You have been working in the hospitality sector for more than 15 years. What in your opinion makes you different and more successful than other hotel general managers?
I hold dual portfolios as the Vice President of Operations of Saujana Hotels & Resorts and the General Manager of The Club Saujana Resort.
With over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, I do the same thing as what other General Managers do – Strive for superior performance, set priorities, build better interrelationships, demand for consistent quality of service and so forth .
Besides setting strategies and overseeing operations that would build the organization, I am also focused and motivated on key tasks that constitute the foundations of shaping the work environment, allocating resources at the right places and situations, developing and mentoring senior managers, and consistently innovating new products.
It is all about the vision, leadership and people. I have my own style of coaching and stressing on fundamentals, skills and being flexible to keep the team going consistently as a winner and entrusting them to keep our guests and clients happy.
Why did you decide to work in the hospitality sector? Do the things you do now at work correspond with your initial notion of your career?
Well, after completing my Business Degree in Queensland, I had set my target to study Hotel & Tourism in Switzerland and fortunately for me the hotel industry was just about to become a significant sector of the Australian economy providing that much needed support in terms of hotel rooms/accommodation and services as a meeting place, entertainment hub for both local sporting community and tourists. My first career big break started when I joined the Hilton Group back in the 80s.
I am very much immersed with the growth and excitement of this ever changing hospitality business along with the advance changes. It is definitely a fun and rewarding opportunity to be where I am today.
You joined the Saujana Hotels & Resorts in 2012. How your company has changed since then thanks to your efforts? How it will further change thanks to you?
The company has progressed, changed and will continue growing due to my efforts in centralizing on our Saujana Hotels and Resorts brand vision and values from a more creative and innovation aspect enabling us to enhance our brand name and market presence.
What is the main secret of successful hotel or resort and why?
We have to continuously evolve, innovate, improve and be at the competitive edge to meet and if possible always exceed guest expectations and to also keep our own team happy as well as motivated.
Have you ever thought about creating your own resort? What region in your opinion is the most appealing for opening a new resort?
Yes, of course it would have been very nice to have your own resort and manage it yourself.
Tropical lush, distinctive and art inspired interiors and personalized service of locales to pamper you for comforts complemented modern conveniences and surrounded by two 18-hole championship golf courses does sum up to luxury.
The Asia region is the best choice for the luxury market.
Because of your international career you have been working in many cities. What city did you like most? Why? Have you ever thought of living and working there again?
So far I am enjoying my stay and working at The Club Saujana Resorts, it is located just about 30 minutes from the city centre of Kuala Lumpur. Just love it!
The Club Saujana Resort has joined the nominee list for our Golden Crown. Do you expect a big list of adequate competitors for the award this year?
Yes, I would expect an extensive list of submissions but I have complete faith that The Club Saujana Resort would be able to stamp its credibility within the top 5.
How did Marini’s on 57 come about? Did you have an idea of creating a rooftop restaurant, bar and lounge, or did you find a great place to take advantage of first?
Back in 2012, I was invited by Petronas to view level 57 of Menara Tower 3, and to see if I could make use of what was then a bare rooftop space. When I walked around, I immediately saw the venue’s potential. That’s how Marini’s on 57 was born and we haven’t looked back since.
With such a wonderful view of the City of Kuala Lumpur the place probably has numerous visitors, and tables booked weeks in advance. How much time and effort did you put into Marini’s on 57, as to date it is considered one of the top 5 places of must visit places when in Kuala Lumpur?
With any business that seeks longevity in this industry, the time and effort you put in is immeasurable. It is always a work in progress. You start off having to secure the venue, having to renovate, to finding the right team, and then striving to be the best in our cuisine, our products, presentation; and then, you need to spend some more time on achieving the best services in order to attain highest guests satisfaction. As such, I cannot decipher or break down my time to each criteria. Everyone one of them is crucial. To date, the many departments that make up The Marini’s Group strive for excellence in their respective roles. It is a never ending journey of keeping up with the trends that come and go, the constant need to improve service by having our staff partake in monthly training sessions. Here the work we put in never ends, and this is only part of the reason why our guests keep coming back.
