Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but for Datuk Meer Sadik Habib and his wife, Darin Zarida Noordin, their most precious jewel is their family.
A very welcoming and distinctly low-key Datuk Meer Sadik Habib greets me with a warm smile as I enter the sumptuous double-storied living room of his sprawling 20,000-plus square foot home. “We just got back from the Belum rainforest,” he says of the vacation with his wife, Datin Zarida Noordin, and their children – Mirzan, 22; Marissa, 20; and Mirsham, 19. “My children are back from the UK for their summer holidays, and I thought it would be nice to get out to the wilderness and bond as a family.”
Family has always meant a great deal to the Habibs. Datuk Meer is the only son of Datuk Haji Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif, the founder of Habib Jewels, and he has managed to inject his own brand of business acumen and marketing savvy into the company his father set up in 1958. Datuk Meer is now the managing director of Habib Group, and what was once a small family jeweller located on Penang’s Pitt Street is now a great Malaysian success story.
He attributes Habib’s success to core values like honesty and sincerity. This was the culture his father inculcated, and it has continued to be the cornerstone of the service pledge to their customers. “He did things with sincerity, helping people understand their needs, and not just wanting to make a sale,” Datuk Meer says.
Having returned with a business administration degree from the US, Datuk Meer joined the company in 1986, and in the same year he opened the first Habib store in Kuala Lumpur. He also launched an active marketing campaign which saw him guest-host an RTM radio show and conduct seminars on jewellery valuation and auctions in their stores. Though unconventional at that time, these marketing tactics worked; today, there are 33 Habib stores in Malaysia and the company has become a trusted household name, synonymous with quality diamonds and beautifully designed jewellery.
Datuk Meer and I are as comfortable as we can get, cocooned on a plush orange sofa in his spacious living room. With floor–to-ceiling glass windows, the koi pond and lush garden are visible from where we are seated – and just beyond lies a well-manicured golf course. This has been the family home for nine years, and Datuk Meer says they purchased the land and then set about designing their dream house.
“Immediately after buying the land, I told my wife we had to build as I couldn’t afford to hold on to the land for too long because of the interest rates, so we started construction very quickly,” he says.
Datuk Meer is quick to credit his wife for overseeing the construction of their home, and they managed to get it completed in just under a year. “She’s very good with imagining the concept and she understands design,” he says. “We sat down with the architect and worked out what we wanted and once construction started, I let Zarida decide everything. When two people get involved, you will never get a house finished, so I left it to her and focused on earning the money to pay for it,” he says, laughing.
This delegation of duties between husband and wife was a smart move as the brown-and-beige marble house is probably the smartest home on the street, and the roomy and airy interior has a friendly and inviting aura about it, possibly due to the wood-panelled walls and use of a warm colour palette in the soft furnishings.
“There’s a lot of glass, and one drawback is that there isn’t enough wall space to hang paintings,” Datuk Meer says. What wall space is available is adorned with his collection of favourites: He points to a large painting by Syed Ahmad Jamalin in the foyer, part of a series of four titled Langit Dan Bumi. “I knew the artist personally, and I like this painting as it very much reflects our personality and home as it is bright and colourful.”
An annex of their home houses a function room as well as Datuk Meer’s home office. On the upper floors of the annex are several guest apartments where his sister and their family stay when they visit from the US. His mother-in-law lived with them until she passed away in November 2011 and he recounts the time she was alive and their home was filled with relatives.
“My wife comes from a large family and in the weekends they would all congregate here,” he says. “We had all my nephews and nieces over and they would play football, swim and just hang out, so the house was fully utilised. We are very close as a family and we like having lots of people around.”
At this point, Datin Zarida walks into the living room and greets me graciously. An extremely likeable lady, she worked at Barclays Bank and was ascending the corporate ladder when she gave it up following her marriage. She is now the executive director of Habib Group and managing director of Pandora, the Danish jewellery company known for its charm bracelets, solely distributed by Habib in Malaysia. Her drive and passion for the brand has made it a favourite among the fashion-conscious.
I ask her how she met Datuk Meer and she replies humorously, “Do you want my version or his version?” She proceeds to recall the time when they first laid eyes on each other. “I was a customer and I went to Habib’s first shop in Masjid India in KL to get a ring made. My friend, who happened to be working there, introduced me to Meer. A few days later, I got a call from my friend saying that her boss was asking if I would be kind enough to be in an advertisement for Habib’s first anniversary. My immediate response was ‘If your boss wants me to be in the advert, why is he not calling me himself’?”
Her straightforward approach and no-nonsense attitude made an impression on Datuk Meer as the two soon started dating, and two years later were married. Does Datin Zarida think she’s the luckiest woman in Malaysia, having a jeweller for a husband and everything that sparkles at her disposal?
“A lot our customers have said to me that if they were me, they would come in each morning and select any piece they wanted to wear. But I’ve been in this business for so long, I see this as a job and I take my responsibilities seriously, so I don’t do that,” she says matter-of-factly. She does admit to owning “some very nice pieces”, with diamonds and pearls being her favourite gemstones.
In the end, beautiful jewellery is all about making people happy – that’s how Datuk Meer sees it. “We feel our customers are investing in happiness. People come into a jewellery store for a happy occasion, to celebrate a birthday or a wedding, or to buy a gift for a loved one.” To that end, Datuk Meer and Datin Zarida have definitely succeeded in spreading much joy.
> This article was originally published in Life Inspired, out every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and distributed exclusively with The Sunday Star to selected areas in the Klang Valley.