Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lee Thiam Wah : 99Speedmart Mini Mart Success in a Wheelchair

Posted by Joanne Lee Juan Shien .on April 04, 2013

Lee Thiam Wah : 99Speedmart Mini Mart Success in a Wheelchair

Inspiring: Millionaire 99Speedmart, a handicap, highest education Standard 6 (12 years old), and can't speak English.

We in Malaysia, have seen the branches of99Speedmart Mini Mart all over town, with their green and orange signboards.

But most of you probably didn't know that the owner of this chain mart Lee Thiam Wah(born 1964), sits in a wheelchair.

He owns 200 branches all over Malaysia

Lee has been in a wheelchair since he was a kid.

When Lee was a baby, caught the Polio and lost functions of both his legs.
His father, a construction laborer and mother a hawker worked hard to provide for their 11 kids.

Their finances only allowed them to provide for Lee's education till he was 12 years old.

Bored and in lonely, Lee borrowed books from his neighbours and sold snacks by the road side.

"I needed to help myself. Nobody wanted to hire me as I am physically handicapped "

At 23 years old, Lee had RM5,000 in his possession. It was just enough for a convenience store startup.

This was his platform to learn about the convenient store business.

Lee says "I learned what customers buy. I know all the suppliers and their pricing. And I studied my competitors."

By the end of the 90′s, even though the Asian Economic Crisis had happened, he had 8 mini markets established around Bandar Klang, Selangor.

This success is attributed to Lee's conviction that the mini market business has high potential of growth.

The first Pasar Mini 99 was opened on August 1992

By 1995, 7 other mini marts had already been in operation around Klang town. Using the latest inventory and stock keeping technology.

The growth rate for these stores were at 8% per annum.

He gained industry knowledge through experience while running and growing his company.

He developed an acute sense to how his business should be run. Marketing and advertising, location choices, administrations etc.

This resulted in an established and well known brand among Klang-ites.

From this experience, Lee created his own concept of how a modern, Malaysianized mini mart should be operated. A Malaysianized one stop center for all your house hold needs.

Here after 99Speedmart Sdn. Bhd (Ptl Ltd) was established, to open up franchising possibilities all over Malaysia.

The concept of 99Speedmart is to offer customers a quick, easy and comfortable grocery shopping experience without the hassle, parking and queing that comes with hypermarkets

To improve the bond with his vendors, Lee settles his payments with his suppliers instantly, as soon as the goods arrive.

This method creates more trust between his outlets and the suppliers

Lee broke the status quo. Where it was normal and expected for the disabled to depend on government funding, Lee went out and made his money himself.

In the beginning, Lee had to have his siblings help him with loading goods and arranging them on the shelves.

"Of course i had to work harder than everyone else. I can't speak English, I'm in a wheelchair, and my formal education ended when I was 12″ … "But by working hard, it's automatic for knowledge and self confidance to increase" says Lee Thiam Wah

Lee on Magazine

Malaysia's King of Mini-Marts - Forbes

Noelle Lim

3/05/2010 @ 10:40AM

There's a Chinese belief that sons born in a Year of the Dragon are highly desirable because Dragons are powerful people who will lead extraordinary lives. This could explain wheelchair-bound Lee Thiam Wah, born in Dragon year 1964. In Klang, the bustling port city of Peninsular Malaysia, he's called the King of Mini-Marts.

Streets there are replete with bold green-and-orange 99 Speedmart signs. For now Klang is where Lee has most of his 175 stores, which bring in better than $150 million annually and employ 2,000 people. This is a drop in the ocean compared with what hypermarkets and convenience stores like 7-Eleven do in Malaysia alone, but he is giving them a run for the money in this cutthroat business.

As a baby Lee was struck with polio and lost the use of his legs. His father, a construction worker, and his mother, who was a hawker, worked day and night to fend for 11 children. Six years of primary school was all they could afford for young Thiam Wah. To keep busy he read books borrowed from neighbors and sold snacks in a roadside stall. "I have to help myself. Nobody would hire me due to my physical limitation," he says matter-of-factly. He did enjoy prodding from his paternal grandmother, who said to him in the old Chinese way of affirmation: "If you don't work hard, what will you amount to?"

