For Forefront International (Forefront), diversification is the name of the game. Since its inception in 2004 as a small web design company, it has evolved into a full-fledged, end-to-end creative and marketing agency with a burgeoning food and beverage (F&B) venture.
Having recently celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, Forefront is ably helmed by chief executive officer Darien Mah.
On the rationale for starting Foremula, Mah said it was a mixture of opportunity and timing. What started out as a simple way for the company to showcase its design and build capabilities, it quickly became something more.
He said: “It started as an opportunity two years ago to demonstrate what we could do, like a showroom to show our capability. We incorporated our company DNA into it – the technology, photography, interior designing and branding.”
In everything that it does, Forefront wants to be first and foremost, a Malaysian company, which is why Foremula – and each subsequent F&B outlet it has opened, including Forebidden and Therefore in the past year – has a strong Malaysian flavour.
Beyond business, however, Mah has a keen interest in the wealth distribution model when it comes to diversification efforts.
The business case for diversity in a company’s talent pool and to expand revenue channels is clear, but the entrepreneur takes it a step further by empowering his employees to become entrepreneurs and lead Forefront’s growth.
He delegates key roles for the company’s employees to spearhead initiatives under the Forefront brand, to give them a strong sense of ownership and belonging. This, in turn, has led to aggressive growth for Forefront.
In addition, Mah attributes the company’s success in F&B thus far to the team’s acument and knowledge in the digital realm.
“I’m a very proud Malaysian. Everything ties back to that. Our key in Forefront is that we actively seek to diversify, not just in our businesses, but also our people.
“A lot of times we test the idea under the Forefront brand, where the person who formulated the idea has ownership to lead the business. I want them to feel a real sense of belonging, working together with us but taking charge and taking the lead in bringing the venture to the next level, ” he said.
Aside from that, Mah also wants to uplift the entire business community in the F&B business by treating peers as an opportunity for collaboration, rather than competition.
Building on its solutions for clients, moreover, Forefront has recently established Foreward Realty Sdn Bhd to provide real value and actual business outcomes.
He said, “It’s value-add to propel the company forward. Foreward Realty is doing very well and it’s become bigger than Forefront although it was only started at the end of last year – and only got its official license in August.”
A multiple-award winner for The Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA), Forefront started its SOBA participation in 2014 by winning the Silver Award for Best Employer in 2014, culminating in receiving three awards including the Platinum Award for Best in Marketing, the Gold Award for Best Brand and the Gold Award for Best Employer in SOBA 2017. That year, it also was the grand winner for the coveted Malaysian Business of the Year.
The first time Forefront entered SOBA, Mah said it was overwhelming to be seated with industry giants, but added that it gave motivation for growth.
“It’s what helps your company grow and a beautiful brand story. We always show our guests the SOBA 2017 Malaysian Business of the Year Award, since it shows our growth and progress since 2014 and it’s a beautiful story that clients and partners love to listen to, ” he said.
Using the submission as a baseline, Mah then deep-dived into bettering the areas highlighted as the company’s weaknesses to establish a stronger company.
As for his advice to other SMEs, he said, “Go for it. Apply for SOBA. The format of SOBA’s form actually lets you think a lot into what you’re missing and you get to understand your business better.
“With the judges’ comments, it also lets you evaluate why certain aspects are important, either as a wake-up call or an area to look into.”