#IntiFMidol: Mr. Lee Thiam Wah

Evanna Phoon

#IntiFMIdol is a project initiated by FounderMethod to promote 15 physically challenged entrepreneurs in Malaysia & is 100% a Malaysian Made Production by 70 Gen Ys from Inti Diploma of Mass Communication

As a proud Malaysian, I hope that you make full use of #IntiFMIdol Stories as your motivational communication to your sales force, staffs, colleagues, friends & loved ones.

Thank You in Advance ....

Evanna Phoon, www.FounderMethod.com

Click on Above to share #IntiFMIdol Story of Mr. Lee Thiam Wah

Hmmm, I tried to Google YOUTUBE "Story of 99 Speedmart" or "Lee Thiam Wah" but no video documentary. We are happy that FounderMethod website is the ONE and ONLY producer of video documentary of Mr Lee to share with the community 😀 ... Happy Viewing & Reading Mr Lee's Story

Here is the story of #IntiFMIdol Mr. Lee Thiam Wah

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Of Kings and Fortresses

The boy was seven years old, and he was carried on backs for six consecutive years. Sometimes a man would carry him, sometimes a woman, but they'd both take him to the same place - school. No rants. No complaints. Just a mere shower of love.

Coming from a family of fourteen siblings, he was fourth eldest in the family. He was diagnosed of suffering poliomyelitis, an infantile paralysis after a high fever when he was 8 months old.

But his family never gave up treatment, and tried everything scientifically and superstitiously possible to cure the disease. At the age of six, with the help of his grandparents and relatives, he travelled all the way to Guang Zhou for an acupuncture treatment. Although optimistic, the treatment never fruited positive improvements. Soon after the trip, they accepted what fate had decided.

The Forbes magazine called him the king of mini marts but the boy politely shunned it. In fact for a king per say, he had a fortress too cramped to live in.

Mr. Lee in his wheelchair

Mr. Lee in his wheelchair

The merchants waited at the lobby to close business deals it seemed. The kingdom was well run; the purchase division had servants walking in and out of it, busy day for the empire we presumed as we hogged up the administrating fortress with our "out-of-the-blues" arrival.

Invited to the third floor, we then proceeded to the lifts with our equipment. Nonetheless, we were a tad bit shy and unfamiliar with the environment. We were given a decent royal conference room to conduct the interview. The setup was required immediately so that we didn't have to keep the busy king waiting. Unfortunately, his wheelchairs were already in motion five minutes after our tripods even close to standing. Before we knew it, his majesty appeared before us.

“The interview is in Chinese right?” he asked in a humble, friendly tone with a benevolent smile on his face.

And for that exact second, we knew he was more than a king. He was a humble leader, he was still that boy at the age of seven. A fighter, waiting to inspire countless hearts out there. His name was Mr. Lee Thiam Wah, Managing Director and founder of the famous 99 Speedmart, the "King of Mini-Marts".

Don’t Call Me a King

He gently shook his head and responded in a soft and down-to-earth voice, “They’re just exaggerating.”

"It’s an unhealthy notion I see the Malaysian print media agencies practice," he commented. "They take a particular individual who has stellar achievements in a peculiar industry, and then brand him or her as the best. That's not appropriate."

Lee, currently fifty, runs the "99 Speedmart" business across four states, namely Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Sabah. Since the foundation of Lee's first traditional "mom and pop" sundry mart - Pasar Raya Hiap Hoe, the development of "99 Speedmart" has witnessed vast upgrades and still continues to expand today.

"We've come a long way, but our outlets are only spread across 4 states. There is still a lot of space for improvement," Lee said. "So to be frank. I'm not being humble, but I really don't deserve to be addressed as king, as of now."

Today, 99 Speedmart runs on three distribution centres, with an additional one looking to be constructed at Sungai Buaya. This is part of Lee's initiatives to further enhance 99 Speedmart's business performance, by ensuring sufficient stock supplies for outlets up on the Southern region of Selangor.


You could learn one thing from Mr. Lee, we call it - "acceptance".

"When we returned from Guangzhou, my conditions, weren't improving, and sometime after that we started to accept it and get ourselves used to what fate had decided for us." Lee confessed with a tad bit of contempt.

