You may know him as the “low profile” billionaire who owns 4 jets and 14 helicopters a few years back. Although Weststar owner Tan Sri Syed Azman Syed Ibrahim may have a taste for the finer things in life, the man has built his entire empire from scratch.
Syed Azman, born in Sungei Petani, was the eldest child of a civil servant father and a housewife.
As a child, he was always attracted to cars. At school, he would admire any new car that came by and if he was lucky enough, his teachers would let him take a peek or sit inside the car.
“If you like cars, you will like money but I need to have the money first before I can buy a car. So after I finished Form 6 in Sungai Petani, I thought that if I were to further my studies at a university, it will be four years before I can start earning money. But if I started work, in months I would be earning and I can buy a car sooner.’’
Apart from cars, Syed Azman was also fascinated with the army. There was a army camp near where he lived and he wondered what life would be like in the army after seeing men in uniform and military vehicles passing by every day.
Leaving school in 1979, he took an entrance exam and soon found himself whisked away to the Officer’s Cadet School in Port Dickson where he was in a bootcamp for nine months. Months later, he bought his first car. He refers to it as a junk – a Ford Escort – but it was his pride and joy. His first pay cheque was RM800.
In the mid-1980s when Proton launched the Saga, his colleagues in the army paraded their new cars. Though tempted, he knew it was important to save money.
So, after serving the army for 13 years as a military intelligence officer and achieving the rank of major, he left to pursue his dreams in the business world in 1993.
With seed capital of RM200,000 – the savings he and his wife had accumulated – he ventured into the used car business. Syed Azman then commuted to London to buy second-hand cars before selling it in Malaysia. He did not own the AP (approved permits) to import cars but he shared the AP with the partners who had the permit.
Over time he managed to have APs from the government and his car business became more and more popular.
Then the government decided to abolish the open AP grant and only offer the AP franchise.
To get the AP franchise, Syed Azman needs to be appointed by a foreign car company as a distributor and then the permit is awarded to him.
“In the initial years, I used ‘open Aps’ loaned from my friends. In the automotive business, Aps are needed, and we cannot sell Aps. It is just meant to bring in the cars. I later went to MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and applied for APs and at that time they were only giving out ‘franchise Aps’. That is different from “open APs.”
Lady luck was on his side and he managed to gain confidence from Honda to appoint him as a distributor of some of the cars in Malaysia including Honda Jazz.
Then Syed Azman got the right to distribute Chevrolet and Suzuki.
During business dealings, he was frustrated with the time spent on the road. That was the time his friend suggested he bought a helicopter just to move around.
In 2003, he bought a USD 1.5 million helicopter for his daily use. When the helicopter was not occupied by him, Syed Azman rented it out to those who were interested.
That’s when he realized that the demand for a helicopter was high in Malaysia. 5 years later, he managed to get the first contract to provide helicopter services to bring oil and gas sector workers to the platform.
Today, the 58-year-old copter tycoon runs Southeast Asia’s largest helicopter fleet for the oil-and-gas sector through his privately held Weststar Aviation.
He now also has a business chartering private jets to executives and is spreading his wings into Africa and the Middle East.
Weststar Aviation boasts a fleet of 28 helicopters serving Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.