9 Successful And Wealthy Malaysians Who Came From Humble Beginnings

They persevered through difficult times and found success in the end.

Cover image via Wanista/Enterprise Asia/NST (Edited)

1. Datuk Seri Hasmiza Othman - cosmetics millionaire

Image via FlyFM

Datuk Seri Hasmiza Othman, popularly known as Dr Vida, is one of the most successful businesswomen in Malaysia. She is known for establishing her own empire of cosmetics and health business, Vida Beauty, and its famous product, Qu Puteh.

Born in Machang, Kelantan, the flamboyant entrepreneur has endured a lot of hardships since childhood. From losing her father at the tender age of eight to mourning for her two children who died in a tragic fire incident in August 2013 and going through her third divorce last April - Dato Seri Vida has endured many challenges to become who she is today.

The circumstances of losing her father led Vida to learn how to be independent and she found early in her life that she could support herself by running her own business. Even when she was still in school, she learned to make her own pocket money by selling packed meals to her friends. This continued all the way until she went to university, where she not only sold products to her peers and teachers, but also took up part-time jobs to support herself.

When she graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia with a degree in education, Vida got herself a steady stream of monthly income as a teacher. It was then that she took the opportunity to learn about the beauty and grooming field and ventured into the business.

She went through multiple high and low points after that, including taking on a RM100,000 loan to open up a salon. It was only after 12 years into her teaching career that she decided to switch jobs and started working at the National Vocational Training Council.

Eventually, Vida Beauty was incepted and Vida even received a RM1 million grant from the government to develop the business. However, the business was on the verge of closing down when she invested half the capital into advertising that didn't seem to work until she promoted her products on RTM Kelantan FM radio station.

That turned her business around. Since then, she has been more cautious about how she markets her products, often using herself as the brand ambassador.

Despite the various setbacks and challenges along this journey, Vida has emerged as one of the most notable entrepreneurs in the country who has accumulated much wealth that enables her to proudly say that she is the sponsor of some of the most-watched television shows in Malaysia, owns a RM22 million home in Ipoh and luxury cars such as Lamborgini Aventador and Bugatti, among others.

Qu Puteh is one of the most popular products by Vida Beauty.

Image via Facebook

2. Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Shah - corporate titan

Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Shah grew up in the most humbling setting, having lived in a village attap house with his family in Kampung Hutan Keriang in Alor Setar, Kedah. There were no piped water, electricity or any furniture in the house that he grew up in.

He is a high school dropout - he finished his Form Five education but stopped short of taking the SPM examination because his family could not afford to pay for the examination fees.

Syed Mokhtar's family came from Hadramout, Yemen, and his father was in the livestock business until the viral foot and mouth outbreak threatened the family's livelihood.

It was then that Syed Mokhtar took over his father's business and started his own business ventures which included transportation and rice in the first few years.

Today, he travels comfortably in private jets, but during the early days of his business, Syed Mokhtar had to rough it up, sleeping in lorries and on bug-infested beds in cheap hotels while he travelled around for his business.

Eventually, Syed Mokhtar made inroads into government bodies such as FELDA (Federal Land Development Authority) and MARA (Majlis Amanah Rakyat), while he continued to diversify his business interests.

Today, although he is one of the most reclusive tycoon in Malaysia, Syed Mokhtar - with an estimated net worth of USD1.8 billion according to Forbes - holds an impressive portfolio and assets which include MMC Corp and DRB-Hicom group (which bought over Proton in 2012).

The Klang Valley MRT is a MMC Corp multi-billion ringgit project.

Image via My MRT

3. Tan Sri Datuk Tiong Su Kouk - The Father of Hawkers

Tan Sri Datuk Tiong Su Kouk, is the founder of CCK Consolidated Holdings Berhad, which is one of Sarawak's largest producers of frozen seafood.

His empire was not built overnight but what's amazing is the fact that he started out as a fishmonger with only a RM3.40 capital given by his father.

When he was 14, Tiong was handpicked by his father out of his nine children to take over the family's fish stall. It came at a cost - Tiong had to stop schooling.

Tiong said that perhaps his father had chosen him because he was a "fast and hardy rubber tapper" since he began rubber tapping when he was eight. He never fully understood his father’s decision to make him give up his education opportunities, but in hindsight, Tiong think that it might be a blessing in disguise because he is successful now after all.

The young man had laboured long hours before he could enjoy the fruits of his success. In an interview with The Star, he revealed that he had worked 16 hours a day for 12 years in the wet market.