Lee's academic qualification only mount up to primary school education. He stopped right after graduating from primary school because it was plain impossible for him to continue secondary education.

"I went to primary school with my family members carrying me on my back, but it was still okay for me and my family.

During the interview


"Secondary school however was a different story because the school was far away from home and we had to travel through rough bumpy mountain paths. We couldn't afford transportation to do that," he further explained expressing a pinch of disappointment in the tune of his voice. "So instead, I studied on my own at home by reading any book I can access to."

Today, Lee still dreams of taking up educational courses and programs to compensate what may be an irreplaceable part of his life, despite his position in life. He realizes that as 99 Speedmart grows, his responsibilities and roles also grow. He frets not however, because to him, life itself can be a form of education.

"It’s a loss in life for me, and I definitely have had the thought of making it up for myself throughout the past few years, but I realize that my position in the company is significant. I need to be thinking straight and focused. I don't want my dreams to end up distracting me.

"Besides, learning in life can be done in many ways, coming to realize and comprehend certain things in life for instance, is learning." Lee continued to state, as if it was no big deal to not have a proper education, because life itself to him is an education.

The Perks of Buying and Selling

He wasn't naturally born a businessman, but he feels that it’s an extremely easy thing to do. He started off the habit at the age of 13, right after graduating from primary school. Given the ample free time he had, he single-handedly managed the “purchase of stocks” and of course the “sales” of his ant-sized business.

“I sold little tit-bits of snacks, from sweets to ‘kuacis’ and peanuts,” he listed the items out. “Back then, you could easily get a packet of sweets for probably 50 cents, so I invested in those items with my 'Ang Pau' savings." he told us.

Mr. Lee said that ever since, it was the only thing he would do for a living - buy and sell. He never did look for another job, knowing it was a natural obstacle as his grandmother had already told him, but also because of a blame he placed on his own shoulders. Ashamed.

"'Your physical loss won't entitle you to get a dispatch job, your lack of knowledge isn't going to get you a clerk's position either, so how are you going to take care of yourself?' my grandmother asked me," he revealed, and then completed the reply with a bit of shame. "I never looked for a job despite that, and frankly I was taking for granted the love my family showered on me."

It was an absolute turn down for us as it was never within our expectations that the man had that attitude as a start. His habit of buying and selling, was not to share the economic hardship the Lee family had to shove down their throat; it was his grandmother's words, and all that free time he had that granted him a passport to business. But he changed our thoughts as the course of the interview changed.

"I never dreamed of expanding the business, or rather that habit at first. But opening up my first sundry mart was an eye-opener for me," he continued explaining. "From the on, I realized I had what it takes to be a businessmen, I knew that nothing was impossible as long as you're willing to give it your all."

But his answers didn't seem to relate well with the clichéd phrase 'nothing is impossible'. What he did for a living, felt more like cutting a cake. It was easy to him. Explaining why he knew he had what it takes.

"It’s so simple, there's nothing sophisticated to it, you just buy and sell. You earn profit by adjusting the selling price, increasing the price would give you more revenue but if the price is simply unreasonable, you lower it and sell more" he told us what obviously made sense. "Besides, I just had a stall back then, not a big business. It was easy to manage. You'd probably make RM 3 day."

Previously, buying and selling was literally just child's play, a mere source of income. He told us how he never pictured himself to be where he is. But the sundry mart changed the course of his life, the landscape of his future. The sundry mart were like thrusters, aerodynamically pushing Lee to go that extra mile and do more but maintain the same routine - buy and sell but on a bigger scale.

Building Hiap Hoe

13 years old and he made RM 3 per day. We weren't convinced that Hiap Hoe Sdn Bhd, Lee's first sundry mart was built on a total fund of RM 17,000, accumulated throughout the years of his daily 3 ringgit. It appeared miraculous to us all, but Hiap Hoe, Lee's thrusters were constructed based on Lee's own effort, ringgit by ringgit, day by day.

"If you do business you'll realize that making a few thousand bucks is actually achievable within a short period of time, so it’s not anything miraculous at all.” Lee continued to clarify without forgetting to credit his family who of course provided the necessary financial support, partially.

Front view of Mr. Lee

Front view of Mr. Lee

But the establishment of Hiap Hoe wasn’t the point. The spotlight was on how Lee initially felt about Hiap Hoe, they were thrusters, engineered by Lee’s bare hands. To him, RM 17,000 wasn’t a lot.

