BESSA Ambassador: A letter to my 17-year-old self

Dear Ruben,

I am sitting here at my desk in a comfortably cool air-conditioned office, papers for reading piled high and an agenda full of meetings.  Looking through the large floor-to-ceiling window ahead, I can see the harbour filled with parked ships and the docks brimming with activity amid the container mountains.  It has made me reminisce about those carefree boarding school days at Eton.

That first week at school was rather memorable.  I remember the first piece of homework I had to do. The task was to write an essay about life in Malaysia, since I was new and had not learnt any British history. With only 24 hours to produce a decent piece, I struggled initially but the end result was rather pleasing.  The teacher was surprised about how well I had been taught to structure essays and he admitted to having picked up from my writing that Malaysians no longer lived in trees!  It gave me a huge amount of confidence going forward, knowing that some things I had learnt in Malaysian government school were actually more advanced than in the UK.  Although going to Eton for only the last two years had its disadvantages, I saw that I had brought some advantages too.

With many friends and family who had trodden the route to UK boarding before me, I thought I was very ready and prepared for the move.  I  had intended to just go over and study and get myself into a decent university, while not bothering too much about the social aspects of this journey. Nevertheless, when in boarding school, it was impossible not to make friends – especially if you are all living in the same house together.  I made friends, even if there was no intention of ever doing so.  To this day, some of the guys I met at boarding school are my closest buddies.

Another great memory I had from Eton was playing in the school badminton team.  At home, it was so competitive and I was at best a below-average player with no chance of representing my school.  However, in England, we had many opportunities to try our hand at all sorts of activities and I managed to get to top pair.  My badminton partner and I went through a lot together, eventually even beating top pairs from other schools.  He is still one of my best friends and we make it point to catch up whenever I am in London.  When I look back at the best moments of boarding, most of them were simple pleasures like watching sport on the television with my housemates, to playing football in the hall before supper every evening.  Simple but very much cherished just the same.

Now that I am back in Malaysia, living and working, I realise that what boarding school taught me most importantly, was how to embrace and get along with all cultures.  People from everywhere are different but then also the same.  Everyone wants to do good and everyone also wants to succeed but the diversity of beliefs allow us a variety of paths to getting there.  Understanding where others are coming from gives you great insight into what they are trying to achieve.  Today, all my clients are international organisations coming from myriad backgrounds and the experiences from boarding have definitely helped in my dealings with them.

My only regret about boarding school was that I did not make the most of a chance to learn more languages.  At Eton, there were a dozen or more language options, from Arabic to Zulu!  A lot of life is about communicating with people.  Even as a fluent speaker, what is said is not 100% understood by the listener. If it comes to an unfamiliar language, even more of the message is missed out.  I wish I had learnt as many languages as I possibly could when I was younger so that I can now genuinely communicate well with many more people.

Make the most of your time at boarding school, Ruben!  They will form some of your best memories and give you many unmissable opportunities.

All the best,


Datuk Ruben Emir Gnanalingam Bin Abdullah is the Group Managing Director of Westports Holdings Berhad. He started his career as a trainee in WMSB in 1999 before leaving WMSB to set up a start-up incubator known as The Makmal Group in 2000. He re-joined the Company in 2005 and was appointed as Chief Executive Officer on 15 January 2009, a position he held until 31 December 2017.

He attended Victoria Institution between 1989 to 1993 and completed his studies at Eton College in the UK.  With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from The London School of Economics, Datuk Ruben went on to attend various Executive Education Programmes under the Harvard Business School, such as the Senior Manager Development Programme and the Leadership Development Programme.

Datuk Ruben is the Vice-Chairman of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, which participates in the English Championship. Together with Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, they took over the club in 2011. He is also the founder of the KL Dragons, which is actively involved in the Asean Basketball League and were crowned champions In 2016.  Datuk Ruben co-founded the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) and is currently still a Member of the Board.  As Vice President of the Malaysian Basketball Association (MABA), Datuk Ruben sits on the Board of the Asian Basketball League, a Co-Chair of the World Sports Owner’s Summit and also member of the NBA Asia Advisory Board.

Outside his professional engagements, Datuk Ruben has involvement in many other business and industry-related groups.  He is Deputy President of Kuala Lumpur Business Club Malaysia and the Chairman of the QPR Community Trust, as well a Trustee on the Board of Enactus Malaysia and Yayasan Chow Kit.