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Barkath Group, a tale of perseverance and sacrifice

Barkath Group, a tale of perseverance and sacrifice
A file photo of Barkath Stores in Union Street, Penang in the 1950s. - BERNAMApic
KUALA LUMPUR: Perseverance, futuristic thinking and strong customer-centric attitude are what make Barkath Group a success story, for an establishment which courted triumph since the pre-Merdeka era.

The hardship and sacrifices endured by its founder, Abu Backer Mohd Hussain, in carrying on the business since 1940 and throughout the Second World War, even after his partners had left, have put Barkath on record as among the few truly Malaysian companies born before Merdeka to stand the test of time.

Through sheer grit and sound business decisions, the Barkath stores, which started as a small sundry shop in Union Street, Penang, began to flourish after the global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945.

Abu Backer invested wisely with his sundry shop profit and soon, started to set up branches in Butterworth, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Bharu and Singapore.

The business outfit, synonym with two of its highly-acclaimed products – herbally-medicated cough drops 'Hacks' and squash concentrate 'Sunquick' – survived the ordeals of time to remain part of the country's economic development.

Perseverance and sacrifices again demanded the founder's eldest son, Barkath Ali (now Datuk Seri), being forced to take over the business at the young age of 24 following the demise of his father in 1975.

In an exclusive interview with Bernama, Group chairman/CEO, Datuk Seri Barkath Ali, 65, said he could easily chose a path to become an engineer or a doctor but instead got to sacrifice himself to continue his father's business legacy.

Sacrificing his childhood ambition in order to continue with the legacy and products' brand, Barkath Ali was sent to United Kingdom instead to study the management and the science of the medicated drops.

Hacks cough drops are made from a traditional English recipe that contains a unique blend of herbal extracts for the relief of coughs and sore throats.
As his siblings were still small, Barkath Ali said, he took the trust and helm of the company and perseveringly tried his best to steer it, with the help of relatives and his late father's friends.

Today, Barkath Ali has developed Barkath Group into a business empire in food distribution and manufacturing.

Sweets anyone? A Hacks van distributing free sweets at an entertainment centre in Penang in the 1960s. - BERNAMApic
The family business empire expanded and now after 76 years, the group's main products – Hacks sweets remain sought-after while Sunquick remains as one of the most popular and leading squash concentrates in Malaysia.

Both Hacks and Sunquick continue its sentimental attachment to the majority of Malaysians.

Barkath Ali humbly attributed the success of Barkath, which in Arabic means 'bless', to his father's futuristic thinking in securing the international trademark deal after Malaya's Merdeka, as he was confident of the new country's economic potentials.

In the mid-1960's, Barkath Ali said, his father, the enterprising man with great foresight, obtained manufacturing rights from the original makers of Hacks sweets, White Hudson Pte Ltd in UK, and set up a manufacturing base in Mak Mandin, Penang.

"Over RM5 million was initially paid for Hacks and at that time such an amount was very big!

"Then in 1965, he negotiated with the Danish for a licence to produce Sunquick product locally," he said.

An agreement was reached in the 1970s to produce Sunquick concentrates locally with Co-Ro Food A/S of Denmark.

The manufacturer and distributor of the evergreen products today has 500 employees.

Queen Elizabeth stopping by at the Hacks pavilion during an official visit to Penang in the 1960s. - BERNAMApic
From its humble beginnings, Barkath Group has grown to become an entity comprising 22 companies engaged in a diverse range of activities, which include manufacturing, trading, licensing, commission agents, construction, management consulting in the food industry, plantations and investments.

Besides Hacks and Sunquick, which are undergoing an innovation phase, Barkath has 30 other products with innovation continuously being an embedded culture in the company.

"We now offer a range of fruit-flavoured Hacks and had just introduced gold series of Sunquick (during the recent Aidilfitri) on top of the classic concentrates. Soon we will announce other new exciting innovations," he said.

He said the customer-centric attitude, a leading example by the founder, was still in practice by the group.

Barkath Ali said his father, Abu Backer, who came from South India to Malaya in 1929 at the age of 14, was a determined person to succeed and he had worked hard to realise today's dream.

"My father will deliver every promise. He had a special motto "We Serve You Wherever You Are" and would deliver even the smallest of items to the customer's doorstep, and the tagline is now part of a culture that we always strive to fulfil in our business operation.

"Today, we can say that we are able to stay in this competitive business by emulating his practices and by maintaining our quality and branding," he said.

On every Aug 31st since 1957, every time the Jalur Gemilang was hoisted, parades held and the shouts of 'Merdeka' reverberated, Barkath Ali said, the mood energised him to continue taking part in nation-building, economically and socially.

"Barkath is involved in many corporate social responsibility programmes and gave back part of its success to the public. The fact that Hacks in Malaysia are being offered in many flavours, showed how 'Merdeka' we are to create things according to our local taste.

"After many years of silence, the group had recently started to invest locally to transform with the time and technologies. We are regenerating our two plants in Penang to incorporate more automation for expansion in this lovely country and to remain competitive.

"Watch out for more new exciting products from us," he said.

Besides Hacks and Sunquick, the Barkath Group is also a manufacturer of food products under the brand names Kings, Classfoods and Sarina, which are gaining popularity in the market.