(File pix) Chong Fah Ming (left) with son Chong Tze Liang and daughter Ivy Chong with the array of AFI-brand brake pads and shoes at his factory in Gong Badak, Terengganu. Pix by Adrian David

KUALA TERENGGANU: He may have been a high school dropout at 15 but Chong Fah Ming proved that dedication and hard work can make all the difference.

Better known as S.P. (for Syarikat Perniagaan) Chong, he is now deemed the ‘brake master’ in the country with his AFI brand of integrated, motor vehicle disc-brake pads, shoes and lining.

“I started off from scratch after finishing Form Three at the Budu Secondary School in Benta, Kuala Lipis, Pahang.

“As the youngest son of five children of a poor farmer from China, and unable to continue schooling, my father challenged me to make the best in life.

“I got my break in 1971 when at 17, I became a van salesman distributing sundries in Kelantan and Terengganu for a mere RM40 monthly salary,” said Chong, 63.

He added, two years later, he established his own Syarikat Perniagaan Chong Sdn Bhd as a general trading wholesaler. The company still exists in Gong Badak today.

Buoyed by the rapid industrialisation of the country, Chong took the bold step in 1995 to take control of the joint-venture AFI (automotive friction industries) Brake Manufacturing Sdn Bhd as its chairman in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.

“There was great potential in manufacturing brake pads, shoes and lining. Being wear-and-tear parts, demand was huge for the fast-expanding motor vehicle market,” said Chong.

He has not looked back since. In 1998, he moved the manufacturing plant to Gong Badak, Terengganu as the state offered attractive business incentives.

“But I had to put up with the struggles of inadequate manpower, logistics, infrastructure, transportation and raw material supply in a developing state.

“It was tough to market my product as there were numerous larger competitors, especially from China offering cheaper products.

“Eventually, I persevered with quality products and am now one of the top three in the industry, supplying 950 types of over a million sets of brake pads, shoes and lining to Japan, South Korea , Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, the Middle East and Africa and the United States,” said Chong.

The company has secured the MS1164 Sirim certification, which is equivalent to the European ‘E 11’ standards, won the MS ISO 9001 quality management system award as well as the Golden Bull Award 2011 as one of Malaysia’s top 100 small and medium enterprises.

Chong explained that as prosperous original component manufacturer, he had the advantage to custom produce brake pads and shoes for his clients according to the friction material, model and ‘soft’ or ‘heavy’ metal quality.

“My plant is able to make moulds, metal stamping, material formulation, packing, and carry out research and development.

Chong soon established AFI Metal (M) Sdn Bhd in Gong Badak to indigenously produce high quality metal sheets for his manufacturing plant.

Then, he opened up AFI Brake (M) Sdn Bhd in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Bremsen Brake (EM) Sdn Bhd in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to ease the marketing of his products.

He now has invested some RM25 million for his businesses and offers employment to about 180 local and foreign skilled workers.

Assisting him are his sons Chong Tze Liang, 37, as managing director, John Chong, 34, as a director and daughter Ivy Chong, 39, as general manager of his group of companies.

To further consolidate his business, Chong ventured into the distribution of automotive parts and lubricants, property development and construction, and travel industries.

Some of the properties Chong owns in Terengganu include KT Travellers Inn, Ming Star Hotel and the Summer Bay Lang Island Resort.

“I diversified my business in order to not only safeguard my interests but also offer opportunities for talented young Malaysians to become entrepreneurs,” said Chong.

He still travels extensively worldwide to gain further exposure, experience and knowledge as life is an ever-learning process.