ENTREPRENEUR Surentran Somasundrum, 29, runs a successful kacang putih business. It is currently worth about RM10mil.
When we met, he was wearing a simple button down shirt and dark pants. He was a panellist at a Higher Education Ministry entrepreneurship forum.
I was told that he once rejected a place at Harvard University.
Curious, I inquired.
“I was never offered a place in Harvard,” he clarified with a smile.
“I was qualified for Harvard’s Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) and was invited to the preview programme in the US. My then MBA lecturers at UniRazak urged me to proceed with the formal application but halfway through, I decided not to pursue it.”
“Why?” I asked.
He replied: “On one hand I wanted to grow my business. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“More importantly, however, I want my success to be Malaysia’s success.
“If I go to Harvard, people will attribute my success to Harvard.
“Now, I can confidently say that all I’ve become and achieved is due to my Malaysian education. I had good teachers and lecturers who inspired me and made me who I am today, they deserve the credit, he said.
GOING NUTS OVER KACANG PUTIH
Humble and confident, Surentran’s kacang putih business has grown from strength to strength.
His products are available internationally – in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Clearly then, it’s no ordinary kacang putih business.
In fact, it’s a snack foods business selling more than 60 types of snacks categorised into crispy chips, crunchy nuts, as well as spicy nuts and chips. They have maruku kari, kacang kari and many other curry-based nuts.
Think Bubba Gump Shrimp from Forrest Gump, with equal passion but nuttier.
‘MY EDUCATION IS IN MY SNACKS’
“Our snacks are healthy... As healthy as snacks can get,” he says with a smile, assuring me that they are free from trans-fats.
“All our ingredients are natural, and I’m very particular about how and what we use to make them”.
Aside from an MBA, Surentran also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Analytical Chemistry from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), one of Malaysia’s top public universities.
“I have been able to use my knowledge of chemistry from USM to make my snacks. From the type of oil and how its temperature reacts to the ingredients, to how long we must cook the snack so that it retains optimal nutrients with optimal taste, nothing is left to chance,” he explains with professorial-like glee.
“On the other hand, the MBA has enabled me to fine-tuned and enhance my knowledge of how to run my business. UniRazak’s entrepreneurship lecturers have been fantastic mentors”.
The business is run from Surentran’s hometown of Ipoh, Perak, and in itself has created a vibrant economic ecosystem. He has more than 20 fulltime staff and hires single mothers and locals during peak seasons. Occasionally, he takes interns from local universities and teaches them about the business.
“Everyone who works for me is like family. I hope to take care of my community and provide for them. This gives me the most satisfaction.”
He adds: “I have a great team. They are the ones who have made this success a reality”.
I DIDN’T KNOW I WAS DYSLEXIC
Surentran’s journey is truly an inspiring one.
Early in his undergraduate years at USM, he was diagnosed with dyslexia after a lecturer found something amiss in his writing and spelling.
“How did you manage?” I asked, surprised.
“Thinking back, I was really good at mathematics and numbers, but when it came to writing essays and such, I’d memorise 200-300 words and rearrange them on paper in order to answer. I guess, sometimes, I’d forget the order in which the words were spelt.
“The dyslexia has never been a hindrance. I have faced many challenges growing up. Yet somehow, I’ve always enjoyed overcoming them”.
Being an entrepreneur has always been Surentran’s goal. In fact, during our conversation, I could feel a strong sense of motivation, drive and determination.
“If you really want something, you will find the way,” he tells me.
After dabbling in various small-scale businesses, he started a tuition-centre while still studying in USM. Business was growing but fate would have him return to Ipoh upon graduation as his father had fallen ill.
“My family used to run a small shop in Ipoh. When we had enough money, my father bought a grinding mill. Unfortunately, when he fell sick, business suffered.
“So I decided to buy the grinding mill from my father for RM1, but I inherited RM2.1mil in debt. It was a massive headache and it took me nearly one-and-a-half years to put things in order.
“But in this time, I was able to put my kacang putih business in order,” he recalls.
The rest, they say, is history.
MAKE FOOD NOT WAR
After snack food, he plans to move into the biryani market, providing his own version of healthy and affordable biryani rice. In the long term, Surentran hopes to one day rid the world of hunger.
“If people are no longer hungry, they can be at peace,” he says.
While it’ll take time, Surentran aims to lead the way.
If his past is anything to go by, his future is certainly one to look out for.
“Harvard for that DBA?” I ask.
“University Malaya, doctorate in business strategy,” he replies with a smile.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at email@example.com.