Baking with Heart: Humble beginning as the English Hotbreads School of Baking
Humble beginning as the English Hotbreads School of Baking
The spirits of giving back is embedded in the philosophy that sets the Malaysian Institute of Baking (MIB) apart from its peers. Kieran Tan speaks to its chairman, Don Yong, to learn what motivated him to set up the institute and his future growth plans.
In the 1980s, Don Yong and his elder brother Eddie were happily operating a family-run bakery known as English Hotbreads serving fresh breads, cakes and pastries on a ground floor shop lot in Petaling Jaya New Town when a new business opportunity presented itself.
Yong recalls, “We had many enquiries from friends and walk-in customers wishing to migrate to Australia and were looking for someone to teach them how to bake as this was listed as a desired skill then. Initially, we extended our service to include short baking course but as demand grew for baking skills from walking adults intending to migrate overseas, we saw a new business opportunity in offering baking course. We registered a new business, English Hotbreads School of Baking, which initially offered only short baking course.” Later the company name was changed to Malaysia Institute of Baking (MIB)
MIB started as a small operations, located a floor above English Hotbreads . “Eddie and I taught the students ourselves the students ourselves who mainly working professionals. We offered both hands-on and classroom-styles learning and did not employ any teaching staff,” Yong recalls on MIB’s early beginning.
In 1992, after receiving international recognition from the prestigious City and Guilds International, London, MIB start to offer certificate course targeted mainly at school leavers. Yong reminisces, “The certificate course we offered ushered the start of the new era. MIB was the first baking school in Malaysia and while there were also challenges that needed addressing. “We advertised our service and received enquiries from all over the country. Thus, to provide convenience for outstation students, we also had to look for hostel accommodation that was within walking distance. As student enrolment increased, we carefully hand-picked qualified teaching staff and grew our management team.
“A family friend who become our consultant and also lectures on management at the Institute, Dr. S. Thiagarajah, shared his knowledge on retaining and motivating staff by sharing the company’s profit with them through annual bonuses. This has become my business philosophy as I believe that the success of the company comes from teamwork as well as individual effort.
“I also treat my staff as my extended family and invited them t my house during Chinese New Year. At work, my wife will sometimes will cook a vegetarian meal for the staff and students, and we will sit down together for the meal. These bonding session are very important as it create better rapport and unity. I like to think of my staff as part of my extended family.”
In 2003, MIB started to offer numerous two-year diploma programmes. These programmes were much sought after because of the values-added features that saved student time and tuition fees. For instance, upon completion of the Diploma in Baking Science and Technology (Management students will also awarded with the Diploma in Patisserie by City & Guilds London and the Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts(majoring Patisserie Studies) by City & Guilds in London. With a diploma obtained from MIB, students can skip their first year and enrol for the second year of a degree programme in selected universities.
Yong elaborates, “As we expand our service offerings, Dr. Thiagarajah also advised me to do things professionally and have everything in place. Different departments were set up for marketing, sales, finance, etc so we could take the business forward in a systematic and professional manner.”
Today, MIB has 10 full-time staff and another 8 part-time lecturers. Yong empowers his staff and does not go micro-manage. “I trust, empower, guide and share my vision with them so they feel they are part of the company. Together, we build on our successes. It is a positive environment here, without hierarchy, which make it an enjoyable working environment. More than half my staff have been with me more than 12 years.
Yong describe the company’s growth as being conservative and within the company’s financial means. He avoids borrowing from a bank and most of the company’s profit are ploughed back into the business. He says, “As a young boy, my mother instilled in me through her exemplary example, how to be financially independent to live within our means. We came from a poor family and she made many personal sacrifices for us so we could have a good education and come up in life. I am eternally grateful to my mother for who I am today.
“Similarly in this institute, I want to impart to my young students to importance of family and to be grateful to their parents or guardians who have supported them in their education. Every year, we take students out on teambuilding programmes where, through games, physical challenges and watching inspirational videos, we try and make them aware of how lucky they are and to be grateful to their parents, guardians, lectures, friends and other who have provided and help them through lives. In a few days that we are together, we try and instil positive values.
“I could have opened branches in Penang, Johor and elsewhere, but I have deliberately chosen to keep MIB in one central location in order to ensure top qualities education to all who pass through our doors. Our lectures and staff take pride in their work and we are close to the students. Besides imparting skills, we also help students develop their character.”
Yong sees himself as an educator with a huge responsibility entrusted upon him by parents whose children are enrol at MIB.
“When you do things with sincerity, such as ensuring quality education and having a close Rapport with your students, they will be inspired to learn because they can sense your concern for their welfare.”
For the past decade, MIB has also provided Baking & Culinary Arts training to lecturers from community colleges and polytechnics throughout Malaysia. Last year, MIB was accredited by the Quality Assurance Division, Ministry of Higher Education, and after which it started collaborating with University College Birmingham so students can complete their degree programmes in a shorter period, thus saving their time and money.
In January, MIB will launch new diploma programme in molecular gastronomy. And that’s not all. Yong says, “In the next few months, we will announce new collaborations with two London Universities.”
He is also keen to explore the idea of enrolling foreign students from Indonesia, the Middle East and India. Plans in the pipeline include collaboration with inbound tour operators to offer short baking and local cooking courses in their tour itineraries as Yong wants to introduce Malaysian cuisine to foreign tourist visiting Malaysia.
