| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 27 Aug 2016 | Asia Samachar |
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).
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.
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’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.
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)
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