Richard Ker: Lee Thiam Wah and the story of 99 Speedmart

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When he was 8 months old he was struck with polio disease. He could no longer walk. Her parents worked day & night to feed 11 children. Despite a very tough life, he worked hard & became Malaysia’s King of Mini Markets. Here’s the story of 99 Speedmart.

99 Speedmart was founded by Lee Thiam Wah. He was born in Klang, Selangor in 1964. Due to polio, he lost the ability to use his legs & had to use a wheelchair. Lee’s dad was as a construction worker while his mom was a hawker. They worked day & night to feed their 11 kids.

Life was poor and tough. Lee’s parents can only pay for his school until primary 6. They could not even pay the transportation fee because the secondary school was too far. When he was 14, he started a small business selling snacks outside his home in Jalan Kampar, Klang.

Lee spent a lot of time reading newspapers & magazines. His grandma took care of him & encouraged him a lot. Lee focused on helping his family and saved up to start his own grocery shop. By 1987 when he was 23, Lee managed to save RM17,000.

Lee used his money to open his first grocery shop named ‘Pasaraya Hiap Hoe.’ In 1992, Lee sold the business for RM88,000 and opened a mini-market called Pasar Mini 99. It was his first step to make his vision of creating mini-markets chain come true.

He called it ’99’ to show that it’s not a perfect score & he aimed to provide the best services for everyone. It also means that it has always room for improvement. The mini mart was first targeted for low income customers & migrant workers. But soon he expanded his business.

In year 2017, Lee opened his 1000th outlet. He had 10,000 staff nationwide. His company’s revenue hit RM2.1 billion in 2014. He continues to open new outlets at every corner of the cities & towns in Malaysia.

He still remembers his grandma’s words: “You are only disabled physically, not mentally. You are smart and can still use your hands to do so much more. You will need to be independent and find a way to live or you will be left behind.” These words led to his success today.

By November 2021, there are more than 2,000 x 99 Speedmarts around the country. Born as a baby with disability & into a low-income family, he worked hard and built an empire. Lee is truly the King of Mini Markets of Malaysia. “Dekat Lagi Murah” (Near & Cheap)

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