“It took me so long to fund that, and when I finally had it all I could open was a sundry mart, don’t you think it’s an unworthy start?” he asked us instead when he was supposed explain why he genuinely felt so. But when he did, we gradually comprehended his ideals and principles, that you can always be a better.

“The sundry mart was crude. It lacked facilities, infrastructure, and product choices. That’s all you can invest in with RM 17,000? It took me 10 years to establish an ugly start, you know what I’m saying?” he gave us some food for thought and then unveiled more details.

“I remodelled the business, upgrading it and thus opening up my first mini-mart in 1992. I was 23, but I knew I couldn’t be stuck with just one mini-mart forever.” he told us, and continued. “The only way I could think of that would enhance the figure of my profit, was having multiple outlets, so I constructed a chain of integrated mini-marts, which networks throughout the Klang Valley.”

Today, Hiap Hoe is 99 Speedmart, running on 9 departments and everyone is attracted by that aura that Lee omits, as admitted by Mr. Yong Eng Kwang, Lee's primary wingman. "I've been working as a branch leader since 2006. 8 years in the company and I never left, and I believe everyone in the company will respect him for being so hardworking."

Mr. Yong currently holds the position of Branch Operations Manager, he oversees the branches and of 99 Speedmart ensuring the smooth operations of each outlet. It seemed that Lee was a role model to him, he wanted to be just like him. Rising up from hardship and fighting without a halt in life.

Wheelchair Philosophy

            It hit us hard halfway through the interview, at a certain point when Mr. Lee revealed how every single hardship we felt sympathetic for him to have to go through in his past, didn’t constitute a tough life for him. We were impressed. It was sheer determination and persistence that gave him the will to move on.

According to statistics by the Malaysian Department of Social Welfare, a total of 445,006 Malaysians have been officially registered as disabled individuals on a voluntary basis, this means that there could be more of the community lurking in the corners of streets seeking for assistance from society.

Despite the efforts of the Malaysian government to enact laws like the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 to provide them social protection and healthcare. The incomplete enforcement of the legislation is still unable to help the Malaysian disabled community to fully live independently, according to the Malaysian Independent Learning and Training Center

Although rarely insulted or made fun of, it appeared as though even if there were such cases, the man would have no hate nor frustration. Growing throughout the years with Hiap Hoe and 99 Speedmart, Mr. Lee right now feels that he made the right decision back then to move on.

"I don't blame fate, and I don’t think what I went through were considered hardships and suffering. My leg dysfunction, if metaphorically described are really just punctured tyres," he tried to put his words together, so that the metaphor would be complete, the continued. "You just need to replace new tyres. So if I could get myself a wheelchair, shouldn’t I move on and be like everyone else? Work hard, study hard, gain knowledge like every equal being? Giving up because it was suffering just doesn't make sense to me.

"Imagine this. If you hike halfway through the journey to the peak of a mountain, you're tired and exhausted. You feel suffocated and stop, longing for comfort and compassion. Do you think you'll reach that peak?"

Lee's philosophy suggested that if a person stops when he's tired and thinks he's gone through enough, he's never going to reach for additional heights. He's never going to exceed benchmarks and achieve more and his attitude definitely does not deserve compassion, encouragement neither sympathy.

"Forget the suffering. It’s only temporary. Brace yourselves, pull through and you'll be where you deserve to be," he told us. "Don't confine yourself within negativity. Learn to see the good, learn to remember the good that people do for you."

And that was the philosophy of a wheelchair fighter.

So Why do We Give Up?

So we were curious, were the hard times back then comparable to what Gen-y's today encounter face to face? Being a part of a generation that has been repeatedly referred to as a bunch of spoiled brats and teenagers that easily give up, how exactly do we thrive to survive this era of economic recession, skyrocketing property prices and constantly inflating economy when so much among us have fallen victim to unemployment and bankruptcy?

Here's what Lee had to share with us as an enlightenment.

"Your eagerness to success will be a pitfall." he told us. Lee pointed out that "there's only one Bill Gates" that will ever be existence the archives our history. Often the world depicts zillions of individuals with stories of success to share to young enthusiastic people. The original purpose is that these examples will serve as role models, ideally. But Lee thinks not.

