I recently discovered a site called Malaysiaresume.com that has a collection of successful Malaysian entrepreneurs and their stories. I thought it would be a great opportunity to contribute a couple of stories as I have a number of really successful friends who are entrepreneurs.
I have so far lined up two stories. One who built his business from scratch and another who took over his family business and is making it even bigger. I’m going to start with the latter first, because as most of you know, Pierre’s like a buddy of mine that I see all the time. I first met Pierre through work. He was a marketing manager for Mister Potato and a big believer in blog advertising. He wanted to run a campaign on Nuffnang and on my blog because I had found out, he was a loyal reader of my blog.
The place we first met? He called me for a breakfast meeting at the KL Hilton. I remember breakfast that day costing just the both of us RM70 per person or something. We somehow hit it off though. While we started with that first meeting mostly talking about work we ended up meeting up for many more meals and eventually became really good friends. Then we started sharing the same hobbies, one of them today being golf and became even closer.
Today I look back and I once said to him “You know ah the first time we met I was wondering to myself ‘Wah this Mamee fella so high class… breakfast also want to eat at the Hilton’. I had never before had breakfast at the Hilton. He laughed about it… and we now meet often over Roti Canai or Nasi Lemak.
It is through this friendship that Pierre has found the opportunity to tell me his stories over time. I think he has an interesting story that I will share here.
Pierre’s family business is Mamee Double-Decker, the largest Malaysian snacks company to date, with over RM600 million in annual revenue.
Mamee was born in small town Malacca in the 70s as a partnership between Pierre’s Father (Datuk Wira Pang Tee Chew) and Grandfather (Datuk Pang Chin Hin). Pierre’s grandfather who was introduced to the instant noodle business by his friend sent his son (Pierre’s father) to Japan to learn the trade. When Pierre’s father returned they started their instant noodle business under the brand “Lucky”. That however failed largely due to their inexperience.
The Pangs however persisted and with the lessons they learned from Lucky, they then started Mamee. Pierre’s grandfather decided on the name because “mommy” was the first word most of us learned to say. In the early days, Mamee did moderately well.
Then something happened one day that would change the future of Mamee. Pierre’s father was out making deliveries when he saw some kids eating raw instant noodles right out of the packet. He thought if kids were already eating raw instant noodles out of a pack, why don’t make a noodle snack just for the kids.
My friend Pierre is among the new generation of the Pang family to take over the management of Mamee. Pierre grew up in Malacca while watching on the sidelines as his father grew Mamee. He then went on to get his degree in Information Systems from the University of Melbourne. The unwritten rule among the Pangs was that before any family members could come back to work in Mamee they must first spend a minimum of three years earning working experience from the outside world.
This suited Pierre just fine. His passion was always in advertising so when he returned from Australia, he found a job at Ogilvy. He spent two years in Ogilvy learning the ropes of advertising, handling key accounts like Lenovo, IBM and HSBC. Always an entrepreneur at heart, Pierre left Ogilvy to start his own creative and digital signage agency 8dge, which he explains was one of the best times of his life. Three years into growing 8dge though, his Father told him that it was time for him to come back and work on the family business.
Five years after graduation, Pierre finally joined Mamee. He didn’t start at a top level position but rather as a brand manager of Mister Potato to earn his salt. Prove himself he did. When he took over as Mister Potato’s brand manager, Mister Potato was merely at half the market share of their main competitor Pringles. Three years under Pierre’s leadership, he had grown Mister Potato’s market share to double that of Pringles.
Part of Pierre’s strategy to grow Mister Potato as a brand was to become the Global Snacks Sponsor for Manchester United. The sponsorship deal which had Manchester United players endorse Mister Potato put Mister Potato in the eyes of 4.7 billion people who watch the Barclays Premier League.
Confident with Pierre’s abilities after Mister Potato’s success, Pierre’s father put him in his current role: General Manager of Sales and Marketing to work his magic on the rest of Mamee’s brands. One of his key projects, to save the very first product that Mamee started with: Mamee Instant Noodles.
Mamee instant noodles had always been number 2 in market share in Malaysia. In recent years however, intense competition from aggressive Indonesian players threatened to dethrone them. The Indonesian brands had more money and were not afraid to spend it to “buy” market share in Malaysia. Mamee’s instant noodles division faced two choices: Continue to lose market share or cut its own price leading to a potential loss.
Like all entrepreneurs, Pierre decided to do something different. He traveled around Asia to China, Taiwan, and Japan to find inspiration on what to do with Mamee instant noodles. When he returned, an idea had taken hold in his head. While the instant noodles market in Malaysia was a big and growing one, it was also very backward when it came to innovation. Rather than compete head to head with all its rivals, he decided to pivot Mamee and rebrand it as a more premium instant noodles called Mamee Chef.
Mamee Chef was a very differentiated product. Its noodles were made with a new machine that he convinced Mamee to spend RM60 million on, creating better texture and a premium quality feel to it. It contained condiments like dehydrated prawns to accompany its different flavours, making the consumer feel that this wasn’t just instant noodles. You were eating a proper meal. Last but not least, he worked with Dato Chef Ismail, a celebrity chef in Malaysia to create the flavours of the soup to make sure it was something Malaysians would love.
Mamee Chef proved to be an overnight success. In the first few months, it was flying off the shelves faster than Mamee could restock it. While the instant noodle industry grew 2% annually, Mamee Chef was growing at ten times that.
I chose to write a story about my friend Pierre because of his inspiring story. I have many friends who have been blessed enough to be able to inherit a family business but he not just inherited it, he helped grow it. That’s what entrepreneurs do right? We take whatever we have and we make something better out of it. That’s why Pierre inspires me and I hope his story inspires you and anyone else who has a family business no matter how big or small.
Check out Malaysiaresume.com for more Malaysian success stories.