Anthony Tan, the man who revolutionised the taxi-hailing industry in Malaysia, does not hesitate to answer when asked what “Merdeka” truly means to him: “Freedom, empowerment and hope.”
For the co-founder and group chief executive officer of Grab, the three words also resonate strongly with what the e-hailing company stands for.
“Malaysia has come a long way since Merdeka and my hope for this new Malaysia is to see her grow into a force to be reckoned with on the global tech and digital economy stage.
“That starts with nurturing and equipping young Malaysians with the right skills to compete on the world stage.
“At Grab, we continue to deliver hyperlocal solutions to local problems, ultimately driving Malaysia forward with technological innovations that benefit the nation, businesses and people alike,” Tan says.
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Tan is the scion of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families. His family owns Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd, one of the country’s largest automobile distributors.
Tan and his Harvard Business School classmate, fellow Malaysian Tan Hooi Ling, established Grab – formerly known as MyTeksi – back in 2012. From an “experimental” start-up in Malaysia, Grab has since grown into a regional app-based company, offering more than just e-hailing services.
Last valued at US$9bil (RM37bil), Grab is large enough to enter Malaysia’s top 20 public listed companies rankings in terms of market capitalisation. To put it into context, if it were to be listed on Bursa Malaysia, Grab would be larger than many blue chip counters such as Genting Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd and Nestle (M) Bhd.
The rapid growth of Grab within just six years of its establishment has also put Tan on the Forbes list of the 50 richest Malaysians.
Today, the Singapore-based Grab has marked its footprint in eight countries and 225 cities in South-East Asia, and is the leading online-to-offline mobile platform in the region.
In March this year, Grab acquired its rival Uber’s South-East Asia operations and integrated Uber’s ridesharing and food delivery business in the region into Grab’s existing multi-modal transportation and financial technology platform.
To note, the merger between Grab and Uber is the largest of its kind in South-East Asia.
As part of the acquisition, Uber took a 27.5% stake in Grab.
Despite Grab’s remarkable business growth in a short span of time, Tan and Hooi Ling show no sign of stopping just yet. Both big dreamers now want to make Grab an everyday “super-app”, providing everyday services like food, grocery and parcel deliveries, as well as payments and financial services.
Even as Grab’s operations has transcended geographical boundaries, Tan continues to cherish the place where the journey began – Malaysia.
“We started MyTeksi to address the safety issue that sometimes arose with taking taxis in Malaysia. We decided to create a taxi booking app with safety and welfare as its core for passengers and drivers alike.
“We expanded regionally after we tried, tested and iterated the business model in Malaysia. We have correspondingly expanded our mission to serving communities by bringing people closer to what matters to them, with emphasis on empowering micro-entrepreneurs and offering users safe and accessible services.
“But we will never forget that Malaysia was where we learned how to do this business,” the proud Malaysian-born entrepreneur tells The Star.
In the long run, Tan envisages Grab to be a key enabler for 100 million micro-entrepreneurs in Malaysia and also across the region, providing them with tools to help them scale their business and access to financial services they would not otherwise have access to.
To date, he says Grab has positively impacted the livelihoods of 7.1 million micro-entrepreneurs in South-East Asia – many of them here in Malaysia.
“But this is just the beginning,” adds Tan.
Moving forward, Grab aims to continue expanding its existing transport, delivery, payments and finance-related services to deliver greater convenience and value to its users.
“In Malaysia, for example, you can book a GrabCar to get home from work and while you are in the car, you can order your favourite take-out for dinner through GrabFood and seamlessly pay for both with GrabPay while earning points with GrabRewards,” says Tan.
The company also aims to collaborate with more strategic partners, enabling them to leverage on Grab’s technology platform as Malaysia moves into the digital economy.
“Today, we have numerous partnerships with notable Malaysian companies like Malayan Banking Bhd, the Employees Provident Fund and Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd, which share our vision of bringing useful and impactful services to all Malaysians, be it our customers, drivers or merchant partners.
“We will also continue engaging with the government as we are invested in moving the nation forward through our services and capabilities,” says Tan.
Spending much of his time living and working across Grab’s eight regional markets, Tan continues to hold Malaysia close to his heart.
“I grew up in Malaysia, my family lives in Malaysia and I started Grab in Malaysia. Hooi Ling and I founded Grab to make lives better for Malaysians.
“That desire and mission still drive us and Grab today, and we look forward to continuing to play our part in driving Malaysia forward in partnership with the new government.
“On a personal note, my wife and I were raised in Kuala Lumpur and have many fond memories of our early days of courtship. Malaysia will always have a special place in our hearts and we have many dear friends here,” he says.
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