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The multiracial 3-man team that runs Malaysia's successful milk company

  • Azmi (C) says Malaysians' potentials could be maximised if we put our prejudices aside. “If we pool our strengths together, we can do great things for this country!” Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Much more than friends: Azmi celebrated Loi's 50th birthday in 2014 (L); the two men have known each other for 18 years. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Local dairy farm operator Farm Fresh boasts a modernised management. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Loi (C) says he has always been a “kampung boy” who loves running the farm while Azmi (R) helps him with sales and logistics. On the left is Farm Fresh senior manager Jacob Mathan. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Jacob (R) says cows are colour blind and will not bother who their carers are or where they come from. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Before establishing the milk brand Farm Fresh, Loi Tuan Ee and Azmi Zainal had known each other for more than ten years, being sales colleagues at a packaging company.

To Azmi, Loi is both a great friend, colleague and big brother, being a few years his senior.

Azmi said prior to Farm Fresh, Loi and him had attempted to work together in a motor workshop business but had not been successful.

“We are like old friends who have known each other for a very long time. I would tell Loi if I had any good business project, and he would do the same if he had one.

“This is not the first time we cooperate. We used to do so in the past, some not too bad but some just didn't work!

“Not every business is good!” he confessed.

In 2010, Loi, who had been in a packaging business for more than two decades, decided to go into fresh milk business. However, he discovered after starting the business for only a few months that dairy farm would require a lot of time and effort, and he had no time to take care of marketing and logistics.

So he called up his old friend Azmi.

“Handling the farm itself is giving me enough headache. I didn't think I had time to talk to every supermarket and retailer. So I approached Azmi for help.”

Colour blind friendship

While people from different ethic backgrounds may have very different operational philosophies when it comes to doing business, Loi Tuan Ee and Azmi Zainal, though, have always been the perfect business partners for each other.

To Azmi, Loi is an astute businessman, and all their decisions are made only after the two men have sat down and discussed. And to Loi, they both have one thing in common, the strong fighting spirit in this business.

“Azmi and I are very close friends. In fact we are much more than friends, almost like brothers!

“We all work very hard. I can spend 12 to 14 hours a day on work. And if needed, we can even work 15 hours or more!

“This is the recipe of our business success. No short cut!”

Loi said they had been working together seamlessly, adding that Azmi was taking full charge of sales and logistics so that he could concentrate on managing his farm.

“Azmi is a first-rate salesman. It is not easy to get people to listen to you and buy your products!

“Everything from running the farm, manufacturing, marketing, operation to logistics, could be a serious challenge. Azmi takes care of everything so well that I can concentrate on what I love to do most.”

Loi joked that he had always been a “kampung boy” since young, preferring to work at the farm.

“Just let Azmi handle all those glamorous jobs!”

Tough early days

Both Loi and Azmi had a very humble beginning in this business, having to work very hard step by step from scratch.

Loi revealed that they came across a great deal of challenges and limitations during the early days.

“There were no successful instances of dairy farm operation in this country because the weather here is too hot and humid.”

Azmi also said they had to do everything in person as they did not have a large capital and a complete team to handle the business. He said they had to sell their milk products at pasar malam and supermarkets, and deliver milk using direct buses in order to save on transportation cost.

Loi said, “Initially Azmi and I had to be salesmen ourselves. He even had to go to pasar malam to sell his products because our business scale was too small at that time.”

He also talked of the capital and manpower crunch during the early days.

Their first farm was set up in Kota Tinggi, Johor, and commissioning a lorry company to deliver milk to KL would easily cost several hundred ringgit each trip. They came up with the idea of appointing a direct bus company at Larkin Sentral to do the work.

“I used a direct bus to deliver milk to KL, and Azmi would pick up the goods at Sungai Besi toll and later deliver to the supermarkets.”

Farm Fresh Malaysia has successfully secured the investment from Khazanah Nasional, which has a 30% stake in the company's shares.

Thanks to the concerted effort of Loi and Azmi, Farm Fresh today is a reputable company with six dairy farms in Malaysia and Australia. The company boasts 40% share in the Malaysian market with the 2019 sales at approximately RM250 million.

Cows are colour blind

As the company grows in size, the number of cows at their farms has increased dramatically from 60 to more than 5,000 today.

Following the rapid business expansion, Farm Fresh requires skilled experts to manage its farms in Malaysia.

Six years ago, Loi and Azmi decided to enlist the help of ethnic Indian intern Jacob Mathan. At 29 today, this young man is now Farm Fresh group senior manager.

In 2013, Jacob, who was then an animal science student at Sabah University, applied to work as an intern at Farm Fresh' Kota Tinggi farm.

Hailing from KL, Jacob was a typical “city boy” who loved watching movies and shopping, but he was obviously excited when talking about his cow farm experience.

“Working at a farm is nothing glamorous. If you were to tell your friends you are a farmer, they would ask in disbelief: did you fail your exam or something?

“You actually need a lot of knowledge to do this job well.

“Cows are colour blind, and in Farm Fresh, everyone treats one another like family. Ethnic and religious differences no longer matter to us."

Both Loi and Azmi have very high regards for young Jaob. Azmi said Jacob not only could work independently but was also full of passion in his career.

“In Malaysia, very few young people at the age of 29 can take care of four farms and over 5,000 cows.

“Everyone has his own strength and if we put all that together, we can do great things for this country.

“Why can't we work together? If we do everything by ourselves, there is nothing much we can achieve, but if we work together, we can share our success.”

Farm Fresh currently boasts around 570 employees hailing from different ethnicities and countries. They speak their own languages.

When asked what language they should use to communicate with the staff, Azmi said any language that could put the message across should be good enough. Most importantly we must respect one another.

“We sometimes use English, sometimes BM. We use the languages we know. Just that simple!

“But of course, we will need another language to talk to the cows!, haha..”

 

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