Passion, patience, perseverance ... and prayer
By Renuka Sena July 18, 2016
- Syariah-compliant healthcare products manufacturer
- Has produced over 100 products, at least 30 more in the pipeline
MEET Shahnas Oli Mohamed (pic above) of Natural Wellness Industries Sdn Bhd, one of Malaysia’s fastest growing nutraceutical and cosmeceutical companies.
She is a standout woman entrepreneur who is making a mark on the global stage in health, wellness, and beauty, with a long list of numerous awards to prove it.
The abundant awards reflect Natural Wellness’ outstanding work and unique success, which is driven by the high standards and pure values that Shahnas holds – for herself and her company.
Her motivation is to be syariah-compliant in every component of the business, from financial management through to product development.
With this as her compass, as managing director Shahnas has led Natural Wellness into becoming an industry leader in an untapped but growing niche: Islamic medicine with proof of syariah compliance, as well as compliance to international standards and recognised accreditations.
It all started when Shahnas received a phone call. On the other side of the line was Dr Amr Yacout, managing director of the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company where Shahnas used to work.
Her former boss pitched an interesting proposition: Partner with him to start a respectable healthcare company.
At the time, Shahnas was working in a subsidiary at Lembaga Tabung Haji – the government-run Muslim pilgrim’s fund – managing its health-related investments.
Despite having a secure job, Shahnas knew entrepreneurship was her calling. She had always been adventurous about exploring the limits of her capabilities – the qualified pharmacist is also a Grade 8 pianist, has a blue belt in taekwondo, was once a competitive swimmer, and loves recreational scuba diving!
Shahnas knew Dr Amr was the right partner to start a business with, for they shared the same experience and core values. Both are qualified professionals in the health industry, and both are steadfast in their belief in Allah.
Shahnas and Dr Amr also shared the same desire to serve the untapped niche of 1.6 billion Muslims who are looking for natural health products that have proof of syariah compliance.
They were determined to not only deliver these products, but to also run every aspect of their business in alignment with Islamic values.
On that soil, the seeds for Natural Wellness were planted.
But both partners knew that by running a business aligned with Islamic teachings, they would go against almost all business concepts and models propagated by the Western world.
This made the early days extremely tough. As a small company, it was difficult to expand using practices that seemed somewhat alien and strange to large corporations.
As such, Natural Wellness struggled on many basic levels, and both partners needed to work very hard to keep the company safe from financial liabilities.
One of the biggest challenges was to keep the credit terms to the customers and yet keep the company in a state of cash transactions that avoids riba – which is interest that is not permissible in Islam.
This meant no loans, no bank guarantees and letters of credit, no interests on late payments, providing interest-free credit terms to customers, and so on.
With perseverance and prayer, the two partners stuck by each other to build on their dream.
Soon, a new path opened up that made things easier for them. Al Rajhi Bank began operations in Malaysia, which meant that Natural Wellness now had access to truly syariah-compliant banking facilities.
Business could move faster, and the company started to create an impact in the industry.
Starting as a trading house for natural products in 1996, Natural Wellness moved on to become a contract manufacturing company in 2014, and began revolutionising Malaysia’s healthcare ecosystem.
By then, Shahnas was running the show solo, with Dr Amr taking a backseat. She has achieved global success by securing contracts with multinationals to produce natural healthcare products such as supplements, health food and beverages, cosmetics and toiletries, as well as over-the-counter preparations.
Natural Wellness was also the first to venture into the uncharted territories of halal vaccines and biopharmaceuticals.
According to Shahnas, currently there are more than 100 products under Natural Wellness’ portfolio – all approved by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health and trademarked – and at least another 30 new products are “in the pipeline.” She added the company has submitted three patents for three of its natural-based products.
The visionary entrepreneur prides herself on using Islamic management practices and strives to provide a comfortable, unique and rewarding working culture.
Her management practices include upholding women in the highest status according to Islamic teachings. This is one of the reasons why women make up 70% of the workforce.
She is also dedicated to developing human capital by employing the younger generation to create highly skilled knowledge workers.
Driven by the Islamic values to contribute to society, Shahnas has formed a research arm for her company called Natural Wellness Biotech, which will delve into halal product research and development for the benefit of Muslims.
To further contribute to society, Shahnas has also formed the Farrash Foundation as the non-profit arm of Natural Wellness.
Host of achievements
Shahnas’ innovations and efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Her very long list of awards and achievements include the SME Innovation Award 2010 for Halal Products & Services, the SME 100 Award Malaysia’s 100 Fast Moving Companies, the Malaysian Productivity and Innovation Class 2011, the Women Exporters Development Programme (WEDP) 2012-2015, and the 50 Leading Companies for Women in APEC, just to name a few.
Shahnas also cites a host of achievements after joining the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP). This includes winning over 30 prestigious new customers such as Swiss Bio, Amway (Malaysia) and Sime Darby, thanks to techniques that were implemented using the CGP’s ‘Go Global’ strategies.
At a very young age, Shahnas’ father taught her that there are no boundaries to what a woman can achieve, and that she could do anything a man could do as long as she tried her best.
Meanwhile her mother taught her to be independent and to stand on her own two feet no matter what, and that she is to depend on no-one, except Allah.
With such strong values beneath her wings, it’s anyone’s guess how much higher Shahnas can fly.
She is already looking forward to upgrading Natural Wellness’ current office into a 12-storey facility and is finalising the clinical trials for halal biopharmaceuticals for a global launch. In a year, she also sees herself finalising a research project of high-value herbals.
Her words of advice for success are the perfect summary of her journey: “Passion, patience, and perseverance with an abundance of prayer. You can never succeed without them.”
Discover Natural Wellness at www.mynaturalwellness.com.
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.