Taking Hold of Success in a Foreign Land

Hani Waleed Abu Asfar is a master of cultural adaptability. After all, not many people can lay claim to starting a company from scratch in a foreign land and building it into a multi-million venture before its fourth birthday. In this issue, the energetic and intelligent Jordanian, who is the CEO of Arab Supplier Fabrication and Retail Sdn Bhd (Asfar Holding), shares with Top 10 of Asia about his passion for success and how his company has been breaking international barriers to present the best quality products with excellent service that surpasses clients’ expectations.

Hani Waleed Abu Asfar knows Malaysia as well as the global palm oil industry like the back of his hand - an enviable feat for someone who is only in his mid-30s and relatively new to the country. He first visited Malaysia in 2006 and returned to the country two years later because he was impressed with its wealth of opportunities and development in the country. After obtaining his MBA in Malaysia, he started a palm oil trading business in 2010. For the first few months, he single-handedly grew the business -- from business planning to establishing good connections within the industry and sourcing for suppliers. After that, he moved to his first office in Shah Alam, a suburb just outside of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, dealing mainly in the import-export side of the industry. Two years later, the company switched gears to become a full-fledged manufacturing business and acquired a state-of-the-art factory in Klang, an industrial zone near to Port Klang on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, utilising the most advanced technologies in its operating machines.

The factory currently produces up to 9,000 metric tonnes of packed products in a month with its various production lines. The palm oil products which cover a wide range are specially made with their own specifications and trade names - from the rich Malaysian palm oil to its diversified sub-products, namely refined bleached palm stearin, shortening, frying fat, margarine and vegetable ghee. "These products are extracted and processed from the Malaysian palm oil which is well-known worldwide for its quality," says Hani Waleed. The company recently invested into a refinery plant in Johor Bahru (a southern Peninsular state neighbouring Singapore) and now includes palm oil refining as part of its array of services.

Within four years, Asfar Holding has evolved from a humble trading company to an award-winning leading manufacturer and exporter of a full-range of palm-related products, which also offers OEM services to local customers. Hani Waleed is well-connected in the industry and is a member of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), the Association of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), the Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (PORAM), the Arab Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and China-based Arab Asian Chamber of Commerce. Under his leadership, Asfar Holding has made its presence felt in numerous local and international exhibitions, most notably the 2013 and 2014 Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS) in Kuala Lumpur, and the 2013 and 2014 Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar (POTS), which are MPOC's signature events, held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Tehran, Iran respectively.

Hani Waleed credits his remarkable success to his team, as well as to the timely opportunities and industry players he has come into contact with. "Asfar Holding is rich in employee talent and passion. Combined with our corporate culture of excellence, we are able to thrive in the most challenging economic conditions, especially when it comes to the fluctuating palm oil prices," says Hani Waleed. "We are able to provide the right solutions, which are delivered in a timely manner, because we have an in-depth understanding of our clients' business and needs. Great companies are built the same way; they're the result of great people working hard and refusing to compromise."

Though the industry is competitive, Hani Waleed is confident that the palm oil market is huge and there's plenty of space for everyone. "Just don't be greedy. Deal in sincere and straightforward terms, and don't take unnecessary risks knowing how volatile the prices can get," he cautions. "And don't expect to get rich overnight. You will definitely see good results as the industry is huge but it will still take some time. You need to stay focused on your target in order to succeed."

Wealth and success in this business may not come overnight but it sure did arrive at a phenomenal rate for Asfar Holding. "In 2012, our revenue was RM40 million and in 2013, it jumped to RM220 million when our manufacturing operations took off, making us one of the largest palm oil manufacturers in the region," says Hani Walled, not without a sense of pride. His achievements to-date came about due to his unwavering passion for success. "I love success. I don't accept failure. It's not a word in my dictionary," he says earnestly. "Nothing is impossible for the determined. Regardless of the situations you face, you will reach your target if you persist."

Pleased with what his company has achieved, Hani Waleed is now venturing into more new markets, such as South America, where no Malaysian palm oil exporters have gone in yet. Seeding the ground in a region where soya bean oil is king is indeed more than challenging, but Hani Waleed and his persistent team have managed to persuade some of the strong importers in those countries to switch to palm oil. "Our efforts are starting to bear fruits. We recently managed to export some 15 containers of palm oil, which is equivalent to 200 to 400 tonnes to just Panama alone" Hani Waleed has also established his business in key locations within the Middle East and African regions and they are helmed by his trusted and able marketing directors.

Apart from his father, Hani Waleed's role model is King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, the reigning King of Jordan. "When he ascended the throne, he was a young man and he was successful in improving Jordan's economy and status in the eyes of the world. In the recent Arab Spring, Jordan still thrives and is stable amidst the turbulence in neighbouring countries. I'm proud to say that it's the safest place in the Middle East now, thanks to King Abdullah II's leadership."

Hani Waleed is a Jordanian through and through; deeply patriotic and rooted to the Bedouin lifestyle of his forefathers. He takes time off from his busy business schedule to go back to Jordan at least twice a year, returning to his Bedouin roots by camping in Wadi Rum. For a man who is on the move from dawn to dusk attending to his international business endeavours, this is his favourite way to de-stress and rejuvenate. "The desert is a place where you are alone with yourself and your thoughts. Where no one will bother or disturb you. Where there is no phone reception and no internet," he smiles. That's the beauty of the Bedouin lifestyle, which he believes that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime as a welcome break from the pressures of modern life. "When we return to our forefathers' natural and simple way of living, we'll feel a real connection with them and become contented with our lives as they have been in theirs," he says.

"My dream is to replicate my success stories in various parts of the world in my beloved country Jordan. I want to be a life-changing bridge between Jordan and the rest of the world," he adds.