IT IS not easy being the queen in the King of Fruits business.
For Hernan Corporation Sdn Bhd founder and director Anna Teo, the journey to the top was years in the making and an arduous one.
“It took more effort to go into this line.
“It would have been much easier if I were a man, but I never regarded this as a reason to back off,” recalled the former flight attendant turned entrepreneur.
“Feeling out of place was never a barrier as I have my own way of getting things done.
“As long as I know when I should wear their boots and when I should put on my heels – so it was never a problem,” said Teo, who has earned the respect of her peers in the male-dominated industry.
She looks up to the iron lady and former international trade and industry minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.
“I was just a Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) member back then and I always admired the way she carried herself when dealing with international delegates.
“She’s one of the women who made me feel empowered with her strong personality and I see myself in her,” she said.
What started as a small trading company in 1996, Hernan rose to prominence when it shipped its first batch of frozen durian to Australia in 2004.
Fast forward to today, the company Teo built has grown into one of the biggest food trading and manufacturing empires in Malaysia with a turnover rate of over RM100mil.
Backed by her strong belief in her products, Teo finds that durian is truly king in the food business.
“I still believe in durian. From what I studied, it is one of the most profitable and money-making commodities from Malaysia.
“And of course, our durian quality is still up to standard,” she said, citing growing consumer interest from China.
Not one to shy away from competition, Teo does not view challenges as threats, but rather, they act as motivation for her to change and move forward.
“I always tell myself that the competition is not from Malaysia. I see the bigger competition coming from countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Darwin, Australia,” she added.
As demand for durian in the Australian market continues to grow, Teo noted that even the Aussies are planting their own crop.
This development does not threaten Teo.
As she puts it, “As long as our products are still consistent, I still believe that we have huge potential.”
Tucked in the industrial area of Ara Damansara, the lingering smell of durian fills the air of the company’s current location in PJU 1/1A.
Next year, Hernan will be shifting to a new factory in Puncak Alam. With a total work space of 100,000 sq ft, it will be six times larger than its current operation and equipped with the latest machinery to prepare for the next wave of the industrial revolution.
“We have invested RM35mil for the upcoming facilities and we are adapting to Industry 4.0.
“As a food manufacturing company, we don’t want to depend solely on human labour.
“We plan to use robotics and implement a conveyer system to improve hygiene,” she said, adding that the company is working with agencies such as Malaysian Investment Development Authority.
A testament to their achievements, Hernan Corporation won its second consecutive Gold award for Best Global Market in Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) 2017.
“The SOBA award means a lot to us. It serves as another form of motivation and recognition.
“I always tell my staff that success doesn’t come from me but from the whole Hernan team – both management and operations. They are my biggest supporters.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Teo proclaimed.
Realising that the company would not thrive on durian exports alone, Hernan Corporation branched into the food manufacturing business in 2012.
With a string of innovative products under its belt, Hernan has amassed many accolades for its offerings such as durian ball, durian mochi, durian pancake and seasonal items like the durian mooncake – all of which are made using fresh durian flesh.
“This tells us that we are going in the right direction and that people, especially Malaysians, have accepted our products.
“Many people had never thought of enjoying so many different types of durian-based products. With our creations, they can eat durian in another form,” she said.
Recently, the company took home the SIAL Innovation Award for its fried durian ball at the SIAL Paris 2018 international food show in France.
In the near future, Teo is setting her sights on the booming China market.
“We are focusing around 60% to 65% on the China market as well as the United States, Australia and Indonesia.
“We are now heading for a triple jump, looking for more upstream partners and acquiring more land, as we can foresee the growth when China opens its doors to the import of whole fruits,” she said.
Noting that her journey to the top would not be possible without some help from government agencies and trade associations, Teo recognises the importance of giving back by mentoring young entrepreneurs under her wing.
“I had this problem when I first started – I didn’t have anybody to advise me.
“So when I was approached by Selangor NGOs to assist youth entrepreneurs in the state going into the export market, I agreed to help by giving them guidance,” she added.
“I also want to give back to society because what I have achieved today is through the help of government agencies.
“I think it’s the right time to give back and contribute my knowledge and experience,” Teo concluded.
Moving forward, she hopes to pen a book detailing her success stories in the export market to inspire more entrepreneurs to venture overseas.