Food – the source of nourishment and sustenance, epicurean delights evoking pleasure and a soothing balm of comfort when all around is in flux. Muhammad Hisham Tan Abdullah briefly shares with Asean Food & Travel his journey in the F&B industry and his role as current President of the Malaysian Food & Beverage Executives Association (MFBEA).
During the 1980s, Muhammad Hisham Tan Abdullah assisted his grandfather at their family kopitiam in Pontian, Johor after school hours. “I would be serving patrons, clearing tables and keeping my eyes locked on RTM’s TV Pendidikan,” he reminisces. “Watching F&B experts featured in HOCAT segments, my young mind was fascinated to learn of a profession in “cooking and serving”.” Fully inspired, Hisham headed up to The Genting Highlands Hotel after completing SPM in 1984 to be officially inducted into the F&B service industry as a busboy.
“Gaining experience working at various Penang city hotels and beach resorts as a waiter enabled me to grow study funds,” Hisham shares. He graduated in 1990 with a Brevet de Technicien Superieur Higher Diploma from the Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management Centre (HCIMC) Kuala Lumpur, specialising in Hotel Restaurant Trade where HCIMC is affiliated with the University of Toulouse, France. “Joining pre-opening teams at various hotels and resorts within the Peninsula allowed me opportunities to gradually rise from rank and file to management level.”
In 1999, Hisham left the hotel industry to join Astro’s HQ in Bukit Jalil. “I ended my 22-year service there in November 2021 as the Assistant Vice President of Occupational Safety Health & Environment, Hospitality and F&B” he explains, adding: “Currently I am the Senior Manager of F&B and Guest Management at Digital Nasional Berhad.”The formation of MFBEA was conceptualised in 1987 at Subang Merlin Hotel by nine renowned expatriate and Malaysian hoteliers and F&B service practitioners. “One of the four vice presidents, Ashok Pillay, who was then a lecturer of F&B at HCIMC played a pivotal role in gathering his charges to enrol as pioneer student members of whom I was one of them.”
MFBEA received official registered association status by the Registrar of Societies Malaysia on 3rd December 1988 to address the need of a professional body to assist in shaping the development and elevating the catering and hospitality service industry with a focus on youth training.
“Based on the strength of networking, MFBEA has over the years earned due recognition. Sometime during my tenure as president since 2005, Jennifer Ong, CEO and Founder of the HAPA Group connected me with the Food & Beverage Management Association of Singapore,” Hisham shares. “This led to links to the Cambodia Restaurant Association, followed by the Food & Beverage Management Association of Germany, resulting in the coalition of founder members establishing the International Food & Beverage Association in 2012.”
MFBEA Culinary Division was established and officially launched during the Culinaire Malaysia 2019, followed by the formation of MFBEA Professional Coffee Connoisseur Division in early 2020.
“MFBEA Culinary and Professional Coffee Connoisseur look set to be setting the pace for us for the next five to ten years. This is in line with the aspiration that MFBEA will play a key role in identifying and guiding potential culinary and vocational students to develop the entrepreneurial mindset with knowledge in paperwork, importance of product, industry and market surveys and analysis, costing, marketing, branding, customer service, among others,” explains Hisham in depth. “This will enable them, upon graduating, the option to either seek employment or embark on their own business ventures well prepared.”
In a veiled show of wit, Hisham adds; “I have been told that my management style is as a quiet observer, analytical, unobtrusive in my colleagues’ as well as crew’s duties and operations, with very little escaping my attention. It takes a lot to set me off, but when triggered, I do nag but in a good way. My belief is this, practising constant training via leadership by example will gain the respect for oneself.”
For youths interested to venture into the world of hospitality and F&B services, Hisham advises; “It requires good attitude, people skills, resilience, passion, meticulous attention to detail, systematic work habits, with emphasis on personal, customer, workplace and food health and safety.”