He saved $5,000 by age 23, enough to start a grocery. Thus began his retail education. He says, "I learned what customers buy. I know all the suppliers and their pricing. And I studied my competitors thoroughly."

In 1992 Lee sold the business, and now with $88,000, he opened a mini-mart. He says, "I wanted the challenge of running a bigger business. If you don't have scale you can't compete with Chinese medicine halls on pricing, and you can't compete with hypermarkets in terms of range." In 1999 he changed the name of the store to 99 Speedmart.

Where closely held 99 Speedmart cannot undercut on price, it sells in smaller sizes. For fast-moving necessities Lee stocks for each price point–the closest comparison would be discount stores in the West like Aldi, where only products with the highest turnover are sold. Lee recalls, "For the first mini-mart we sacrificed margins on some products to sell at the lowest price and to gain market share. This built our reputation. The purchasing side of the business is very important, and I spend most of my time overseeing it."

To get good discounts he makes things easy for suppliers. Big stores are notorious for dragging out payments. At 99 Speedmart, vendors can usually complete the process of negotiating price, getting the current order and collecting payment for an earlier order within 30 minutes. They appreciate Lee's square dealings. "We've not lost sleep because we found him to be very honest, and he has a strong trade reputation," says the national sales manager for a global food and beverage company that he didn't want named.

Lee has always funded his operation from sales and not from bank debt, but the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit hard. To overcome, Lee stocked cheaper goods and shaved already razor-thin margins. Lee says the recent economic slowdown has been but a minor bump.

In fact, 99 Speedmart is now moving well beyond Klang, though it still largely targets lower-income and migrant worker groups. The plan is to open 40 to 50 outlets this year in high-density neighborhoods and to boost sales by 25%. In two years Lee may expand farther outside Selangor and Kuala Lumpur to neighboring states like Perak. He can't afford to rest: 7-Eleven's Malaysian franchisor is planning to open 2,000 stores nationwide in three years, half to be run by franchisees.

Lee pulled back from early franchising and owns all but one of the 99 Speedmarts. He watches the balance sheet by renting all his properties, however, save for two warehouses occupying a total of 5 acres.

This entrepreneur has become his country's most notable example of how a physical handicap can be overcome in business.

Malaysia has grown more accommodating of the disabled through various regulations and benefits, but except for a small state allowance, Lee has made his own way. During the early years he relied on relatives to help carrying and weighing heavy items. He sees vendors when they visit or speaks by phone. "I don't mull over the fact that I'm in a wheelchair, that I can't speak English and that I only went to school for six years," he says. "You have to be self-reliant. Sure, you have to work harder than anyone else, but the knowledge you gained will build up your self-esteem. Being of use to customers makes me feel grateful and gives me a sense of purpose."

If those he does business with even know of his condition, Lee expects no special consideration. "As far as suppliers are concerned, it's business as usual for them," he says.

Wife Ng Lee Tieng, 15 years his junior, is his sounding board in business and in life. They met when she joined the company as a purchasing assistant, attracting him with her vivacious personality. He quips that she knew how to take care of things. Now she is also the mother of their two children.

In the Tiger year of 2010, Dragon people are fine, according to CLSA Hong Kong's Feng Shui Index, an annual zodiac-inspired market outlook. It says "All signs point to steady inflows throughout the year, while patience and perseverance will bring unexpected satisfaction from work. Applying your renowned willpower will see you safely through any Tiger troubles." Based on Lee Thiam Wah's record so far, this is one horoscope that's likely to hold true.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tous Le Jours Bakery

It's Korean!

