Stories of rags-to-riches are a common theme in our society. While it’s inspiring to witness a person coming from nothing and achieving greatness, it’s even more inspiring when that person remains humble and grounded despite their newfound success.
The owner of underground Mandarin Oriental’s Kyo Club, Cili Kampung, and the brand manager of Philipp Plein and investor of Café Kitsuné Malaysia, serves as an inspiration for others who may be facing challenging circumstances.
Fate dealt a harsh hand to Dato Sri Sunny, who was born and raised in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Growing up, he faced the relentless struggle to make ends meet and provide for his family. But amidst the scarcity of resources, Dato Sri Sunny developed resilience and an unwavering determination to break free from the shackles of poverty.
“At the age of 12, I was selling ais kacang or ABC (Air Batu Campur) for 30 cents a bowl. It also forced me to do whatever jobs that I think can help me to get a small income. Jobs like collecting old newspapers were fun for me and I took all the tasks as a learning process in life.’’
‘’I finished my secondary school and at a local college, I started selling chinese pau and photocopied books to other college students. That made me survive almost a year at the college. However, luck was not on my side as I could not afford to pay my final exam fees and therefore, I decided to return to my hometown, and started working when I was 19-years-old an assistant site supervisor.’’
As he ventured into the corporate world, Dato Sri Sunny encountered numerous challenges and setbacks. He landed his first subcontractor project to build a road divider, a task that was met with reluctance by others due to the high safety risks involved and the extensive time commitment. But his unwavering commitment to self-improvement and resilience propelled him forward. “Because a road divider is something that nobody wants to do at that time – you have to work at night. You have to start to work at 12am until 6am when the traffic is not heavy. And it’s very dangerous. But I’m proud of it, and the road divider is still there until today.” Through dedication and perseverance, he climbed the ranks, eventually establishing himself as a formidable force in the business arena.
“Whatever you make is from the people and for the people. And I believe that is taught in any religion; morality and truth are important.”
Dato’ Sri Sunny’s belief in the importance of humility in navigating the harsh world suggests a deep understanding of the complexities of life. It signifies an acknowledgement that success is not just about accumulating wealth and power, but also about maintaining genuine connections, giving back to the community, and staying grounded.
After 20 years of navigating the complexities of social advancement, he made the conscious choice to unwind and rediscover his true passion. “I built up a basement, underground-like club called Kyo in Mandarin Oriental. That was the first non-development or construction project that I decided to go on. Which is something that I’ve been planning for decades. Something I wanted to do when I told myself that I was done with development projects […] I like music. I’m always into music. So I decided to build this underground club.’’
However, Dato’ Sri Sunny’s destiny in the realm of growth doesn’t end there. Few years after he established his first underground club, he met with the German fashion designer Philipp Plein, who was then responsible for bringing the luxury brand into the Malaysian market. “I was in Monaco when I came across this brand called Philippe Plein. I then happened to meet Philipp Plein himself. We eventually became friends and he insisted I bring the brand to Malaysia.”
“We opened the first boutique in StarHill. Last year we opened another one called Plein Sport, the sister of Philipp Plein, also in StarHill.”
“It is not about how much money you give; it’s about the passion you want to give. Always be grateful, and sincere. Giving back to the community is very, very important.”
Dato’ Sri Sunny also holds a strong perception in remaining humble amidst success. “It is a quality that can set successful individuals apart.” According to Dato’ Sri Sunny, humility can also facilitate effective leadership, as humble leaders are often more approachable, open to feedback, and focused on the well-being of their teams. It reflects an awareness of one’s roots, an appreciation for the efforts of those who supported them along the way, and a recognition that success is often transient.
He began to actively engage in philanthropic endeavours, channelling his resources to support causes that aligned with his values. From funding educational initiatives to assisting underprivileged communities, Dato’ Sri Sunny remained committed to using his success as a force for positive change. He even openly shared that he has adopted more than 200 kids to date. And made headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic when he sold his extravagant car and donated the proceeds to a charity supporting those impacted by the virus.
When questioned about his intentions behind doing all of this, he simply answered, “Whatever you make is from the people and for the people. And I believe that is taught in any religion; morality and truth are important. It’s always about balance.’’
‘’I think that’s the least that I can do as a human being. What I always say is that it is not about how much money you give. It’s about the passion that you want to give. I’m not only giving my orphanage money. I will make sure that they have a stable education as well.”
Despite amassing substantial wealth and influence, Dato’ Sri Sunny never lost sight of his humble beginnings, using his success as a platform to uplift others in need. “Always be grateful for what you have. And sincerity and giving back to the community is very, very important […]. The happiness of a person when you give, you can see the smile on the face is something that you cannot buy. Money can’t buy that.”
Dato’ Sri Sunny expressed his desire to leave behind a lasting legacy that showcases his ability to overcome poverty and inspire others to do the same. He firmly believes that life’s challenges can be conquered as long as they are approached with sincerity, humility, and compassion. By demonstrating these qualities throughout his life, he hopes to be remembered as a person who not only faced adversity head-on but also showed others that it is possible to thrive despite difficult circumstances.
Featured image: Dato’ Sri Sunny wears Philipp Plein.
Photographer: Edmund Lee
Art Direction: Anson Siau
Location: Kikyo @ The Troika