AS newly-weds and each pursuing a stressful career, Ahmad Zakir Jaafar and Tengku Rozidar Tengku Zainol Abidin longed for more time together and decided their marriage should take top priority above anything else.
Zakir then suggested that they leave the corporate world to pursue a doctorate or start a business together.
However, their venture into Candy Bouquet, a franchised gift shop that made bouquets out of candy, did not take off as hoped.
“We did not have any business experience and it was not very successful,” she said.
On their return from the United States where the couple had gone for training with Candy Bouquet, they became fascinated with hot dogs being sold on pushcarts at the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
As the candy business turned sour, “we began to toy with the idea of setting up a hot dog business similar to the one we stumbled upon in the US,” said Rozidar, a former tutor and broadcast journalist.
The young entrepreneurs felt the same concept could work in Malaysia as the investment outlay was relatively small and no other fast-food company had hot dogs as its main products.
So in the midst of the 1997 economic crisis, Rozidar and Zakir started Nineteen O One Sdn Bhd (1901) with RM100,000 and armed with about six months of research and experiment involving various recipe books. She is now the company chief executive director while he is executive director.
“We decided that it would be a make or break for us. If we lose the RM100,000, we will go back to work,” she said.
Today, this homegrown brand boasts 61 outlets, eight of which are owned by the parent company. The rest are operated as franchised outlets.
Besides the 60 outlets in Malaysia, 1901 has five outlets in Singapore. It also plans to expand the number of outlets in Malaysia to 100 by end-2007.
“We are looking to expand our presence in east Malaysia, especially in Sarawak where we do not have any outlet yet,” she said.
Rozidar expects revenue contribution from 1901's overseas operations to increase to 30% by year-end from the current 5%.
“We managed to increase overseas business contribution to 5% from 2% within two years,” she said, adding that the company expected its regional headquarters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to be ready by the first quarter of 2007.
The company is also eyeing markets in various countries including Saudi Arabia by year-end, followed by UAE, Thailand, Indonesia and Egypt next year.
“We are now ready in terms of resources and operations, and are better prepared for any damage control. We want to grow 1901 as a global brand,” Rozidar said, adding that all overseas 1901 outlets would be franchised.
According to Rozidar, 1901 expects revenue to hit RM11.2mil this year, up 15% from RM9.7mil achieved last year.
“We are confident of achieving our target as the company has consistently recorded about 40% growth per annum,” she said.
She added that the company only expected about 15% growth this year because it was consolidating its business after nine years of strong expansion.
Rozidar and Zakir - who met and got married after a three-month whirlwind romance in Britain where Rozidar was studying for her Masters in International Relations - got the name 1901 from the year the term “hot dog” was coined by an American sports cartoonist at the New York Polo Ground.
What you see today - the red hot dog pushcarts and kiosks with the black-and-white tiles that look like a typical American diner - is a reflection of her determination.
Rozidar herself created the signature 1901 recipes for the sausages, sauces and relishes.
“People see me as the CEO and think I'm the toughie,” she said, adding that her upbringing helped shape her into the person she is now.
“Success is not just about money and career.
“A very significant event was when my dad passed away. I was 18 then and having my pillar of strength taken away was very difficult as I was close to him. I had always been daddy’s girl and afraid of my mum because she is so strict but I thank her for a strict upbringing.
“It forced me to be more independent and made me stronger,” said the mother of two.
On her management style, Rozidar said: “I believe in giving my staff a chance to develop into confident and successful people.”
With work taking up most of her time, Rozidar spends whatever leisure time she has catching up with family and friends.
“I love and I tend to go on shopping sprees. I also like to read – from novels to motivational and self-help books,” she said, adding that she also played the piano.
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