cigarettes and textiles.

    His lifelong association with sporting goods began at the suggestion of a friend and he started off by selling shuttlecocks. Years later, he secured the franchise for the German sportswear brand, Adidas.

    Gill’s name became synonymous with sports equipment and sport development in the nation since in 1957, when he supplied sportswear and equipment to the national football team free of charge.

    In August 1983, G.S. Gill Sdn Bhd moved from their No 108 premises, to its new building at Wisma Harwant, named after his wife. He is survived by his wife, Harwant, two daughters; Ranjit and Premjit Kaur, three grandchildren and a great grandchild.

    Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/08/168705/sports-equipment-icon-tan-sri-g-s-gill-dies-age-92

  6. When I won the Malaysian Under 15 tennis Singles & Doubles title in 1970, my father asked me to write to G S Gill for sponsorship. He gave me 2 Davis Tennis racquets 4 sets of natural guts which top players of the world used and 2 pairs of Adidas tennis shoes for 1 year. Those days no junior tennis players in Malaysia got free racquets or shoes. He told me he will re-new the sponsorship every year as long as I performed well. I retired at age 26 n coached part time till age 40. He re-newed the sponsorship every year for the 25 years. I am eternally grateful to Tan Sri G S Gill. Kuldip Singh s/o Durbara, PJ (formerly of Kota Bharu, Penang, Alor Setar, Seremban)

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