It was like something out of Bollywood, Datin Christine Bong jokes. “A Tamil movie, the story of how we met,” she says.
“Really,” agrees Datuk Sharon Haniffa. He pauses theatrically. “Ten years ago, we met under a tree.”
While out celebrating a friend’s bachelor’s night in Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Sharon bumped into an acquaintance standing beneath a tree who introduced him to Bong. They went their separate ways but the two coincidentally met again under the same tree an hour later.
“She was in sales for a hydrotherapy equipment business and I cheekily said we might be able to work together since my family has some involvement in physiotherapy. We exchanged numbers and now, here we are,” continues Sharon.
The son of Malaysian Allied Health Sciences Academy (Mahsa) Group founder Professor Tan Sri Dr Mohamed Haniffa and Puan Sri Datin Dr Mumtaz Begum, Sharon graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and joined the family’s education business. The group comprises Mahsa University in Bandar Saujana Putra, Mahsa Avenue International College off Jalan University in Kuala Lumpur and Mahsa College Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, with a portfolio of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), business and hospitality management programmes. Sharon currently serves as the university’s executive director, entrusting the running of Brickhouse Group to Bong, his partner in business and life.
In 2014, Bong, a law graduate, was working at lifestyle property company TA Global Bhd when she was tasked with setting up a restaurant for its food and beverage (F&B) division.
“I was handling some areas of procurement, which involved testing different coffee machines and learning how to use them,” she says. “My husband — then my boyfriend — asked if I wanted to do something together and, like every young, ambitious person with some spare cash, I thought, hey, let’s start an F&B business. If we pour some resources into it and hire a few people, we can’t fail.”
She grimaces. “Trust me, no matter how small a business it is, you can fail. We opened the tiny Glasshouse Café, a mere 200 sq ft space for coffee and pastries, within the grounds of Mahsa University [then located in the current Mahsa Avenue before the main campus was moved to Bandar Saujana Putra]. We hired a couple of people to run it and I continued working full-time. One day, our staff simply didn’t show up. I had to take a few days off work to run the café myself. Thank God I could make a decent cup of coffee.”
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