Shamsul Fahmi Padzli, Managing Director of Nusa Baduri and Executive Director of Premier Water Services, is inspiring change with cutting-edge technology and a passion for reinvention.
Not too long ago, the local neighbourhood shopping mall was perhaps the bastion of fast food and supermarkets. This was where, after an afternoon of shopping, it was off to an early dinner at one of the big national chain restaurants. Usually, choices were limited, somewhat ordinary and generally simply made economic sense.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case. After all, with so much run-of-the mill shopping being done online, the entire notion of the neighbourhood mall simply had to evolve. In fact, at some more affluent addresses, what was previously offered in the stores is no longer enough to draw consumers these days, who are looking for more of an ‘experience’ in addition to the convenience and attractive choices.
Where in the past restaurant tenants were selected by developers based solely on their name recognition and financial statements, now they are cherry picked based on demographics and concept appeal to their specific communities.
An interesting case in point is the ensemble of eateries and other services at Republik, situated in the affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood of Damansara Heights. Originally built in 2007, this is a boutique development situated in a beautifully renovated and repurposed white, colonial mansion-styled building owned by Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB). Its one-acre, two-storey build-up of over 3,437 sq m of net lettable area now comprises a total of 13 retail units.
“Presently, this space is home to fresh dining concepts courtesy of Malaysia’s best and brightest restauranteurs and culinary stars. Oh, and there’s the very contemporary and hip-looking Smile & Co dental clinic, too, along with a boutique, KitaKita, situated in the mix for good measure,” reveals Shamsul Fahmi Mohamad Padzli happily. He’s the Managing Director of integrated property development and management company Nusa Baiduri, the people responsible for the rebirth of Republik.
According to Fahmi, Republik is where tenants are wooing diners to this new-age magnet by offering a variety of delightful cuisine, including unique, new, chef- driven concepts. From Frangipaani, a restaurant offering a modern take on South Indian cuisine, all the way to the unique coffee cocktail bar in Happy Stan (named for the travel writer Stanton Delaplane, who introduced Irish coffee to the United States), Republik now boasts perhaps some of KL’s best casual dining concepts.
“What this address welcomes, especially when it comes to our own tenants, is plenty of attractive creativity encompassing the design of each outlet’s premises and the type of services or products they offer,” explains Fahmi further. “As part of our own tenant selection process, we also put a lot of effort to ensure that every one of these businesses have something exciting to offer the moneyed set living in Damansara Heights and the surrounding effluent neighbourhoods.”
Fahmi points out that established F&B brands are, of course, very important, like the eatery Blonde here in Republik, which is under the Serai Group. The group is also known for other F&B projects like Jibby & Co and Chum Chum, but for Republik, it came up with something new – a chic and sophisticated contemporary diner to suit the wants of the so-called ‘Damansara Heights crowd’.
This reinvention of an existing development may just be the blueprint for future endeavours by Nusa Baiduri, reveals Fahmi. “But just like with Republik, we won’t randomly choose another development just for the sake of reinventing it. There’s always the key part of ensuring the return of investment in any project, so studies need to be done first to ensure the suitability of any future project, just like how we did here.
“To tell you the truth, this is the sort of work I love doing – bringing underperforming developments back to life,” points out Fahmi with a hint of pride in his voice. “I especially enjoy changing and improving an address’ ecosystem, while innovating its advertising and promotions support – rather than just building something from scratch, and letting it fend for itself.”
Fahmi is no stranger to the business of renewal and rejuvenation, either. Initially joining the corporate world in sales back in 2004, he eventually found himself in the service of Premier Amalgamated. In 2012, PA entered into a joint venture with Ranhill Water Services, creating a new entity called Premier Water Services, which was founded by Group Chairman Datuk Abu Bakar Fikri Sulaiman.
“The two companies (Nusa Baiduri and Premier Water Services) began as family-owned businesses,
and also share common directors and shareholders,” reveals Fahmi as memories bring a smile to his face. “My duties then meant communicating directly with all the different water companies – or water operators, as they’re known in the industry – in Malaysia to convince them to adopt new technology to monitor water flow pressure and leakage.
“Then, in 2014, Premier Water Services was named the sole distributor of Diehl metring in Malaysia
from France. This is the leading French company that designs and manufacture water solutions, heating solutions and smart metering solutions with over 20 years of experience. PWS also has distributorships with Aichi Tokei Denki from Japan and inherited the sole distributorship of UK water technology solutions from Technolog from Premier Amalgamated.”
This technology, Fahmi says, helps operators increase water revenue as, previously, meter readers could only manage between 300 to 400 of meter readings per day. Now, with this current, radio frequency-enabled system, meter readers just need to drive by the approximate location to harvest data from these technologically advanced smart metering systems, and can more than double the meter information gathering daily. “Even when it comes to high-rise condominium developments, meter readers no longer need to gain entry to complete their tasks anymore.”
