Three more minutes, and he had to scoot off to an important meeting. But he waited, and in those final seconds, she walked through the airport gate and Datuk Wira Ameer Ali Mydin was reunited with his wife Datin Dr Siti Hawa. “I gave her a bouquet of flowers, kissed her and pretty much had to leave,” revealed the managing director of Mydin Mohamed Holdings over a round of roti canai and teh tarik.
“I’ve made that trip many times. I always send her off and welcome her back at the airport,” he shared about every time his wife travels overseas, revealing how much affection he shares for his partner.
“A journalist once asked me, ‘What is the most important decision to make as an entrepreneur?’ And I said, ‘Marry the right woman.’” Women have played an integral role in his life, and few men celebrate the women in their lives as unabashedly as he has.
Ameer exudes what he preaches – the human touch. Within minutes of his company, his humble stories of simple love will cut deep into anyone’s heart.
There is nothing superlative about what he does. It’s just some of the most basic things we’ve lost in a desensitised digital world. But not Ameer. His children, wife, mum and siblings are his immediate support structure, and they all live close by, allowing him to stay grounded and do what he does best – serve the community and the people who matter most.
While he leads a simple life, he’s no simpleton. Ameer wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and the fortune that came his way is well-earned and deserving. “There is no such thing as overnight success … (Facebook co-founder) Mark Zuckerberg will be the first to tell you,” asserted the 61-year-old. And he is also a stickler for punctuality, often reminding people, “If you’re on time, that means you’re late.”
He is exceptionally philosophical in how he views success and the route to it, too. “Success is defined by failure. We learn from our mistakes,” he pressed on. “Never read a book about how to become a millionaire. Read the book about how someone failed to become a millionaire,” he added, driving that point home.
He should know best after all, starting a modest shop with little resource and throwing away a handsomely paying bank job when he opened his first store on Jalan Masjid India in 1987 (the first Mydin in the Klang Valley), an off-shoot of his dad’s business, a single store set up in Kota Baru in 1957 (thus, marking Mydin’s 60th anniversary this year).
“I thought to myself. Open a shop. What could happen? I won’t die. My wife was a government servant, and her salary paid the bills … housing loan and car,” he said, recalling the classic Datsun 120Y family car of the 1970s. “You must have something to fall back on, have a safety net,” he said, explaining the responsibility involved in being parents.
Ameer is a risk taker, but of the calculated persuasion, “Opening the first shop was the plan. Then, to open a bigger shop. Life is like that. You never move from a terrace house into a bungalow,” he said, sharing his modest outlook.
Today, the hypermarket has 322 outlets nationwide, including a premium store and restaurant, and nothing came easy. The experience of living in the heart of the city’s golden triangle is still fresh in his memory. “2707 Malayan Mansion, that was our address.”
Many life lessons were, in essence, learnt growing up in his home state, Kelantan. “Kelantanese people are very entrepreneurial. In fact, it’s the women who are mostly like that. Go to any market, or see the traders … they are mostly women,” he said, breaking down the social structure there.
That matriarchal respect is something deeply ingrained in him, seeing the frequency at which he sees his mother.
“She lives one floor below me. So I see her every day,” he said, describing the layout in their apartment. And it’s from that wellspring of her affection that Ameer is able to draw from and extend his belief in the human touch.
“Everything has a cycle, and it will return in online business,” he said, intimating a return to old, but essential ways.
He has laid bricks upon stones and built an empire, yet he has little time to romanticise the notion of heroes. To him, education played an integral role in shaping his sense of commerce.
Ameer comes from a solidly educated generation, and he is only too proud to be part of it: “It was a big deal back then,” he revealed, confirming his entrance into Western Michigan University in 1975, giving way to the old adage of the underdog coming up tops. That’s exactly it though, isn’t it? Dark horses never forget their roots … in most instances in life, anyway.
And that’s probably how his sense of humility has guided him into living a life without delusions, with a mere basic need – love. An unbreakable family bond keeps the brood tightly-knit, and Ameer thrives on that, he’ll be the first to admit.