10 Q&A exchange between readers and Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin, Chairman of Mydin Mohamed Berhad Holdings. As published in The Star on 21 Nov 2009.
Q: Mydin has long been associated with cheap stuff. Any plans to bring up the branding of the store to a more upmarket establishment? Chan Ngai Him, Puchong
A: It is unfortunate that we associate cheap stuff with bad quality. But we are not willing to pay higher for our roti canai and teh tarik – what a dichotomy!
This is just a perception game – branded products have been successful in making us pay more for the same goods just because of their logos. This is an unfortunate result of excellent PR and branding advertisements.
Mydin will always try very hard to sell stuff cheap and not sell cheap stuff.
Q: Do you eventually plan to expand Mydin to the Middle East or other emerging markets? Zul, Johor
A: Mydin is currently focused on expanding within our country to ensure we are only a stone’s throw away from customers. Once we’ve done this and built up the experience and financial muscle, then only we will expand overseas. Frankly, it is always tempting to expand overseas but sometimes, it is merely an ego trip.
I’d rather concentrate and invest our time and energy here in Malaysia. Mydin shares the same birth date as Malaysia.
Q: What are the factors that have contributed to Mydin’s phenomenal growth? Haja Mohideen, Klang
A: My wife and children saw the animated film Kung Fu Panda. The story ended with this conclusion with regard to the secret of success – there is actually no secret!
But let me single out one – family. I owe my so-called success to my wonderful parents and dear family. At our work premise, my three brothers and their wives have lunch, brought from home, together. The family that eats together stays together, remember?
Q: You were responsible for opening Mydin’s first wholesale shop in Jalan Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur. What made you decide to give up your banking career for a little start-up? Presna Nair, KL
A: After a decade in the bank, I began to appraise my life goals – what do I want to do? What are my strengths? Who am I?
I had to find the song (passion) within me. I found it in retail.
Many of us go through life not knowing what we really want to do. A career is something you do all your waking life, so you must know what your professional or occupational goal is.
Q: You once mentioned that it is hard to employ local workers. How do you maintain a “sense of belonging” among your workforce who are mostly foreigners? Zullghafari, Muar
A: It is not true that “most” of our staff are foreigners. We ensure that we do not exceed the 30% foreign workers quota (as per law). Latest data shows that 16.2% of our staff are foreigners. Even so, we are constantly trying to reduce dependency on foreign labour.
If you are a parent, you will know that we must never show favouritism. Likewise with our staff. If they are unwell, we offer financial or emotional support. We listen to their problems, provide counselling and give help accordingly. During staff birthday parties, our foreign staff perform their cultural dances and songs to share their cultures with us. Then, they are also active in our inter-branch sports, namely futsal, bowling and badminton.
Q: Do you believe businessmen need to experience failure before they can become successful? Jeff Tan, Penang
A: Here’s a quote – success is what you do when you fall or experience a difficulty. My mum’s favourite supermarket in Masjid India was burnt. Later, our emporium in Kota Baru was razed.
Due to these, Mydin’s public listing exercise was cancelled.
Rather than curse the darkness, we light a candle. These incidents made us stronger and more determined. I discovered something beautiful – we had staff who would not leave us. Our pain was shared by the bigger Mydin family who include Chinese, Indian, Sikhs, Sabahans, Sarawakians, Bangladesh, Nepalese, Indonesians, Indian nationals and Sri Lankans.
You could say the 1Malaysian concept has already been with us for a long time.
Q: To be effective, a leader needs to remember what it’s like being a lowly employee. What is your opinion? Sebastian Dass, Mt Kiara, KL
A: As a boy, I used to help my parents in our shop. We are all very hands on, meaning even if you are the boss’ son, you still carry goods from the store, and do stock take and handle difficult customers. Now, it is our family policy that our children cannot join the family business unless they have worked outside for at least five years.
I worked at a bank for 8 years before I joined my father’s business. This has made me understand my employees better and has made me a more empathetic employer.
I was a university student in the United States under a Mara scholarship. Money was never enough to cover books and the daily cost of living. I used to do two part-time jobs – waiter from 5pm-10pm – and worked as a janitor from 11pm-3am.
Last week, I was travelling alone and it took me 20 minutes to iron my pants in the hotel room. Maybe I am a perfectionist, but it made me realise what my wife or maids must go through daily ironing my clothes. This is a very humbling experience and helps to ensure that my feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Q: What do you think is the most important factor behind Mydin’s success? Was it wholesale prices or wide range of products? Jayadevan Gopalan, Ipoh, Perak
A: I once picked up a book Ten Sins of KMart (KMart went into bankruptcy). I had a shock when I realised that Mydin was committing the same sins. We had to change before we become another KMart.
Lessons to learn:
·Listen to customers and change to meet their needs.
·Have a niche – try not to be just another store. For example, have goods that only you have, like Muslim items/larger selection of stationery items/towels.
·Value for money and selling at wholesale prices
·The directors – my brothers and their wives – are the buyers. We always believe that selling is easy as long as you buy the right products to sell.
·As the only Muslim hypermarket operator, we have an added advantage.
Q: What is the most significant challenge you had to face in life so far? KY, Lee, PJ
A: When Mydin wanted to build its first hypermarket in Subang, we had doors slammed on us by bankers (who are now knocking on our doors) who had no confidence that a small-time shopkeeper would be able to open a hypermarket and compete with foreign hypermarkets with deep pockets.
I would say managing 6,000 staff and motivating them to see our vision/mission and making all of us work towards a common goal of bringing Mydin to the next level.
And getting local staff to work in retail and making them understand that retail means detail.
Q: What do you see as the next big thing for consumerism? Biskuse T. PJ
A: As our customers become more affluent, Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy comes in – they will tend to become more idealistic and conscious of environmental issues and demand higher quality standards/more conducive shopping experience.
All this translates to higher prices on the shelf.
So Mydin will have to balance these needs with our philosophy to give value for money and not forget our customers from the lower income group, who would also want to experience a similar shopping experience.
We believe in our slogan “where everybody can buy”, which has now been made more famous by AirAsia’s “now everybody can fly”.