Soon, as part of his duties at Premier Amalgamated, he began working closely with the Malaysian Water Association, eventually becoming a member of NGO himself, and found a new interest in the dealings related to the water industry. “I also ended up meeting all the different stakeholders in the business, comprising the council members of this NGO – these being the CEOs of the various water companies, contractors, suppliers and owners of other water supply-related businesses.”
Fahmi goes on to say that this was where he began working closely with key people from the government, along with others who are from government-related private companies. “This is the group that actively helps our government make decisions with regards to the water supply industry.”
After laying the groundwork of close collaboration with the Malaysian Water Association over the ensuing years, Fahmi was eventually elected to the council himself in 2009. Now, he has risen to become the organisation’s vice president and has also taken over the reins of Premier Water Services as its Executive Director. Along the way, he developed a deep understanding of and passion for the water industry, seeing in it a landscape full of challenges and rewards.
Fahmi was also brought into Nusa Baiduri when he was appointed its Managing Director in 2017. “When I came on board, we had a contract managing the Malaysia Airlines Academy facility in Kelana Jaya. When this contract wrapped up, I felt that there was an opportunity to change the company’s business model as there was an opportunity to enhance a non-profitable asset to become a profitable in Bangunan Epicure – which was later reborn as Republik.
“See, the partners and I always made it a point to enjoy coffee in the vicinity of Damansara Heights, and that’s when we discovered the place. One of the original F&B outlets there was also its master tenant, so we
had a chat with them to inquire about the low walk-in numbers,” recalls Fahmi.
Initially, he intended on setting up a men’s grooming shop there but was concerned about the slow flow of consumers. “That was when the idea to redevelop the place as sort of a community or strip mall was born. But knowing Malaysians were not familiar with this sort of experience, I knew I had to do a bit more research to finetune the idea.”
Fahmi eventually flew to Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore to try and see what he could benchmark there before starting the project in Damansara Heights. “In Singapore, at Clarke Quay, I observed how our neighbours are so good at heritage building transformation and I was suitably inspired by this. I was chiefly concerned about how to attract patrons to my own project after spending money upgrading it. We were still clueless about how to effectively market the newly rejuvenated place, seeing how its last incarnation faced a number of challenges.”
That’s when he got in touch with real estate management consultants Savills Malaysia. It did a feasibility study in 2016, when F&B businesses across Malaysia were booming. “So, after looking at Republik’s net lettable area and the amount of enhancements we needed to do, we decided to forget the strip mall and dedicate the space primarily for F&B businesses.”
Initially, Fahmi was interested in branding Republik as a dining hub, but after finalising a list of tenants, he decided that calling it a ‘lifestyle hub’ would be more apt, considering it also had the boutique, dentist and, now, a cigar lounge in the happy mix. “What all these outlets have in common is the friendly, welcoming vibe they put out,” Fahmi says. “That’s why it wasn’t difficult to convince visitors that this is the place to be when one wants to experience unique dining experiences and a relaxing time – even Smile & Co, our dentist here, looks and feels more like a nice, cosy, high-end and very welcoming reception area!”
He also clearly remembers the whole pandemic situation that suddenly developed a couple of years ago. “It was definitely a major challenge among the businesses at Republik as they almost couldn’t operate at all and still had to pay rent. But favourable negotiations with our master landlord PNB happily worked to everyone’s advantage, and all our original tenants are still here today.”
This is why Fahmi feels that its always important to keep in touch with tenants and have two-way engagement with them on a monthly and quarterly basis to identify potential problems, resolve existing ones, and ensure a common and positive understanding exists.
Looking ahead, Fahmi feels that space in this whole ‘rejuvenation’ game may be a bit cramped here in the Klang Valley. “Just look at what’s happening in Petaling Street. There are so many so-called hip restaurants propping up. But these are a bit different as these are individual businesses, of course.”
He feels it’s getting a bit too competitive right now in Kuala Lumpur. “So, maybe somewhere like Penang is worth looking into for similar redevelopments like what we did for Republik. We’re always on the lookout for a similar opportunity and I have no doubt that Penang would be a great place for another project like this.”
So, with the established water supply management business, the more recent Republik redevelopment effort, as well as a potential upcoming renewable energy venture, Fahmi is constantly putting on new hats to increase the worth of the businesses that he leads.
“After all, a sense of belonging must accompany every single thing that you set out to do. That’s why I’m always in love with whatever it is that I set out to accomplish in my life. We had a number of challenges to overcome and I’m very proud to see it go beyond my expectations. I consider Republik my baby and I’m really excited to see it grow up.”
Photography: Gerald Goh/Walawala pictures
Assistant: Asyraf Rahman
Location: Duke Cigar & Happy Stan/ Republik Damansara Heights