Letter to my non-Bumi daughter - The Malaysian Insider

The Malaysian Insider


Letter to my non-Bumi daughter


Published: 14 June 2014 | Updated: 14 June 2014 8:22 AM

Dear Salma,

I still remember your first week in kindergarten. We were standing outside your classroom, looking at your extra sharp nose standing out among all the others. I know how it feels to have a generously endowed nose among those who hardly have.

You had then asked me, "Why are all my friends small-eyed? Their eyes are so small."  We told you, "Don't say that in front of others, especially that aunty you always meet outside." But we couldn't stop laughing. You must have been very confused.

Then one day, as I fetched you from kindy, your teacher asked me, "May I know what your race is? We are doing this class activity and I am not sure what to put her race as."

I told her "Indian". But you never bothered to ask me about it.

I went home that day, thinking of the day I registered your birth at the National Registration Department. The officer had then asked me what to put your race as. People don't ask that in other countries. If your parents are Indian, then surely you must be Indian.

Maybe the clerk was expecting me to ask that you be registered as Malay. Just like your cousins' parents did. Just like many of our non-Malay Muslim friends did.

Some are so dark, but are Malay. Some still visit their relatives in India, but are Malay. There is also one or two who didn't want to go to the NRD to register their newborn baby.

Instead, they delegated their Malay friends to do it for them, worried that their non-Malay look would lessen their child's chance of being registered as Malay.

So fearful they are of what would happen to them as non-Malays. I know that some had repeatedly performed the pilgrimage in Mecca, yet came back without a clue about God's signs. But Malcolm X had only to go once to Mecca to transform his whole perspective on race and equality.

I, too, am Malay by definition of Article 160. I was born in Malaysia and am Muslim – and a Shafi'ite Muslim at that – just like the other Malays.

I habitually speak the Malay language with an accent that could put even a curry-phobic, petai-munching Malay to shame. And I conform – well, more or less – to Malay customs.

I even like belacan and all the fishy lauk. My only giveaway is that I love mutton so much, and don't watch Malay movies (but, then again, neither do many of my brown friends).

Salma, I know all this is confusing to you. "So what?" you might even ask. But you are in Malaysia.  You need to know all this nonsense about race. It's tied to your future, they will tell you.

Next year, you will be going to Sekolah Rendah. I can't afford private school for you (you see, I work at The Malaysian Insider). At school, there will be pressure to conform.

I went through all that. In my limited understanding then, I had tried to explain to my Malay friends that I am not Malay, yet am still Muslim.

They were confused. "How can you be 'Islam' but not 'Melayu'?" They would have none of such nonsense from me. In the end, I just accepted becoming a Malay.

Last year, when your twin brothers were born, I had to make that trip again. The officer told me, "So saya letak Melayu ya, sebab emak diorang Melayu kan."

That is the kind of response that many non-Malay Muslim parents could only dream of. Oh, the lengths some of them would go to, to get such recognition on their children's birth certs!

And who could blame them? After all, it comes with a lot of perks. Special privileges, specially allocated shares, university education, scholarships.

At the NRD, I remembered that your race was registered as Indian. So for your brothers, I asked them to follow your race. How could I not? Would I want them growing up as Malay and you as Indian? How would I explain to all of you this confusion?

I don't mind what you grow up as, but you are in Malaysia, the land of races. It is where God's justice is put to test, and where an atheist's argument can hold some water: if God exists, how could He be so cruel as to make me be born a non-Malay without privileges?

I don't want to be part of this ugly system. I am against special treatment because of one's race or religion, which is why I make no apology for hating Zionism, never mind all the arguments by the silly gentiles to show that it is not racism or apartheid. 

I believe in the Quran, which states that mankind is only a single nation (2:213), but whom God created in various colours, who speak various languages to show His Signs (30:22) and whom God created into nations and tribes so that we know one other (49:13).

So is it right for me, as a Muslim, to reap the benefits of this godless system? How can I allow you to get a scholarship when I know it could be at the cost of some poor, bright non-Muslim student whose middle-class parents had to refinance their home so that they could be sent to private colleges or overseas?

