If you want to see the heart of Singapore, direct your taxi past the iconic Marina Bay Sands and leave behind the gleaming skyscrapers to get into the centre of the island state and onto Syed Alwi Road – a bustling narrow lane brimming with shops, hawkers and pedestrians all congregating to enter Mustafa Center.

From gold necklaces to netball knee-guards, Mustafa Centre sells everything all the time and is the brainchild of a single industrious man: Mustaq Ahmad. Sprawled across 24,000 square meters, over 500,000 types of products and 1,900 employees available 24 hours a day for every day of the year – this is a shopping experience unlike any other in the world.

Mustaq is listed as one of the richest people in the ultra-wealthy Singapore city. But he started in one of the poorest states in India’s sub-continent. Born on June 8, 1951 in Uttar Pradesh –Mustaq moved to Singapore at the young age of six to be with his father, after the death of his mother.

His immigrant father, Haji Mohamed Mustafa, ran a pushcart business selling bread and tea. Young Mustaq would learn the ins and outs of running a business from helping his father, a lesson that would serve him well: diversifying.

With his keen business sense -16 year old Mustaq persuaded his father and they moved from food to garments, setting up a second stall selling handkerchiefs next to his father’s. Their road-side stall quickly became a 500-square-foot apparel shop on Campbell Lane. Established in 1971, it was named after Mustaq's father and uncle, ‘Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin’ which was the beginning of a shopping empire.

A decade later, the family business expanded further – to a larger rented space within a plaza down Serangoon Road. Again, Mustaq leveraged on his strength of diversifying by further expanding his product catalogue to include home appliances and perhaps more importantly – taking a bold break away from bargaining by insisting on a fixed but affordable price for his products. A risky move in a culture that prides itself on bargain-hunting, but Mustaq understood: his customers were keen to save time and if they could buy it cheap and fast, they would be convinced.  He was right.

The city then interrupted his success story.

Following the government’s announcement that the building his store was housed in was slated for conservation – Mustaq saw his rent shoot up by 70 percent. A staggering increase that would have crippled most entrepreneurs but for Mustaq, it was a day that went on to become the pivotal moment in his business growth.

Facing this enormous rent, he made the decision that it was time Mustafa Centre stopped paying rent and moved into a space of twenty shop houses where he built Mustafa centre, with a 130-room hotel at a cost of $45 million. His 75,000 square feet department store in 1995 had a supermarket, a jewellery store, money-changers, cosmetic counters, pharmacies, sporting goods, furniture, appliances and garments.

In 2003, he added to that impressive list - which was the one thing that defined his store’s attraction: open 24 hours. A branch at Serangoon Plaza was also re-opened a year after, which conjointly brings in an annual turnover of $302 million altogether.

At Tokio-Marine, we understand and appreciate the days that build success stories. If you’re starting or running a business, speak to us to find out how our understanding can help your success better. 

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