Cooking reality competition shown on television such as Master Chef, Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have created greater awareness about the profession that is no longer viewed by many Malaysian parents as having dreadful prospect with low pay and long hours in hot kitchen. That was the general perception in1990s, reveals Yong, who adds, “Today, I have straight A’s students who have enrolled with us because they are passionate about cooking and baking. I also have engineers and doctors in their mid-30s and 40s who want to learn to bake because that has always been their passion since young. They share with us that they have always wanted to be a baker since young but because their parents wanted them to be engineers and doctors, they must put their true passion on hold.
Yong confesses that he knows the names of every full-time student at MIB. He enjoys teaching and sharing his knowledge, and does not mind that he works seven days a week with the exception of public holidays. It is his ambition to work for as long as he is healthy and able.
He reveals, “If you treat your job as your hobby, then the more time you spend on it, the more joy and satisfaction it will bring you. In order to be an effective leader, you must have passion for your work, and this passion will breed enthusiasm to all other members of the organisation.
PILLARS: What are your three favourite destination and what do you like about it.
- I love many attraction in London. It is the world’s centre for art culture. There are so many I attractions, such as visiting the many museum, and watching West East musicals and English theatre. Summer is my favourite season to visit as the weather is really nice.
- I also enjoy visiting Paris which, in my opinion, is a beautiful and romantic city. It is clean and has variety of patisserie and picturesque shopfronts. It is also the place that makes one of the best pastries in the world. I enjoy spending time sitting in an outdoor café, having my coffee and croissant, just passing time, people watching and enjoying the scenery and ambiance.
PILLARS: What was your best holiday experience with your family so far?
- It was my recent visit to Perth to visit my mother, brothers, nephews and nieces. It was a family gathering of four generations. We had a cook-out and spent a lot of quality time together. These are very precious family moments for me, as I value family relationships. My mother is in her 80’s and I cannot describe how happy I always am to see her. She means so much to me. For me, a great holiday is spending quality time with family. I don’t appreciate holidays where most of the time is spent travelling from one place to another just to take pictures of iconic attractions so there is something to show and brag to friends.
- I go to Perth annually to visit my mother, my brothers and their families. I love the weather there, and the air feels fresh and clean. I relish the laidback culture of the people and traffic jams are unheard of.
PILLARS: Name of the item you must pack in your suitcase when you travel.
- My Swiss knife. It is compact and handy for travelling. I use to cut fruit, open cans and packages.
PILLARS: So what areas of your life have you splurged on?
- I bought a home theatre system and a projector. It is for family to watch movies together.
PILLARS: How do you spend time outside of work?
- It is usually with my wife. We like to watch movies together at home and catch up on world news. We enjoy being at home. We are usually in bed before midnight and we are also early risers. When the weather permits, we enjoy taking walks. Is it usually around the Taman Jaya lake area.
PILLARS: Tell us which books you enjoy reading.
- I usually read books related to my profession. I like to keep abreast on current developments in nutrition and food science. I also enjoy reading books related to photography as I have a keen interest in this subject. For fiction, one of my favourite authors is Agatha Christie.
PILLARS: What car do you drive?
- I have an old Porsche 911 model, which my brother bought me as a birthday present many years ago. I love everything about this car, from its sleek design, to its powerful engine, reliability and low maintenance.
PILLARS: What are your must- have gadgets?
- It is my iPad- I used it to check emails and read the news online.
PILLARS: What type of songs do you enjoy>
- I love old, Chinese songs from the 70sand 80s. I especially love sad songs that usually relate to a romance that has gone wrong. These songs transport me to another world. I also love singing these song with passion so much so that tears will stroll down my cheeks. One of my favourite singers is Tsai Chin, who is from Taiwan. She sings beautiful, classic love song. I also love listening to song by Lionel Richie, Engelbert Humperdinck and Kenny Rogers.
PILLARS: What is your life philosophy?
- It is to stay healthy by eating healthy and exercise regularly. My wife and I are vegetarians by choice as we do not like the idea of slaughtering animals. I eat moderately and I exercise regularly. I believe in leading a balanced life. People who spend all their time chasing after money are just silly, I think. They are so busy “chasing money” that they miss out on the good things in life. I am content being middle class and leading a simple and happy life.
PILLARS: Name two people who have impacted you positively.
- My mom who is simply an amazing woman. She was born in Foo Chow, China, and travelled on her own to Malaysia to join my father after they were married. She came without a cent. She taught us (her children) to be thrifty and that it was not so important how much one earned, but how much one saved. She has great faith in God and in humanity. We came from a humble background; we didn’t have much yet she generously gave to those who asked for help. She manage a small coffee shop in Kampong Baru, Kuala Lumpur, and worked 18 hours a day, every day without grumbling. She worked hard so that all her six children could have a good education and succeed in life. She made a lot of personal sacrifices for us. She has immense love for her children and I feel so blessed to be her son.
- The other person is my elder brother, Eddie Yong, who is two years my senior. I admire his positive attributes. I have never seen him angry or raise his voice. He is gentle and spiritual person. He has settled down in Perth and does volunteering work with the Hare Krishna Temple in Perth. He is generous, both with his money and with his time. He gets joy from helping others.
- He also groomed and mentored me. When I returned home after completing my degree in bio-chemical engineering in UK, he taught me how to bake. I really enjoyed it and that changed my career path. He then persuaded me to study baking science and technology in the America Institute of Baking in Manhattan. It was life-changing experience as I learnt so much within the five months I was there.
PILLARS: Do you have favourite saying?
- Stay healthy! Health is so much more important than wealth
PILLARS: How do spend time away from work?
- Helping my wife with the household chores gives me satisfaction. We do not have maid because we believe in self-sufficient and doing things ourselves. I get exercise from mopping the floor, watering the plants and washing cars.
– MIB Creative Team