"I feel that we have an abundance of role models, so much that instead of inspiring people, teenagers become eager to be just like them, they begin to look for cheats and shortcuts to success when there really aren’t any." he opined.

He feels that what lacks in young people is often that niche of patience. He asserts based on his own observations of young individuals who have been involved in direct sales. He said, "They earn a few chunks of cash, then the next thing you know they spend it on grand cars and glamorous outfits.

"Progress gradually, step by step, day by day and you'll attain the deserved results. Be patient and confident with what you're doing. Be the best in your field. Don't establish unrealistic dreams, set achievable goals instead and when you're ready, reach for the stars and your dreams." the man stressed once again.

Perfect Imperfection.

99 Speedmart was numbered after 99 not because that's how "speedy" its service is, but simply because Mr. Lee refusal to believe in 100 percent perfections.

 "No one is perfect. So if you scale things at 99 percent, there's always that additional 1 percent of space for improvement. If you're always perfect, will you not stop improving?" he asked us in return.

Mr. Lee himself is a perfect example of a perfect imperfection. He accepted the misfortune casted upon him to forever sit on a wheelchair. It was an imperfection, but he never lost the conviction to strive for perfection. He just gradually made it, an effort and a step at a time. Now as he looks back in life, the footsteps he's carved on pavements, he tells us he has no regrets.

His imperfection lies within many things - his physical loss and his loss of secondary education. But he never lost faith. Most significantly, he never blamed fate and never once felt that life was difficult. Reflecting upon ourselves, what seemed to be a challenging and difficult college life to us, instantaneously changed from being a jungle adventure to a merry-go-round ride.

His story is a lesson worth everyone to learn in life, because if a man on a wheelchair never gave up, who are we to give up?

Group photo at 99 Speedmart.

Group photo at 99 Speedmart. withh Mrs Lee , 4th from left back


Video Production & Article Write Up is by Group #2 Gen Y 

Students of Group #2 with Ms. Evanna Phoon (far left) during Mid-Checkpoint discussion & review session


- Wong Yu Han

- Fong-Vlatseas Sue Lin

- Cheng Ee Tong

- Sylvia Wong Shealeen

- Chiah Jing Wen





Thoughts From students of Group #2 of #IntiFMIdol Project

Evanna Phoon: Being only a Diploma Students, I must say you all did a fantastic job to document Mr Lee, what are your thoughts about #IntiFMIdol Project ?

Group #2 Students: Honestly speaking, from what we've been through these few months, nothing was easy.

Firstly we faced difficulties getting our interviewee. We had to find our interviewee among 15 groups and two groups has the same interviewee as us. Due to the fact that Mr. Lee does not have an email address, we had to contact him through his secretary and send our formal letters through a fax machine. Secondly, getting the interview was also a very difficult task, as Mr. Lee is a very busy man. We had to make sure our study timing does not clash with Mr. Lee's availability as he often goes out station. Next, would be gathering all our busy group members for discussions and by travelling a considerable distance for every interview. Then, trying to come up with fresh ideas for our video is one of the difficulties we faced, as we would not want our video to look the same and have the same feelings as other motivational videos. Last but not least, our time constraint. This is when our tasks clashes with other assignments.

Some of us didn't go into the interview expecting to be heavily inspired. While some of us were feeling excited about how things would go.

After this project, we've learnt a lot about humility, determination and to always have enough will to strive for what we want.

We've also learnt that teamwork is very important because even a little, everybody plays a big role in the entire assignment. From the entrepreneur however, we've learnt to not linger on our petty problems and to view things on a bigger picture. Things aren't as difficult as we all like to make it seem. Take a problem one step at a time and problems can be overcome. Don't get too caught up with your own emotions. With hard work and perseverance, everything can be achieved.

Picture going to a hawker center with your family. A couple of individuals approaching you in their wheelchairs and asking for donations. And then there are those of us who graduate with a college degree, and go into society directionless and possess no motivation to move on in life.

Why do we give up? Why do we give in to such circumstances. Look at Mr. Lee and think again, I believe we will all find our own answers.

Click on Above to share #IntiFMIdol Story of  Mr. Lee Thiam Wah




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