It starts with a whisper. Two words, four syllables, sighed to convey immediate understanding that the holy month of Ramadan is upon us again and thoughts of a specific fruit seep into our collective consciousness. Is there any other way to begin a story about Datuk Seri Yusuf Taiyoob than with the breathy sign-off that is the trademark of his date business?
“You know the ending of the radio ad, the whisper?” he asks, as if we could be unfamiliar with it. “I created that 15 or so years ago. Most advertisements sound similar — I didn’t want another jingle, I wanted something different and catchy.”
Where someone else might have gone loud, Yusuf lowered the volume, hoping the unexpected subtlety would make an impression. “Luckily, it went down well,” he laughs. “It has since become synonymous with Ramadan, a sign that the holy month is approaching. I don’t use the ad, the whisper, for any other purpose or product. It’s reserved for dates and Ramadan, so you associate it explicitly with the product and the season.”
Pretty astute thinking for someone without a formal background in marketing or business. Given that Yusuf does not like sitting still for long, it is no surprise that academia was not for him. As a teenager, he disliked the pre-university course he was enrolled on in India and when he returned to Penang for a semester break, he never left.
An early entrepreneur
One of four siblings — two girls, two boys — Yusuf grew up in a traditional shophouse near the centre of George Town, a large space shared between three generations. Penang exerted a special pull on this would-be entrepreneur, even as a teenager.
“I loved travelling, and would go on holidays with friends. I remember going to Bombay. At the time, there was no mobile communication, so once I left, my family wouldn’t hear from me until a letter arrived a week later. I could go anywhere for up to a week, but then I would always want to come home,” he shrugs. “Penang is my home. It’s a nice place, has a nice atmosphere. Even the water here is sweeter than anywhere else. We live near the hillside near Tanjung Bungah now, so the water that comes through our taps is naturally cold. The island has changed over the decades, but that is inevitable.”
His home of old is not far from his current office, and he recalls with the languidness born of islanders the playground that was nearby and the wholesome fun shared with his childhood friends.
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