Saturday 20 Jul 2024
main news image

For Habib Jewels to have stayed in business this long, its founder Datuk Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif must have really found his passion. After attempting several businesses, he started MA Habib Mohamed in a small shop on Pitt Street in Penang in 1958 — barely a year after Malaysia’s independence.

Habib Mohamed, now 85 years old, quickly found he had a natural talent for the jewellery business, which he calls “a happy business”.

“People are always celebrating life in one way or another with jewellery. It’s a business that requires real passion for people and a lot of trust. You don’t get rich overnight in this business,” he told The Edge Financial Daily.

“Starting a jewellery business at a time when money was hard to come by and growing it from the ground up took a lot of discipline, diligence and passion. It has taken hard work to carefully nurture that jewellery shop in Penang into a chain with 23 showrooms across the country,” he said. “Keeping the business relevant in good times and bad was tough, and this is where building solid relationships with loyal customers over the years has allowed us to go the distance.”

That single shop on Pitt Street quickly became two with the opening of a branch at a hotel on Burma Road, where he captured the tourist market, including the American soldiers who came for rest and recreation during the Vietnam war. By 1972, the diamond trade picked up tremendously, leading to more opportunities to expand the business. Until the 1980s, Habib exported a great deal of diamond jewellery to the Middle East.

Habib Jewels' first shop on Pitt Street in Penang.
Habib (seated) and his son Datuk Meer Sadik Habib are in a business that requires real passion for people and a lot of trust.

In 1986, its first branch outside Penang was opened in Kuala Lumpur’s Semua House, from there the business expanded further. In 1998, Habib became the first jeweller to list on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange’s then Second Board before graduating to the Main Board in 2001. Habib returned to private hands in 2005. (That followed a RM1.3 billion joint acquisition of Chuan Hup Holdings Ltd by Habib with the Scomi Group, which re-named the listed shell of Habib Corp Bhd Scomi Marine.)

Habib’s only son, Datuk Meer Sadik Habib, has been leading the business since 1986. A rare husband and wife partnership, Meer Sadik and his wife Datin Zarida Noordin, who run the company together, evidently share a similar passion for people.

“My father always says never sell for the sake of making a quick profit. He firmly believes that we are responsible for advising and guiding a purchase by getting to know the customer and by sharing our knowledge. By understanding every facet of the business, we can be true consultants whose expert views will always be sought after,” Meer Sadik, managing director of Habib Jewels, wrote in a column in The Edge weekly two years ago, describing the core values behind the Habib culture.

“Over the years, because of this philosophy, we have built many relationships with people who started off just as a customer, but who became so much more as time passed. As a result, Zarida and I are often invited to weddings, which are an enjoyable experience for me, more so when I see guests walking in wearing a Habib creation,” he said.

From the way gold prices have moved in recent years, hitting new record highs as investors sought safety from inflationary pressures, jewellers like Habib are no doubt finding themselves even more indispensable to clients. “Forty or 50 years ago, people bought sovereign coins, but that stopped and people bought jewellery instead. Now, people are starting to buy coins again after the global financial crisis. Not just jewellery but the sale of gold bars has also been increasing,” Meer Sadik told The Edge Financial Daily last October.

One of the country’s pioneers in taking part in international trade shows and jewellery exhibitions, the Habib name is known well beyond our shores in countries like Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East as well as Europe and the US. In 2002, having gained two spots in the Malaysian Book of Records — most expensive bejewelled miniature of the Petronas Twin Towers valued at RM1 million and the world’s most expensive gown worth RM19 million — Habib was ranked among the Top 100 for the International Gold Virtuosi Award, known as the Grammy Awards for jewellery, organised by the World Gold Council.

“Growing a home-grown brand is not easy,” Meer Sadik said, noting that competition has grown as more international brands enter the Malaysian market, making the need to keep the brand fresh and continuously maintaining good relations with customers even more important.

“Habib’s growth boils down to passion and entrepreneurial spirit. It is about respecting heritage and values while embracing a contemporary outlook,” he said.

The brand’s core values, such as personalising the customer service experience, encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit among staff and honesty have played a role in making Habib a trusted household name, he said.

Last year, Meer Sadik led Habib into the hospitality business with the opening of the company’s first boutique hotel in Kota Bahru, which also houses a Habib showroom and factory. “The Habib hotel allows travellers on a budget to enjoy facilities of a five-star hotel in the city at a reasonable rate.”

Then there’s “Ar-Rahnu”, an Islamic pawn-broking business that complies with Islamic microcredit principles, which appraises the value of the gemstones in addition to the gold in the jewellery, which is not the norm in conventional pawn broking. The Habib group also has “Chantique” which offers customers antiques and what it calls “pre-loved” jewellery in mint condition. It also buys back jewellery, including those with diamonds and coloured gemstones.

Time will tell if these new ventures will make Habib a greater household name than it already is, 53 years from its genesis on Pitt Street. What’s certain it can’t be too far off if it continues to focus on keeping customers happy with impeccable service.

This article appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, August 26, 2011.

      Text Size