Tiong made history when he was 27 by opening Sibu's first ever frozen seafood outlet at a time when people said "frozen foods were stones". There was no business in the first three months and he almost gave up until he changed people's minds by giving away free food for people to try.

Almost six decades later since his days as a fishmonger, Tiong has continued to expand his influence beyond seafood production as his business ventures now include shipbuilding, ship leasing, and even property development.

Tiong was a hawker before he ventured into the shipbuilding industry, taking Nam Cheong into the global shipbuilding arena.

Image via

4. Datuk R. Dorai­singam Pillai - business mogul

Image via YouTube

Datuk R. Dorai­singam Pillai has always been interested in doing business since he was a young boy. As a child, he sold stationeries such as pencils and sharpeners to his classmates in primary school.

When he was 15, he failed his examinations. It was then that he mustered all his courage and sought for his father's approval to allow him to follow his father's footsteps to do business.

At that tender age, he managed to save up RM500 from the small businesses that he had done. That amount of money was just enough for him to buy 25 fishing nets. However, the first day's catch surpassed his own expectations and he instantly earned back his capital on the same day.

Soon enough, Dorai­singam expanded his fishing business by buying fishing boats and leasing them out to fishermen.

There was no stopping him since then, as Doraisingam steadily grew his business network and founded Lotus Group, which initially started off as a restaurant outlet under the name Restaurant Jay Villas.

He helmed the development of a chain of restaurants, and ventured into various sectors, from the hotel industry to property development and entertainment.

Lotus Five Star (LFS) is a chain of cinemas owned by the Lotus Group.

Image via

5. Lee Thiam Wah - King of Mini Marts

Image via Enterprise Asia

Born in 1964, Lee Thiam Wah had a rough start in life as he was struck with polio when he was just eight months old. He lost the use of his legs, making him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. However, Lee proved that he was undeterred by his physical condition and did not let difficult circumstances dictate how he should live his life.

Coming from a poor family, his father was a construction worker and his mother was a hawker, so Lee's parents could only afford to support him until primary school. The secondary school was too far away and the family did not have enough money to afford the transportation fees.

When he was 14, Lee started selling small items outside his family home in Jalan Kapar in Klang, Selangor. He read newspapers and magazines in his free time, and borrowed books from his neighbours so that he could continue learning on his own.

Through pure grit and perseverance, he managed to scrape together RM17,000 and used the money to open his first grocery shop called 'Pasaraya Hiap Hoe' in Tepi Sungai, Klang, in 1987 when he was only 23 years old. He eventually sold the business to a relative and used the funds to open a mini-market in 1992, naming it 'Pasar Mini 99' and the rest is history.

Interestingly, the name '99' was chosen because it signifies that nothing is perfect in this world.

"So we try and be almost perfect— 99%," Lee explained to The Edge.

The business was rebranded into 99 Speedmart over the years as Malaysians watched how Lee built his own empire. There are now 1,000 outlets nationwide — and counting — with more than 6,000 employees.

With sheer willpower and tenacity, Lee has overcome his own challenges to be dubbed as the King of Mini Marts.

The 1000th 99 Speedmart outlet was opened at Shah Alam Seksyen 13 (2) recently.

Image via @99_speedmart/Instagram

6. Datuk Dr Maznah Hamid - Iron Lady

Image via Securiforce

Datuk Dr Maznah Hamid went through a difficult childhood after her parents divorced when she was only five. She was brought up by her grandparents and grew up dreaming to be an entrepreneur, much to her grandfather's disapproval who said that entrepreneurs are drop-outs who will eventually end up selling fish and vegetables in the market.

She continued her education in linguistics and later became a tutor and translator for several embassies and multinational companies.

However, she did not forget her childhood ambition and was determined to set up her own business. After going to from one bank another and seeing her loan applications rejected one by one, she decided to take out all of her RM5,000 savings to start her own company in a field dominated by men.

Dubbed as 'Iron Lady', Maznah became the first ever woman in Malaysia to lead a security company known as Securiforce.

When she first founded Securiforce, she had little clue how to run a business but through hard work and persistence, she managed to turn it into a multimillion company with a 6,000-people strong workforce and more than 65 branches today.

During the initial stages of her business, Maznah had to face many different challenges such as lack of manpower, which led her to guarding the premises on her own while her husband did the patrolling. At one point of time, she even had to sell away her house and stayed in an illegal house to fund the business.

With her never-say-die attitude, Maznah perseverance not only ensured that Securiforce flourished under her wings but it also allowed her to venture into other activities such as becoming a property developer and a renowned motivational speaker.