What makes your cuisine different from others? Is it a challenge to think of something completely new in dining each time you open a new place under The Marini’s Group umbrella?
The difference is that we do not sway every time the wind changes direction. Here the food stays true to the passion of contemporary Italian style cuisine; cuisine that we are known for. Our techniques will constantly change and improve, and we will always use only ingredients of the best grade sourced globally. But what sets us aside is our passion for the art of contemporary Italian cuisine, and our dedication to staying true to it. This is one of the reasons why we are known for being different and why we continue to stay unique.
Does The Marini’s Group have any plans to create new fine dining establishments in Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere in the near future?
We currently have 3 outlets in Kuala Lumpur – Marini’s on 57, Marble 8, and M Marini Caffe – and though we have received numerous invitations to open in other cities such as Singapore, Dubai, Shanghai, and Sydney – I have decided that for now during the height of our popularity to stay focus on cementing our roots in this soil – so that when we do expand I won’t have to worry about business back home.
Mr. Modesto Marini, you are known for creating award-winning brands. Marini’s on 57 along with Marble 8 and M Marini Caffe have already received various awards both regionally and internationally. Is it important for your businesses to be award winners?
Personally I feel that awards are forms of recognition of the dedication and heart both my staff and I have put in to all our venues. It is proof that we are on the right track of bringing our brands to the next level. Whether it being in terms of cuisine, products, or services. I am also honored when we receive international awards specifically for Marini’s on 57 – because this is proof that not only have we stepped onto the international scene when it comes to global recognition in this industry – but that after three years, we continue to stay there.
As the main person responsible for this establishment, you probably enjoy experiencing these views more than others. How often do you dine at Marini’s on 57?
More often than not! So much so that my chefs have to be able to present both to guests and myself new menus and a la carte dishes to enjoy seasonally. The menu has never had a chance to get stale since we opened in 2012. Also because I am here all the time, my team has to be at 100% when it comes to service.
Since the restaurant is so high above the city – do you have funny stories related to a fear of heights? Perhaps your guests? Or even staff?
Hahaha. I know of quite a few people who have fear of heights. Incidentally, there is an international personality who was so fearful that I had to accompany him personally and divert his attention on the way up. But once he arrived, the comfort of our ambiance took his focus toward more pleasing thoughts. We have had guests who are afraid of heights come – and more likely than not they always end up staying and coming back again. To me this is not only humbling but surprising, because a fear of heights is real. And to these brave guests, I say thank you and I hope you come back again. Because it is really beautiful up here, at Marini’s on 57.
His vision is the culmination of years of perseverance and tenacity. His inspiration is in helping others to achieve tangible monetary results and physical wellness. Within a very short time of 2 years, Tan Sri Dato Sri Lai Teck Peng and Puan Sri Datin Sri Ela Tan have founded and built one of the fastest growing brands in the market today. The visionary couple shares with Top 10 of Asia their cutting-edge success in the organization they have built up – Phyto Science Sdn Bhd, and their philosophies in life.
This gentleman, is humble and has an air of easy confidence and self-assuredness about him – secure and comfortable with where he is and what he’s building. And he’s building an empire. One that is sharing, caring, provides good health, well-being, financial independence and dignity to everyone within it. The great man whose behind this vision is Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Lai Teck Peng. That easy, calm demeanor that he possesses belies years of hard work and perseverance to get to where he is today.
Lai states very simply, “I’m from a poor family in Malacca. Like a lot of kids of that era, I used to help out at the shop after school. And I learnt that one has to put in the hard work if one wants to see tangible results.”
Lai has amassed over 20 years of experience in sales, network marketing in a variety of industries including Singer Sewing Machines and Malaysia National Insurance before he decided to strike out on his own. In 2012, he and his wife, Puan Sri Datin Sri Ela Tan founded Phyto Science and they have not looked back since.
