Growing up in Brunei, South-East Asia, Johari bin Brahim used to dream of becoming an airline pilot. He nurtured his dream on trips to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the UK.

But when he left school with only two ‘O’ levels – in geography and Malay – he saw that dream disappear.

“You need at least ‘A’ levels to qualify to be a pilot,” he says.

He lacked a Plan B but he did have determination and drive. So he took the first job he could find – as an office boy in a construction company.

“I was paid only BND300 (about $215) a month. I did everything from financial accounting and quantity surveying, to meeting clients and public relations,” recalls the 29-year-old. 

The experience was humbling but it gave him a good overview of the industry. It also inspired him to start his own construction company, Jocon, in 2007, right after he attended Shell Brunei’s LiveWIRE programmme. 

Shell LiveWIRE, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, gives young entrepreneurs training and networking support. It was through the programme that Johari picked up important skills for managing a business, including how to draw up a business plan.

This year, his second company, Teamone Environmental Technologies, which he set up in 2012, won a $24 million contract to supply tanker, forklift and manpower services to Shell Brunei.

As part of the contract, his company’s five vacuum tankers remove oily waste from Shell sites and send it to a waste-handling plant. 

“One of the key things I learned from LiveWIRE was to have enough emergency funds to last six months,” bin Brahim says.

That lesson came in handy recently when a vacuum tanker broke down and he had to spend time looking for a specially trained mechanic. In the meantime, he leased a tanker from a competitor firm so that work could continue.

“This had an impact on our cash flow. While I always make sure that all 345 of my employees are paid on time, this time, they had to wait an additional two to three days. But they were still paid,” he says.

Perseverance

The entrepreneur’s father, former army officer Haji Mohd Noor, credits his son’s hard work and perseverance for his success today. “He was always a hyperactive child and he never gives up hope,” he says.

In the early days of running his business, bin Brahim was also studying for a diploma in business and management at the polytechnic Politeknik Brunei. “It was very stressful juggling school with work but I knew it was important for me to keep learning,” he says.

The school even gave him small jobs – he repaired a faulty air-conditioner and built an ablutions area in the prayer room.

“Johari is an inspiration to other young entrepreneurs, especially those who may not be strong academically,” says Rosita Hassan, Shell Brunei’s Head of Supply Chain Management and Chairperson of the Shell Brunei LiveWIRE committee. “He is proof that you don’t need good grades to excel in life.”

Moving on

Bin Brahim has already set his sights on his next project. He wants to start a business planting fruit or rice in Brunei. “Most of our fruit is imported. Our rice comes from Thailand. I want to develop our domestic agriculture industry.”

His aim in life is to be the owner of many different businesses and to keep learning. He also wants to help mentor young people who are starting their own businesses.

“I will tell them ‘never look back, even if you encounter failure. You must always focus on what’s ahead of you and never stop chasing your dreams’.”

While he may not have fulfilled his own childhood dream of becoming a pilot, bin Brahim is certainly planning to go places. Fast.

 


By Soh Chin Ong

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