Azman Ahmad and his team of in-house designers have came up with Telaga Walk, Langkawi’s version of an uptown, the popular night shopping outlets like the ones in Damansara, Cheras and Setapak in Kuala Lumpur. PIC BY AHMAD IRHAM MOHD NOOR

If you can convert a cowshed into a landmark food court and retail centre, you must be creative enough to be a game-changer. I met such a person in Langkawi last week.

His name is Azman Ahmad, a low-profile, local-born entrepreneur who is giving this year’s Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima) an added attraction.

He’s not an exhibitor, but his offerings provide a wider dimension to the international maritime and aerospace show.

Langkawi is an island of endless opportunities. If one is prepared to work hard, think creatively and willing to take calculated risks, Langkawi can be the place to achieve your dreams.

In his mid-40s, Azman is taking on challenges that can propel him to another level in the legendary island’s tourism and service industries. If the government is looking for a successful manifestation of its Blue Ocean Strategy, then Azman is a good example.

Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Azman recalled his teens when he told his father that he wanted to be his own boss too, a towkay as he puts it. His father owned and operated the Sandy Beach Motel in Pantai Cenang.

His father told him that there’s no way he could be a towkay without getting his hands dirty first.

So, he was made to learn the ropes by being in charge of the motel’s upkeep, cleaning the tables and doing a host of other manual tasks. This was his apprenticeship under the guidance of his visionary dad.

Sandy Beach Motel has always been popular on the beachfront. In its early days, it cost just RM7 a night at the A-hut chalets. Guests used a common bathroom comprising a well walled by woven coconut leaves.

The motel was upgraded many years ago and Azman is about to embark on another upgrade measure very soon.

In between coffee, he explained his business philosophy.

“My father started the resort in the early 80s. He saw what was coming, that Langkawi would grow and become a tourism favourite. I took the baton from him and this has been truly challenging.

“Many of my family members — uncles, aunties, cousins, in-laws — are in the hospitality and service business.

“They either have their own resorts or restaurants. They are all about the same size and standard — about 2,600 rooms in all.

“I gave the matter a lot of thought and decided to embark on my own Blue Ocean Strategy. I’m upgrading on all fronts. Sandy Beach will be upgraded and its 230 rooms will be reduced to 110, with facilities aimed at a more discerning clientele.

“I’ve also created my own brand. If you come to Langkawi, you can stay at my boutique resort called Telaga Terrace. I have 26 rooms, located just before Meritus Pelangi.

“I’m now building Telaga Villa, another boutique and high-end resort with just 12 rooms. Each villa will have its own swimming pool. Langkawi must move to this kind of tourist facilities. It’s time. We must create the demand.

“I’m confident that people will come and enjoy these facilities. As they say, build and they will come.”

He also owns and operates Telaga Seafood, a restaurant offering five types of food— Arabian, Western, Japanese, Thai and local seafood dishes. A two-piece band playing evergreens lends a relaxing atmosphere at the restaurant, also in Pantai Cenang.

Back to the cowshed. His father used to rear cattle, about 100 of them. The cowshed took a small portion of the 2.4-ha land.

The cattle was given away to friends and the local folk. Azman, with his own team of in-house designers, came up with Telaga Walk — Langkawi’s version of an uptown, the popular night shopping outlet like the ones in Damansara, Cheras and Setapak in Kuala Lumpur.

Telaga Walk is located next to his Telaga Terrace boutique.

He opened a food court, giving 17 young entrepreneurs an opportunity to enter the food business.

Another 50 entrepreneurs were offered retail outlets to sell souvenirs, handicraft and other consumer items.

More than a retail centre, Telaga Walk is Azman’s idea of a campus for young entrepreneurs.

“I’m a very hands-on person when it comes to business. I want them to do well.

“I provide assistance to make sure their bookkeeping is good, their work ethics are sound, and the quality of their food and services are up to the mark,” the father of six said.

Let’s wish Azman well in all his endeavours. Another addition to his array of services is a cruise boat with six cabins for those wanting to go island-hopping in style. The cruise boat will start operating during Lima.

He’s also opening a circus in a few months. While waiting for the full-blown circus to start, he’s bringing acrobats from Russia, the Ukraine and China to entertain the off-Lima crowd.

Ahmad A Talib is the chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia

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