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ON A restless night 14 years ago, Datuk Dr Alan Wong was having a bout of fitful sleep. "At the time, I was weeks- deep into trying to come up with a new business model that would effectively revolutionise the wellness industry. My body was exhausted but my mind couldn't rest and kept on going," says the social enterprise guru. "And then the idea hit me and I remembered I suddenly sat up in bed, waking my wife up. I told her of my epiphany: that we needed to build a company that will make people mei li le, mei li (Chinese for "beautiful"), jian kang ("healthy"), and kuai le ("happy").
From that moment on in 2002, the organisation that was to become Melilea International boomed. Within a year, revenue went from RM8 million (S$2.65 million) to exceeding RM100 million and distributor strength was at 90,000. And Melilea has continued to grow exponentially through the years, expanding from historical Malacca city to neighbouring Asian countries and beyond, winning global recognition and numerous prestigious industry and enterprise awards along the way.
Today, the business is great, even outpacing its early years. It makes US$100 million a year, with an estimated 1,000,000 entrepreneurs across Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Datuk Wong decided on locating its RM60 million Asia-Pacific headquarters in Kuala Lumpur's burgeoning Bangsar South as a strategy to make Melilea Tower one of the landmark buildings there. In addition to being the sales and customer service centre, the tower offers state-of-the-art personal development and training facilities; a spa and wellness centre; as well as professional nutritionists and beauty consultants on standby to advise and assist in customer queries and more.
Since its inception, Melilea has consistently espoused the philosophy that living an organic way of life can enable everyone to attain natural good health from the inside-out and transform themselves psychologically to achieve success, and lead a fulfilling life.
Melilea's unique proposition is how it combines elements of social enterprise, e-business and elements of social enterprise, e-business and a start-up mentality, with alternative distribution channels such as organic retail outlets, wellness and spa centres, and franchising channels to advocate for its philosophy of health, beauty, success, and happiness. The company ensures its nutritional products meet stringent requirements to be classified as 5-star functional food from farming, cultivation, research and development, production and quality control.
Three foundations enable Melilea to strive towards building a sustainable and perpetual business, says Datuk Wong. "We provide products of the highest quality; a comprehensive operation; with management, education and training system; and a marketing plan that distributes rewards equitably and deservedly."
Melilea's tremendous growth should come as no surprise given Datuk Wong's entrepreneurial history. Growing up in the 1970s in a poor rubber estate in rural Malaysia, he had to deal with countless trials and tribulations.
As he shared classrooms with classmates from far more privileged backgrounds, Datuk Wong sensed, from a young age, the inequities that defined life. "I saw my hardworking foster parents struggling for so many years as rubber tappers, sacrificing their lives for less than RM600. Meanwhile, the management of the large palm oil company they worked for enjoyed huge profits."
After his pre-University exams, Datuk Wong was hooked on network marketing via a friend's referral. "I was excited by how you could start a business without capital." By the age of 19, he had a team of 200 people working with him, and began studying compensation and commission structures - all the while working for an audit firm.
In 1993, Datuk Wong found himself in a dilemma when he partnered a network marketing business in Thailand without any approved products for sale, no business network, and only 370,000 baht (S$14,114) in cash flow. "I was upset, but I decided to stay on," he says. Within three months, he built up a team of 10,000 members. A much delayed cosmetic product finally got approved and the business started to take off. He then expanded it to Indonesia by adding health food and skincare to its product range.
It was almost inevitable that he would arrive at another significant crossroads in his life when he decided to strike out independently, and on his own terms, to focus on organic health food and set up Melilea. Melilea's business philosophy is, for the community and society at large, that anyone, regardless of background, experience, age or education, can start from the same point and build a business through diligence and perseverance.
According to Datuk Wong, the company's business plan and compensation scheme is based on the principles of fairness and transparency. "We will guide and mentor each and every one who wishes to pursue their dream, achieve success and build an extraordinary life." He notes that Melilea's incentive system avoids selling the exponential, get-rich-quick dream that he said some industry counterparts offer. Rather, it distributes profits fairly across different levels to ensure distributors continue to be incentivised.
Melilea's success today is the result of like-minded distributors working together to promote the benefits of an organic lifestyle. "We believe that credibility and integrity is the only way to attract and retain customers," Datuk Wong says.
Melilea has become a vehicle for people to do well in life. "I understand what it means to have no opportunities. We are happy to be able to empower people by providing them a conducive environment and tools to become their own social entrepreneurs."
On top of managing this ever-growing enterprise, apart from supporting StarLadies in women empowerment and development, sponsoring S$50,000 to the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) in the mission of promoting the spirit of giving in Singapore in 2016, as well as volunteering with various non-governmental organisations, Datuk Wong has not forgotten his roots, giving back to society through various initiatives, including spearheading a social housing development project in Malacca aimed at providing affordable housing for lower income families. The development is estimated to be completed in late 2018.
"As we continue to forge ahead, Melilea's corporate foundation must be relevant to people from all levels of society. I believe that it is by transforming lives one at a time, that we will transform the world."