PTMBD_Interview with Dato’ Hj. Ameer Ali bin Mydin of Mydin Holdings Bhd (Part 1)


1.        What is your current role?  Tell us a little bit about your background and Mydin’s

I am the Managing Director for Mydin Holdings Berhad.  I have been with Mydin for about 55 years, that’s my age.  Mydin started as a family business, still is but now run professionally.  We are the 3rd generation from humble beginning in Kelantan.  Many people are surprise the business started from Kota Bharu.  Today the strategy is called “niche”, we’ve been practicing it long before marketers coined the word.  The business started as an ordinary pasar malam stall then became store and stores.  We have several stores in Terengganu and Kelantan, and at that time there was none in Kuala Lumpur.  I was so called “activated” around 22 years ago when I got back from study from US.  I first worked at a Merchant Bank then.  I set up the today’s well known Masjid India Emporium.  It’s just a small store.  If you have been there you know what I mean.  In fact that was the store that got us here today.

In US, I studied Chemistry.  I furthered until International Business Masters level.  I think education is very important and one should always continuously learn.  I am so blessed to have my parents that care so much about education.  So when I came back I quickly got a job.  I didn’t bother going back to US for my graduation ceremony because I think it won’t make any difference since I already secured a job here; and the fact I have to spend additional flight tickets just don’t make sense.  We need to practice good spending from young.  I worked in corporate world around 8 years and decided to join my father’s business.  In US I used to work as waiter and “sanitary engineer”.  All fresh graduates or growing up adults must get their hands dirty because a lot of learning can be gained in the process.  As for me, getting my hands dirty is my second nature!

But you see, there is always risk when you run or join entrepreneurs like my father.  So I did part time first.  Though part time in labour, I was full time in efforts and thoughts.  Since my wife was working, I have some insurance to cover monthly overheads.  As a manager in a bank, life was good.  When I decided to join the business, my life changed.

2.       Highlight your/Mydin’s three best achievements thus far?

You see, it is not easy being local.  Somehow it applies everywhere around the world that being local means you are inferior.  Therefore one of our biggest achievements is to be able to become the largest local hypermarket operator.  Although we may not be the first, we are the largest.  Our edge is our ability to change and keep up with the shifting customer needs.  Those who don’t change perished.  As Darwin once said, “It is not the smartest or the intelligent wins, but the one who is most responsive to change”.  We have to keep changing to stay relevant with time.  While doing that, we also need to make sure to hold our values.  It takes a lot of discipline to do that.

Secondly, as a result of our ability to change and grow, we are able to give back to society.  You know there is this story about a boy and a Ferrari.  Most people see being rich is bad and what more driving a Ferrari means you are filthy rich but there was this boy looking at the Ferrari and when asked if he wanted to be rich so he could buy one for himself, he said No.  I want to be rich so I can afford to buy it to give to others to make them happy.  Morale of the story, it is perfectly OK to make money and be profitable in business.  But you do it not by depriving people, cheat customers or drive wages to subsistence level.  You run your business honorably.  Business creates jobs and jobs move the economy.  Here we have a sensible profit target; means we don’t stretched too thin or shoot our own foot.  We go long term.

Thirdly and personally I think the greatest of all is being able to hold the family together.  Now as third generation, some family businesses cannot pass by the third generation according to conventional wealth theory.  We put in lots of discipline to achieve to this level.  As you know we have several family members in the business.  There are pros and cons having family members in the business but we make it every clear all of us bound by standard corporate rules.  They have to clock in for work, fill up leave form when going on leave, certain amount of annual leaves and work within working hours.  There are challenges, but after all we are humans.  We have to have a lot of empathy, and discipline.

But there are some exceptions to the rule.  We don’t allow our children work in the business until they work somewhere else for at least 5 years.  They need to “earn” their stripes somewhere else before coming back to the Kingdom.  It is also good where they can bring new ideas upon returning.  Some may ask why 4 years, well when you don’t have a measurement, any measurement would do.  At least 5 years.  I have my son now running his own business, ice cream business.  He’s doing well.  We chat a lot and both of us enjoy it.  You should check out his ice cream truck – he also does event management.  My daughter composes song and music.  We want them to be independent and learn to value money and hard work.

3.       What is your leadership and management style?

I think it’s more important to listen than to talk.  As a leader, we have to lend ears often.  It is not going to work when you tell someone “do as I say not as I do”.  You got to lead by example.  You need discipline to pull this through.  Not easy but it gives long term value.  People will follow you, and it’s contagious.  As a leader, we need to be honest, punctual and show highest integrity.  When you do that, people will want to be part of someone who lives up to his talk.

When managing, I also learn it is important to keep the separation between management and staffs.  It helps decision making.  A leader cannot afford to become too emotional.  When you work, as a leader you got to delegate, not abdicate.  I know some leaders sabotage their own staffs just because they outshine him in front of the customers or other staffs.  You got to learn to let go and push the boundaries further.  Another thing, as a leader we need to learn to honour time.  Don’t keep people waiting just because you are the leader.  Show some respect to other people’s time.

In group, as a leader you need to put ego aside and deal with the issues at hand.  You got to separate people and issues or ideas.  Ego is dangerous, it hampers decision making.  You feel good and powerful but nothing gets done.

4.       It is not easy to run hypermarket business.  What is the three biggest challenges managing hypermarket business like Mydin?

Like I said being local is tough.  It’s kind of funny when I found out about it.  People have reservations.  Sometimes they wondered whether we can compete with the giants of hypermarkets.  Local customers somehow trust foreign brands more than home grown like us.  But that was it.  Now we got strong footing in major cities and communities.  Therefore you have to get people to believe in you.  Of course good PR can only last for short while; we have to live up to our promises.  For example if we say our prices are wholesale price, then we got to make sure we deliver that.  So far Alhamdulillah, we managed and the result shows.

At Mydin, we believe in organic growth.  Slow and steady.  We got nothing to rush about, after all the business has been around as long as I could remember.  So, organic growth is in our best interest.  Growing up is not easy, a lot of challenges.  We are around 54 years old this year.

Our strategy is to make sure our frontline is as strong as our back end and vice versa.  Getting people to work with us is very competitive, and to retain them is even harder.  Therefore HR side, it its very challenging.  I think the reason is simple, a lot of people hesitate to work on weekends, and they lose niceties during the weekend.  But they are those who love to work and we value them greatly.  They are doing great service to the country.

Organizational Issues

5.      What are the top three important jobs that are needed in hypermarket business?

Well, every job is equally important.   It’s just some are more critical than others.  Let’s take a look at a security guard when you come into the hypermarket.  Let say he doesn’t smile when you check in.  You will not feel comfortable and it may spoil your entire visit here.  Even a security guard is an important job in our type of business.  The secret is to have a winning team that work with each other.  The goal is the same; to please the customers and make them comfortable.

The more critical job in our business is buyers.  So far the key buyers are the family members.  They are non other than my brothers.  In my type of business, if we don’t buy right stuffs forget about selling.

continue to Part 2

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