Phyto Science Sdn Bhd is a company that offers products which enhance one’s health and general well-being. One of the key active ingredients, phytocelltec malus domestica, which is an extract derived from stem cells of a rare apple tree won the European innovation prize in 2008. It was the world’s first raw material based on plant stem cells and was discovered by a Swiss company called Mibelle Biochemistry. Phytoscience collaborates with Mibelle Biochemistry to market these in their product range. Both Lai and Tan proudly proclaim, “In 2013 and 2014, we are the largest user of stem cells in Asia, nudging out established beauty brands like Lancome and Avon.”
He says, “A business that is purely profit driven will not last long. But businesses with a long term view which look to transformational living and offer long lasting benefits to everyone will endure and become an empire.”
Speaking in turns, they say, “We started simply with a small office and always worked and expanded within our means. The focus is always our associates, products and on providing and listening to our customers’ needs.” Small office has become a building of its own as they moved into a brand new purpose built building in March 2015.
Currently, it has some 800,000 associates and Lai hopes to have a million by year end. In the meantime, it has expanded regionally to countries such as Indonesia, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.
As part of its efforts to give back to the community, Phyto Science also established Phyto Angels which provides a platform for everyone to donate and to help the welfare of others in need.
For those brave enough to follow in their footsteps, Tan advises, “One must be armed with lots of tenacity. Never give up.” Lai emphasizes that wisdom is the most necessary attribute because it empowers the believer with a mindset that can overcome short term problems with long term solutions. One should not fuss about circumstances that one cannot change but should look towards workable, functionable solutions.
Developing businesses and people until they become successful in their own right is a mammoth task that is demanding and constantly evolving. Yet Dato’ Sri (Dr) How Kok Choong JP, takes it all in his stride and seem to effortlessly churn out numerous businesses in different industries, including IT solutions provider TH3 Holdings Sdn Bhd (TH3), network marketing company Agape Superior Living International Group and garment retailer YFS Group with over 70 outlets, in his wake. Recently, the award-winning CEO speaks to Top 10 of Asia about his unorthodox way of talent acquisition and why smart business leaders can no longer afford to ignore the importance of filial piety.
Dato’ Sri (Dr) How Kok Choong JP has successfully grown businesses which span a wide range of industries such as investment, property development, civil and building construction, hotel services, ready-mixed concrete, shopping complex management, machinery and transportation, healthcare and anti-aging, and information technology. “Financial backing alone is not enough. I want to leave a lasting legacy behind and place my businesses into good hands. This is where mentoring comes in,” he says. His years of hard-earned experience and the backing of his network and contacts in the corporate and government sector have been invaluable in helping these future leaders gain a foothold in the business world.
The entrepreneurial juggernaut also prefers to keep a low profile and let his work speak for itself. Since he leads by example, the young people that he mentors also reflect this same mindful and purposeful attitude. Talking to them is akin to speaking to someone matured beyond their years.
“Delegation is the operative word here. I delegate the management of my companies to leaders who ensure that they meet my key performance indicators (KPIs),” says How. He added that this laissez-faire style of management is made possible because his key people are highly motivated, skilled and capable of running the company on their own.
“By having a teachable attitude and a willingness to learn, one can overcome challenges and be successful,” he says. Never one to rest on his laurels, How is constantly upgrading himself as can be attested by an illustrious array of hard-earned degrees that include a DBA, MBA, GDBA and a doctorate in Total Quality Management (TQM) among others. Amongst his many associates, he previously acted as Lim Kok Wing University’s industrial advisor as well as one of the panel judges for Sin Chew Press Business Entrepreneurs Awards since 2013.
Filial piety is one of the deciding factors in choosing his key employees. “The way they treat their parents is exactly the way they will treat their bosses and authority figures,” he explains. “No one at TH3 is above 31 years old and these filial employees are accountable and have given me absolutely no problems; I don’t have to micromanage their work as I trust that they can deliver quality work on time, every time.”