What about those not in the middle class? Sing all the NegaraKu and fly all the Jalur Gemilang they like, but their lives are screwed.

Some of our relatives could not believe it when they found out that I registered you as Indian. "She will have so many difficulties one day." I don't care. But I do understand them.

Just last month, one of your cousins who had all As in his SPM was denied entry into a public university. All because 18 years ago, his parents failed to get him registered as Malay.

Some people patronisingly repeat this story to me, as if to remind me of my folly, of me destroying your future by refusing to lie that you are Malay.

Even my non-Muslim friends are surprised. For all their loathing not being treated fairly, I suspect they, too, given half a chance, would be eager to reap the special privileges.

Dear Salma, I don't regret what I have done. I hope one day you will be grateful that your father had not started your life on a lie.

I hope one day you will be successful, or less successful (however you define it), because of your own hard work, and not because of an unjust system recognising your racial status as superior.  You have God with you. He sees the truth, but waits.

I may be a little selfish for doing this. But this much I admit: I don't want to one day stand before God to be questioned why I, despite being Muslim, had agreed to be part of this unjust system.

I could have been more practical and pragmatic and not allowed you to experience a bumpy life. "So what? Just make her Malay. You got nothing to lose and all to gain."

Well, thanks, but no thanks. You can take all the privileges and all the quotas.

So you see, my dearest Salma, it is not my intention to make life difficult for you. I am sure you will one day work hard to be a good human being.

Indeed, I am sure you will work harder, and you owe your success to no one but your faith in God.

Meantime, I hope you can learn a thing or two from your small-eyed friends. But don't abandon the mutton curry. That is a legacy you won't want to part with. – June 14, 2014.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Indian business group chides Francis Yeoh over ‘crony capitalism’ issue

Yahoo News


Indian business group chides Francis Yeoh over 'crony capitalism' issueThe Malaysian Insider – 6 hours ago

YTL Corporation's Tan Sri Francis Yeoh (pic) should not forget that he has become a rich man with the help of the Barisan Nasional government, an Indian business group said today, in an obvious rebuke to the business tycoon's recent remarks about crony capitalism in the country.

The Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MAICCI) secretary-general Datuk M. Davendran also challenged Yeoh to reject stakes in the Johor power plant, the school wireless plan and other government projects to prove that he has not benefitted from Putrajaya's sweetheart deals.

Instead, Davendran pointed out that Yeoh had a history of benefitting from the government dating back to the 1990s when YTL Power International was given a contract to build an Independent Power Producer (IPP) during the administration of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"Yeoh had clearly contradicted himself gravely on the matter of crony capitalism as he had obviously built his wealth with government help.

"Those who live in  glass houses should not throw stones and Tan Sri Francis Yeoh should be smart enough to know this," Davendran said.

"If Yeoh was sincere about dispelling the notion that he was a party to sweetheart deals from the government, he should reject the stake in the 4A power plant deal involving Tenaga Nasional and the Sultan of Johor as well as the project, too" he added.

Not stopping there, Davendran also called on Yeoh to provide details of government projects and the gains from such projects over the past 25 years.

This he added, was necessary to proof Yeoh's assertion that 80% of his business was done abroad, in suggesting that there was minimal presence of his businesses in Malaysia given his unhappiness over the government's dealings with the private sector.

Yeoh got embroiled in controversy recently following a news report that he alleged inaccurately portrayed what he told an audience at a talk at government agency Pemandu.

Francis was quoted as lamenting the culture of crony capitalism in Malaysia and added that cronyism and the current penchant for racial and religious rhetoric was holding back Malaysia on the global stage.

He also allegedly said that the bulk of YTL's business was now in Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia – jurisdictions where there was meritocracy and rule of law and where a businessman did not have to kow-tow to the prime minister.

He later clarified that during the presentation he attempted to dispel the notion that crony capitalism was rife in Malaysia.

He also denied that YTL received the IPP concession because he was a crony of Dr Mahathir. – June 13, 2014.