The Man Behind 99 Speedmart
Lee Thiam Wah, born in 1954, had a severe case of polio which caused him to be crippled when he was just eight months old. He was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and could only attend school until Standard Six as it was hard for him to travel.
Instead of sitting around, feeling bad for himself, at the age of 23 he opened a grocery store called Pasar Raya Hiap Hoe by saving as much money as he could, selling snacks on his porch.
After five years, he decided he wanted a challenge and sold off the sundry mart and made RM88,000. He used that sum of money to open his first mini-market in Klang to serve low-income families. In 2000, he improved the look of the store and changed the mini-mart’s name to the famous mini-mart we all have come to know as ‘99 Speedmart’.
In August 2017, 99 Speedmart launched its 1000th outlet yet Mr Lee shows no signs of slowing down – he plans to open over 2,000 outlets, in every corner of Malaysia and then venture outside Malaysia to open more mini-marts!
As to the significance of the number ‘99’, Mr Lee explains that it serves as a reminder that no one is perfect but everyone can surely improve and do their best. He lives by these words – “Your only limit is you”.
Having built a successful empire worth more than 2.1 billion ringgit, Lee credits his success to his grandmother who was always there for him. He recalls her best advice – “You are only disabled physically, not mentally. You are smart and can still use your hands to do so much more. You will need to be independent and find a way to live or you will be left behind.” His grandmother’s words had a deep effect on him and ignited his entrepreneurial spirit.
Mr Lee’s humble beginnings and ability to rise above hardships in his life goes to show that ‘it is when we are hardest hit that we must never give up’.
No matter who you are or what disability or limitations you may have, you can always push through if you just believe in yourself and have the courage to pursue your dreams!