“We give free yearly medical check-ups to our employees’ mothers and on the staff’s birthdays, they get a day off to celebrate it with their mother,” How elaborates. “This unique company benefit drives the point home that we owe our very existence to our mothers and should show our gratitude to them on the day they gave birth to us.” He posits that a person who does not forget their roots would go far in life.
“I am living proof that you don’t have to compromise your values or who you are in order to succeed in life. I believe in honesty, loyalty and hard work. I’ve never short-changed anyone. Please do not be tempted to take short cuts – great things require great effort to achieve. At the end of the day, when you look into the mirror, you’ve got to like and respect the person that you see there. Otherwise, it’s all for nothing,” he concludes.
In the 1990s when the number of pilgrims going to Mecca was increasing, there arose a new niche market for suitable quality attire that was comfortable yet stylish. The Sri Munawwarah Design brand which Tuan Hasnah established in 1992 continues to enthuse the market with innovative designs symbolising quality Muslim apparel not only within Malaysia but also within London and the e-commerce marketplace. During a recent interview session with Top 10 of Asia, the iconic entrepreneur talks about her background and the business that she nurtured into a success story.
Dato’ Tuan Hasnah Tuan Yusoff, epitomises the essence of the modern Malaysian business woman, synergising the cultural traditions of a past era with the motivations of the current market place. Having grown up in a family with strong business ties, as both parents were deeply involved in business for a living, Tuan Hasnah has inherited an astute business DNA and exposure that has shaped her involvement in business undertakings.
Her dreams for a better life started from young, those visionary dreams have been realised through an immutable sense of strength imbued with a creative flair. There exists a perpetual innate spirit in Tuan Hasnah to challenge herself to aim for the highest peaks with the persistent belief that nothing is impossible in life if the intention and passion is sufficiently strong.
Tuan Hasnah’s creative flair lies mainly in the creation of designs for children and women clothing. The dream of starting a business came to realisation with the setting up of Sri Munawwarah Design in 1992. The word ‘Munawwarah’ possesses a special personal significance that reflects the radiance and illumination the business creates by serving Muslim communities. Tuan Hasnah’s family has helped organically shaped and expanded the business, especially its value proposition designs.
The Munawwarah brand articulates a subtle style and quality that has connected well with a large loyal, repeat-customer base. “My designs have gained recognition even amongst Malaysian royalties,” reveals Tuan Hasnah with a sense of pride. The materials for her apparels are mainly sourced from natural fabrics with lycra being a brand speciality. “Munawwarah designs are classical with contrasting hues of primary colours and textures that blend together to give chic sophistication,” she explains.
Tuan Hasnah’s foray into the commercial market began with Tabung Haji (Malaysian Pilgrim Fund) in 1992 when she successfully clinched a project for 500 pieces of ready-wear for pilgrims. Her product portfolio ranges from women, children and men’s wear to Haj and Ummrah apparels and accessories.
Tuan Hasnah views the company’s business ventures into the London market as a good stepping stone to other foreign locations in the near future. Designs from Sri Munawwarah have already gained a distinctive reputation on the catwalks of London Fashion Week for Malaysian Muslim design capabilities.
Tuan Hasnah’s two children, daughter Haslinah Mohd Ali and son Hazmi Mohd Ali are both involved in the running of Sri Munawwarah Design. Haslinah and Hazmi, professionals in their respective fields of law and architecture, believe that their involvement in the business is a higher calling as compared to being in their respective fields of specialisation. Tuan Hasnah is the CEO and designer with Haslinah overseeing operations and marketing while the management of the brand name is undertaken by Hazmi. A nephew, Shamsul Rizal Ghazalli takes care of the logistics for the company. A closely-knitted familial collaborative and supportive relationship has shaped the organic growth of the company.
