Influencers: auei teras holding Rita Sarbani Ismail, president and ceo

The property development industry is a tough, male dominated industry. However, Rita Sarbani Ismail, fueled by her passion, isn’t deterred by the boundaries and challenges. She founded her own property development company, AUEI Teras Holdings in 2005, and has been at the helm of the company ever since, steering its direction towards success.

AUEI Teras was awarded the High Performing Bumiputera Companies (TERAS) status, a programme that was established by the Malaysian Government’s Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit (TERAJU) to identify and encourage bumiputera companies to penetrate the domestic and global market over a 5 to 10-year timeframe.

Rita knew from the start that her goal is to be as successful as she can be, and that has been her mantra ever since. Having both short term and long term plans ensure that the company can expand progressively. It is very important for property developers to keep strengthening their positions in the market, and for AUEI Teras, this was done through strong branding, and the drive to always be one step ahead. AUEI Teras is always about creating new environment, and offering something different to the market, like Bazaar Dragon Hypermart, a themed bazaar in Kok Lanas.

How it all started

Hailing from a family of strong women, Rita has always been passionate about having her own business, particularly in the property development sector, an influence she got from her mother, the late Rogayah Che Mat who was one of the biggest developers in Kelantan back in the 80s.

Property development – typically associated with higher potential returns due to the high risk it poses – is a very challenging sector. Not everyone is able to do it and it is more challenging for a woman, mostly because they are so often underestimated and perhaps because they have more roles to juggle. But her mother did it, so she took on the challenge. “Perhaps it’s in my blood,” Rita quipped.

A great leader is one who is able to inspire and develop others to also become successful like him. This is a much greater achievement anyone could achieve.

 

Getting funds is also a challenge. “One of the key requirements in this sector is having the capital or funding, and the amount is not small, especially if you want to go for the big projects, as they require capital of over RM10 million. So you have no choice but to obtain funding from financial institutions if you want it quickly.” Thanks to a nine year career as a corporate investment banker, Rita is able to communicate with banks with their own terminologies and this has eased her relationship with them.

For instance, in 2017, RHB Islamic Bank approved an amount of RM17.75 million to partly finance AUEI Teras’ project to develop 1,264 units of affordable residential units under Ministry of Housing and Local Government in Kubang Kerian, Kota Bharu, Kelantan.

The approval for the development from Majlis Perbandaran Kota Bharu-Bandar Raya Islam (MPKB-BRI) was received in the 2nd quarter of 2018, the project is now in progress.

In fact, AUEI Teras has received more than 1,300 applications from the homebuyers to purchase their housing units, and the first phase of the project is expected to be completed in early 2022 and the second phase in 2023.

Thanks to Rita’s leadership, AUEI Teras has won a number of awards and accolades. These include being named as an Exemplary Bumiputera Company among TERAS companies in 2017. Rita herself has also won recognition as a business leader, and has been invited to speak on the topic of entrepreneurship in a number of forums. One such event was the “Driving the Bumiputera Agenda” event on 18 April 2017, which was organised by the Prime Minister’s Department.

Also, as a proud oghe Kelate (Kelantanese), Rita is a firm believer in the entrepreneurial spirit of the people in the state. As such, during the “Congress on the Future of the Bumiputera and Nation” event, she urged Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed to improve the infrastructure of Kelantan in order to boost economic activity there. No doubt, AUEI Teras’ construction and development work are contributing to that goal.

Learning from the Best

Even with all the milestones AUEI Teras has reached, Rita is still not satisfied. She already has plans for AUEI Teras for the next 5 years, and she is ready to take on more challenges that may come. “Entrepreneurship is something that is very challenging but the victory is very sweet,” she said. For anyone who wishes to become an entrepreneur, the most important thing to do before anything else is to be prepared with required knowledge and skills in the field that they wish to embark on.

They have to know the basic entrepreneurial knowledge such as managing cash flow, basic accounting knowledge, preparing business plan as well as marketing & interpersonal skills. Of course, as the business grows they can hire staff or professionals to take care of those, but in the beginning it is important to be equipped with those if they want to go far.

She strongly believes a lot of new entrepreneurs will be able to benefit if from being able to tap into the knowledge and learn from the experience of the already successful entrepreneurs. “I like to call these successful entrepreneurs “Mentors”. Obviously the mentor must be willing to develop and teach the new entrepreneur. A great leader is one who is able to inspire and develop others to also become successful like him. This is a much greater achievement anyone could achieve,” Rita said.

AUEI Global Vendors

Rita wishes to see more individuals, women especially, becoming as successful, if not more. “There are so many avenues for women to succeed, given the right platform and sufficient support,” said Rita.

Therefore, to pass on her knowledge, as the Chairman for Global Women Entrepreneurs Association of Malaysia (PUWGM), Rita has brought AUEI Teras together as a part of their CSR initiative in a collaboration to come up with an interesting programme for 2019 that aims to develop entrepreneurs through a mentoring program. Called “AUEI Global Vendors”, the programme is fully funded by AUEI Teras and is based on mentoring and coaching of the upcoming entrepreneurs within AUEI Group and members of PUWGM. The mentoring and coaching shall be for a certain period of time, between 2 to 3 years and the period may differ from one entrepreneur to another.

The first phase of the mentoring program is basically preparing these selected entrepreneurs with the basic entrepreneurial skills. Next, they will be tested with real-life scenarios in the industry that they wish to undertake while being monitored for a certain period of time. According to Rita, “Some people do have the attributes to become great entrepreneurs but some may not be as resilient”. It is during this monitoring stage that only those who succeed will be selected to be groomed further until they achieve success.

The second phase of the program allows the selected entrepreneurs to tap into AUEI Teras’ existing network overseas such as in Indonesia, China, UK and USA to enhance their business. There will also business matching events held under this mentoring & coaching programme, one being an annual global business matching between the entrepreneurs with their global network. The first one will be known as “AyMin – SUN AUEI GLOBAL BUSINESS MATCHING” and will be held in Kota Bharu sometimes in September this year. AUEI Teras also plans to organise the event in Yiwoo or Xian, China.

Rita hopes that 10-20 successful business leaders will be created out of this programme. “This is the kind of exposure that is really important for our new generation of entrepreneurs,” she said.

Aside from helping to develop the skills of women entrepreneurs, AUEI Teras and Rita are enhancing the future generation through its subsidiary the Astonians International College of Skill and Technology. This is a vocational college located in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, and offers courses in several areas such as mechanics and dressmaking.

What keeps me going on is my resilience. Knowing that so many people are depending on me, I always remind myself to never give up and to always believe in myself.

 

Rita Sarbani is one of the success stories out there, proving women can do whatever they put their minds to. As she said, the hardest thing to deal with for an entrepreneur is uncertainty. But with proper planning and enough knowledge, you will be brave enough to make the leap of faith, and you will succeed.

 

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