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Who Is Lee Thiam Wah – The Man Behind 99 Speedmart?

Who Is Lee Thiam Wah – The Man Behind 99 Speedmart?

The ‘King Of Mini-Marts’ has now expanded his interest, becoming the largest shareholder of Alliance Bank.

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There is one shop that many Malaysians, whether in big cities or small towns are familiar with and we’re not talking about 7-Eleven.

99 Speedmart is where many of us go for our daily essentials, available in many townships or residential areas.

However, perhaps many of us do not know the man behind 99 Speedmart, Lee Thiam Wah, who has helped make our lives a bit easier when it comes to grocery shopping.

Who is Lee Thiam Wah?

Lee was born in 1954 and has 11 brothers. Lee’s dad was a construction worker while his mother was a street food vendor. 

Lee’s world changed forever 8 months after he was born, when he was diagnosed with Poliomyelitis, which is a disease caused by the poliovirus resulting in him being confined to a wheelchair.

Lee’s formal education was limited to six years of primary school as that was all his parents could afford at the time. However, that did not stop him from becoming a successful businessman.

In a report by Forbes, Lee kept busy by borrowing books from his neighbours.

Lim also spends a lot of time with his paternal grandmother who was always encouraging him saying things like you are only physically disabled, but your mental ability is still perfect.

Start of his career 

At the age of 14, Lee started selling snacks outside his house in Jalan Kampar, Klang. 

At the age of 23, he had saved up RM17,000 and used it to open his first grocery store named Pasar Raya Hiap Hoe. 

Before there was 99 Speedmart, it started with Pasar Raya Hiap Hoe.

He told Forbes that through the retail business, he learned what the customers wanted, and he also learned about suppliers and their pricing. 

He also had the opportunity to learn in-depth about his competitors. 

Birth of 99 Speedmart

In 1992, Lee sold his grocery store for RM88,000 and opened a mini-mart. He wanted to challenge himself by running a bigger business. 

In 1999, he changed the name of the store to 99 Speedmart.

He said he had to sacrifice margins on some products to sell at the lowest price and to gain market share. This in return built up the store’s reputation.

Growth of 99 Speedmart

The store’s first headquarters was built in October 2002. The 80,000-square-foot warehouse is a fully-equipped building with centralised stacking, storage, and warehousing services.

In July 2008, the second distribution centre was completed. It was created to allow the chain to continuously offer new and cutting-edge goods and services while growing its network of small markets around the country.

Since then, they have opened up to 10 distribution centres. 

99 Speedmart also received the Consumer Choice Award from 2006 to 2009 and in 2012.

This accomplishment proves that 99 Speedmart’s near-and-save marketing strategy works.

Until November 2021, 99 Speedmart mini markets have opened more than 2,000 branches around Malaysia.

Lee also managed to grow his business internationally with the opening of the first 99 Speedmart in Singapore at 110 Sims Avenue in the year 2019. 

Most recently, Lee emerged as the major shareholder in Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd, with a 5.076 per cent stake.

Lee is the third largest shareholder of Alliance Bank after Vertical Theme Sdn Bhd’s 29.06 per cent and the Employee Provident Fund’s (EPF) 10.5 per cent.

Lee is a fine example of how you should never let your physical disabilities stand in the way of achieving your dreams. 

READ MORE: 99 Speedmart Founder Is Now Alliance Bank Major Shareholder


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