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This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on March 18, 2019 - March 24, 2019

From a George Town office overlooking the Penang Strait, Datuk Seri Yusuf Taiyoob has grown an eponymous empire that has established him as a leading importer and distributor of dried foodstuffs in the country. He speaks to Petrina Fernandez about building his business on instinct, experience and a firm sense of honour.

It starts with a whisper. Two words, four syllables, sighed to convey immediate understanding that the holy month of Ramadan is upon us again and thoughts of a specific fruit seep into our collective consciousness. Is there any other way to begin a story about Datuk Seri Yusuf Taiyoob than with the breathy sign-off that is the trademark of his date business?

“You know the ending of the radio ad, the whisper?” he asks, as if we could be unfamiliar with it. “I created that 15 or so years ago. Most advertisements sound similar — I didn’t want another jingle, I wanted something different and catchy.”

Where someone else might have gone loud, Yusuf lowered the volume, hoping the unexpected subtlety would make an impression. “Luckily, it went down well,” he laughs. “It has since become synonymous with Ramadan, a sign that the holy month is approaching. I don’t use the ad, the whisper, for any other purpose or product. It’s reserved for dates and Ramadan, so you associate it explicitly with the product and the season.”

Pretty astute thinking for someone without a formal background in marketing or business. Given that Yusuf does not like sitting still for long, it is no surprise that academia was not for him. As a teenager, he disliked the pre-university course he was enrolled on in India and when he returned to Penang for a semester break, he never left.

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