Maznah's Securiforce is responsible for providing a comprehensive range of security services in Malaysia.

Image via Iluminasi

7. Goh Peng Ooi - software genius

Image via Silverlake Axis

Goh Peng Ooi, the seventh out of the 10 children of a butcher, grew up in a kampung and has always been fascinated about reading books because they offered him the answers to his questions.

When he was enrolled into an English-medium school in Kampung Kastam in Butterworth, Penang, he initially found it difficult to cope as he went to a Chinese-medium school previously.

However, he was relentless and did a series of odd-jobs to scrape together RM2 just to afford a Chinese-English dictionary.

Despite his hardships, Goh persevered and excelled in his studies with a degree in electronics from the University of Tokyo. He is first and only child in his family to graduate from college.

When he returned, he began his career as an employee at Mitsubishi and IBM but eventually left to start his own financial software company, Silverlake Axis.

Since the company was incepted in 1989, Goh has propelled the company forward, establishing it as the leading financial software provider and systems integrator for some of the largest financial institutions in Southeast Asia.

In recent years, Goh made headlines by becoming the Malaysia's first tech billionaire, as well as Southeast Asia's first software billionaire.

Goh's Silverlake Axis is a leading financial software provider in the Southeast Asian region.

Image via @kosawoo/Instagram

8. Christy Ng - the next Jimmy Choo

Image via Focus Malaysia

Christina Ng, who founded her shoe business 'Christy Ng', grew up in a family that lived moderately.

Ng has always been an independent person. She did not want to burden her father who cleaned air conditioners for a living so she relied on herself to earn extra income.

From peddling flowers by the LRT station to selling ice creams and attending flea markets in Petaling Jaya, Selangor to sell shoes she procured from Thailand, Ng did it all. She also worked as a waitress for seven years to fund her own studies until she obtained a degree in Biotechnology and Life Sciences.

Ng was working at a Swiss pharmaceutical company when she finally decided to use her savings to start, an online site for people to shop for custom-made and ready-to-wear women's shoes. She has kept this dream since she was four.

The business may have started in the living room of her mother's house, but Christy's vision grew with her business and people quickly noticed this young entrepreneur's work. People have even hailed the 29-year-old as the "next Jimmy Choo".

After almost seven years since she turned this into a full-time venture, Christy Ng now has a large following with more than 430,000 likes on Facebook. Hundreds of thousands of shoes have been sold since its inception and the business continues to grow.

Christy Ng is now a popular label for custom-made and ready-to-wear women's shoes.

Image via

9. Tan Sri Shamsuddin Abdul Kadir - telecommunications tycoon

Image via NST

Tan Sri Shamsuddin Abdul Kadir's successes show the value of education in transforming lives. His father had constantly reminded him to stay humble and never forget that he is a driver's son when he was still alive.

Shamsuddin lived in a room with his family until he was 17. He once mentioned that the rooms they stayed in were the size of a standard single bedroom today.

His father had little education, only up to Standard Four, and he worked as a driver. His mother, who was illiterate (except that she could read the Quran), had once caught him trying to play truant. He remembered how his mother had beaten him with an umbrella and tied him to a tree, leaving him at the mercy of big red ants.

He never forgot that incident after receiving the harsh punishment. But he also remembered it because it made him realise how important school education was to his parents.

He had gone through many trials and tribulations including living through war hardships where he and a few friends at school were handpicked by Japanese soldiers for training and labour. Thankfully, Shamsuddin - who was only 12 then - and his friends managed to escape the ordeal by literally running for their lives.

When the war was over, his father had insisted that Shamsuddin get an English education but some school rejected him due to his advanced age. He eventually found himself as the odd one out when he was 18 years old while his classmates were 11 to 13-year-olds at a school that accepted him. Nevertheless, Shamsuddin did his best and continued studying until he won a scholarship to further his studies in Brighton, England, and returned home as an engineer.

He was a civil servant but left to begin his own journey into business. In 1975, Shamsuddin started Sapura Holdings but little did he know that it will one day grow to become an international corporate giant.

Today, the company has prospered as a technology-based conglomerate with global businesses in various sectors including the oil and gas services, and telecommunication infrastructure services.

Sapura Holdings started off as a telecommunications infrastructure service provider but has since diversified into other sectors including the oil and gas industry.

Image via NST

These Malaysians definitely proved that anyone can achieve their goals with great determination and hard work! #Negaraku Boleh!

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