Dato’ Tuan Hasnah’s dreams for success have taken her through quite a number of paradigm shifts from her Kelantanese roots to the urban retail scene of the big city. Giving back to society and serving the community meaningfully while expanding the business has been a winning factor that continues to bringing the brand and the family of Sri Munawwarah Design to new frontiers of prosperity.
The name Summerhaus D’zign may evoke visions of a design house specialising only in Californian villas with expansive landscapes and azure swimming pools, but that could not be further from the truth. Currently one of the leading interior design consultancies in the island nation of Singapore, the boutique interior design firm is wellknown in the region for offering highly customised solutions for each and every type of home, regardless of the size or location. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia speaks to Larry Lim and Jess Koh, the extraordinary husband and wife teamabout their success and how they started.
Much like most success stories, the idea of forming a noteworthy enterprise has not always been in the minds of the couple. Instead, it was a natural progression, the manifestation of long hours spent apart in offices working away for others and the thought of doing it for the rest of their lives. At that time Larry Lim had been an esteemed financial consultant, managing the personal accounts and investments of high net worth individuals in Singapore, with working experiencein various banks such as Citibank and The Bank of East Asia. Meanwhile, Jess Kohalready had a budding career in interior design, helping homeowners design and manage renovations of their new flats. However, both Larry and Jess grew tired of their monotonous life routines and they made the decision to ‘elope’.
“We reflected on what we wanted to achieve together in life and decided that we wanted to build a legacy for our children as well as give them a head start in life. With this as the core mutual reason, we decided that we should leverage on Jess’ expertise in offering design and project management solutions complemented by my experience in banking to bring a new perspective to the interior design business model,” explains Larry.
The couplehas since then taken to the entrepreneurial life exceptionally well. Not only is theirenterprise prominent in the region for immaculate bespoke design solutions that accommodate to specific, individual tastes of the clients, the firm is also renowned for the accolades amassed in the few years since its formation in 2012. Recently, SummerhausD’zign was awarded the Singapore Outstanding Enterprise award in December 2014, alongside some of the more established firms in the country. Besides that, a project executed by the firm is currently one of the nominees for the prestigious Italian A’Design Award, pending results’ announcement in April this year, with a gala night scheduled to be held at Como, Italy.
Such achievements are almost unattainable unless they have been precedented by hard work and perseverance, as it the case with Larry and Jess. “When we first started we didn’t have much portfolio to shout about and as a new start-up firm, clients who did not know us were wary of our stability as a company. We managed to overcome this through time and the relentless approach to excellent customer service. Service quality helped us greatly in building confidence and gain referrals from current clients. At the same time, we channelled a sizeable percentage of our revenues into marketing and branding. Through brand association and marketing with our media partner, Singapore Tatler Homes, we managed to position Summerhaus as a quality interior designer for private houses,” shares Larry.
Besides branding and building a concrete rapport with theirclientèle, the couple is also aware of the importance of distinguishing the brand and the company from many other players in the interior design industry. Focusing on their tagline of ‘Bespoke solutions creating Novelty designs’, the couple prioritises customisation to the last thread and involves the client in the entire design process, unlike many other firms in the business. Once a design proposal has been drafted, it is then scrutinised together by both parties to make changes to suit the clients’ tastes. Apart from being encouraged to specify in detail all of their needs, the client is also requested to select the materials that they like for their home themselves. The firm would then present the different materials on the same design through 3D visuals for further mixing and matching before ultimately achieving what truly is to the client’s liking. It is a process that may seem tedious to many, however, it is what clearly sets the firm way ahead of its competitors.
What advice would the duo give to the next generation of interior designers? “Understand that design is fluid and keep your minds open. Nothing is exceptionally beautiful yet nothing is hideous, it simply depends on which hat you are wearing. Do not be obstinate about your own ideals, thus remaining stagnant,” says the couple. Larry and Jess plan to take on many more regional interior design consultancy projects and create a unit specifically catering to commercial interior designs in the next 5 years.