Family Affair: What’s Next For Habib?

Tracing the legacy of the storied jeweller—the past, the present, and the future.

To say that Habib has come a long way would be an understatement. From a humble beginning that traces back to a small workshop on Penang’s Pitt Street, established in 1958, the homegrown jewellery brand has become a luxury powerhouse. Its forward-thinking philosophy has everything to do with it. At a time when gold was every jeweller’s bread and butter, founder Habib Mohamed turned his attention to diamonds.

“My late father didn’t really have a vision, per se, when he started the brand,” said Group Executive Chairman Dato’ Sri Meer Sadik Habib. “He was just making the best out of the business, trying to improve and expand it,” he added. The second-generation jeweller concurred that he shared the same outlook with his father before the changing times matured the brand and his children proposed a more structured strategy.

A well-defined game plan is indeed crucial now that Habib has made its mark in the jewellery scene and is venturing into different territories. There’s the Islamic pawn-broking business Ar-Rahnu Express, the accessible watch enterprise Time Zone, and the artistic arm Habib: Action for Revival of our Traditions Arts (HARTA). That is not counting its other investments in property, hospitality, as well as food and beverage.

“The glue that holds everything together is our sole objective, which is also very the foundation of Habib, to bring our customers happiness,” Meer summarised. “My father used to say that he wanted to be in a business of happiness. He used to work at a post office during the Japanese occupation and nearby there were all these jewellery shops. He noticed that the people who went into the shops always came out happy,” he added.

Having said that, being a family business means being in business with one’s family members, which undoubtedly poses unique challenges. How does one not let it affect the home life? Datin Sri Zarida Noordin, the Group Executive Director and matriarch of the family shed light on the matter. “I have worked with my husband for 34 years and I’ve always placed utmost importance on professionalism when I’m at work,” she said.

Zarida added that it is the same principle she applies to her children. “I’m the disciplinarian at home. So I’d feel the need to school them when they make mistakes, even at the workplace,” she shared. Zarida, however, admitted that the children aren’t too ecstatic about her approach. “Sometimes I forget that they are grownups. I’m still learning to be professional with my children the way I have been with my husband,” she said.

When asked about her strict disposition, Zarida attributed it to her time at Barclays where she spent seven years as a marketing and sales officer. “It taught me a lot about discipline and structure, especially when you are given targets to achieve every month,” she recalled. It was an invaluable experience that she brought with her to Habib where she had to learn the ropes from the ground up, from doing sales and stocktaking to customer service.

Now, similar work ethics are mirrored in her offspring. Mirsham Meer, for instance, is formidable in his position as the Director of HARTA. Split into three components—the museum, the art gallery, and the café—HARTA seeks to preserve and revitalise Malaysian traditions and arts. “There’s a lot that we don’t know as parts of our history are not written down. We only learn about them through word of mouth,” said Mirsham.

“So, this is also an effort to start having these pieces of history properly documented so we can educate the people and not lose those stories,” he shared, adding that it was a learning experience for him too. He, for instance, only recently discovered about the Peranakan jewellery. “This undertaking has allowed me to understand the migration history of Malaysia and the influences from China, India, and many more,” he said.

Providing a platform to Malaysian talents exclusively, HARTA has seen a healthy number of showings by up-and-coming artists since its inception last year. One of the names that should be on everyone’s radar, according to Mirsham, is digital artist Chong Yan Chuah. “I think he is brilliant. His art is very different compared to everything else you can find in Malaysia, from the thinking behind it to the way he displays his art,” he noted.

The launching of HARTA adds the latest—but certainly not the last—feather in Habib’s cap. It is not only a tactical step in diversifying the brand’s portfolio but also an inspired way to keep the Malaysian legacy alive. But regardless of its wide-ranging undertakings, across different segments, Habib promises to stay true to its own identity—to give good value to their uncompromisingly loyal clientele.

Photography: Amani Azlin
Hair and Makeup: Eranthe Loo
Photography Assistant: Saiful Azwan
Location: HARTA Space