Mustaq Ahmad

Singapore Infopedia


Mustaq Ahmad (b. 8 June 1951, Uttar Pradesh, India–) is the co-founder and managing director of Mustafa Centre, a popular 24-hour shopping centre in Little India frequented by many Singaporeans and tourists.1 The success of Mustafa Centre has earned Mustaq Ahmad accolades, such as the Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2003.2

Early life
In 1956, Mustaq, then aged five, joined his father, Haji Mohamed Mustafa, in Singapore after the death of his mother. Haji Mohamed grew up in a family of farmers in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. He went to Muar, Johor in 1950, and made a living, peddling dumplings. Two years later, Haji Mohamed moved to Singapore, and ran a business selling tea and bread from a pushcart. Mustaq would help his father with the pushcart business, and this experience taught him the skills of running a business at an early age. Mustaq also displayed a flair for entrepreneurship from young. Next to his father's stall, he started a business selling handkerchiefs bought with his own pocket money. Seeing the potential in Mustaq’s venture, his father switched from selling food to garments for adults and children. Later, the family set up a makeshift store at Campbell Lane to sell ready-made clothes.3

Because of his strong interest in business, Mustaq discontinued his Secondary Four studies at Christ Church School to work full-time for his father.When the government imposed a ban on street stalls, Mustaq convinced his father to rent a 500 square feet shop space at Campbell Lane, where they continued their clothing retail business with a relative. Established in 1971, the store was named Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin, after Mustaq's father and uncle.5

Growing a family stall into a multi-million dollar business

Business took off at Campbell Lane, and within two years, the family was looking for new sites to expand their business. They secured two locations, another one at Campbell Lane, and the other at Serangoon Road. The site at Campbell Lane was used to store their goods, while the site at Serangoon Road, which enjoyed heavier human traffic, functioned as its retail store.6

With the larger retail space, Mustaq added electronic goods to the store’s range of products to meet customers’ demands. Mustaq also made a pioneering decision to sell his products at fixed prices. This was an uncommon practice then.7 The move went well with customers who found the store's products competitively priced and preferred to do away with bargaining. Business continued to grow, and the store soon extended to the rented space next door.8

In 1985, the government acquired the shop buildings for conservation, and Mustafa (as the store is commonly known) shifted to a larger rented space in Serangoon Plaza, although it was located away from the main shopping belt in Little India.9

Buoyed by the tourism boom in the 1980s, Mustafa benefited especially from the patronage of Indian tourists, by positioning itself as a one-stop shopping haven with a wide offering of quality goods at competitive prices. For the overseas visitor who has limited time but many shopping needs, Mustafa is a must-visit destination. To accommodate the growth, the store expanded to other spaces in the same building.10

When rents at Serangoon Plaza shot up by 70 percent, Mustaq decided that it would be more viable for the company to own its building. He acquired 20 shophouses along Syed Alwi Road, where he built Mustafa Centre, a 75,000 square feet department store with a 130-room hotel at a cost $45 million. The shopping centre opened in April 1995 and operated as a 24-hour store in 2003. Today, Mustafa Centre, which has expanded to the building across Verdun Road, houses a supermarket, a jewel mart and a pharmacy, carrying products ranging from cosmetics, footwear and garments, to home appliances. It also offers postal, money-changing and travel services. Mustafa reopened a branch at Serangoon Plaza after its renovation in 200411

Local and international accolades
Competitors and observers have attributed the success of Mustafa to Mustaq’s business acumen and down-to-earth management style. The first to arrive and last to leave the office, Mustaq observes and interacts with his staff and customers. He adopts an open concept for his office, so that no doors, walls or screens divide his office from the rest of his staff. Where possible, he prefers to resolve issues immediately instead of holding meetings. The store has won many customers with its comprehensive range of goods at competitive prices. Products are directly imported in bulk and sold at a profit margin of not more than 10 percent.12 The employees at Mustafa are also mostly long-serving staff who engage their customers and keep a close watch on changing retail trends.13 Because of retail woes arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mustaq announced on 30 August 2020 that Mustafa Centre will not renew the expired work passes of its foreign workers and will send them home.14

Mustaq’s accomplishments have made him an exemplary model of a successful immigrant who has prospered and contributed to Singapore. On the debate on foreign talent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech of 2006, said, “You get the right foreigner here, he creates thousands of jobs for Singaporeans like Mr Mustaq and you need to get more people like him”.15 Former Minister of Trade and Industry, Yeo Cheow Tong, has also raised Mustafa as an example of a retail store that has created a unique shopping experience for customers.16 In 2004, Mustaq was named Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year 2003 by the Singapore Tourism Board, and ranked 38th in Forbes’ list of Singapore’s 40 Richest People in 2008.17 In 2011, Mustaq was ranked the 37th richest person in Singapore, with a net worth estimated at US$240 million, by Forbes Asia.18

Mustaq Ahmad became a Singaporean citizen in 1991, and is married to Ishret Jahan.19 They have one son and three daughters.20

From 2018 to 2020, Mustaq Ahmad was embroiled in legal battles with his half- siblings and the late Samsuddin Ahmad’s sons.21 Samsuddin Ahmad was a cousin of Mustaq’s mother.22

Isabel Ong

1. Low Kar Tiang, ed., Who's Who in Singapore 2006 (Singapore: Who's Who Pub, 2006), 356. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
2. “Mustafa Centre's owner Mustaq Ahmad wins Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award,” Channel NewsAsia, 25 March 2004 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Glenis Sim, “Next: Buy in Bulk Cheaply from Mustafa's,” Straits Times, 26 March 2004, H6. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Low, Who's Who in Singapore 2006, 356; Karl Ho, “Big Man in Little India,” Straits Times, 29 July 2001, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Susan Tsang, Discover Singapore: The City's History & Culture Redefined (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2007), 126–27 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TSA); Zakir Hussain, “Spore Needs More Talented Foreigners Like Mustafa's Managing Director,” Straits Times, 21 August 2006, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “At Least 180,000 Shoppers Throng the Store Each Year,” Straits Times, 23 September 1994, 2; Hussain, “Spore Needs More Talented Foreigners Like Mustafa's Managing Director.” 
5. Ho, “Big Man in Little India.”
6. Phoebe Thin, ed., S-files: The Story behind Their Success: 20 True Life Stories to Inspire, Challenge and Guide You to Greater Success (Singapore: Success Resources, 1997), 125. (Call no. RSING 338.04095957 SFI)
7. Thin, Story behind Their Success, 125.
8. Ho, “Big Man in Little India”; Thin, Story behind Their Success, 127.
9. “At Least 180,000 Shoppers Throng the Store Each Year”; Madhu Madan, Yamini Vasudevan and Rita Raman, Singapore Indian Entrepreneurs: Dreams to Reality (Singapore: Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, 2004), 104–7. (Call no. RSING 338.0409225957 MAD)
10. “About Us,” Mustafa, accessed 16 February 2009,; “At Least 180,000 Shoppers Throng the Store Each Year”; Vince Chong, “One-Stop Shopping Experience,” Business Times, 9 December 2004, 28 (From NewspaperSG); Low, Who's Who in Singapore 2006, 356.
11. Mustafa, “About Us”; Tsang, Discover Singapore, 126–27; Chong, “One-Stop Shopping Experience”; “At Least 180,000 Shoppers Throng the Store Each Year.”
12. Madhu, Vasudevan and Roman, Singapore Indian Entrepreneurs, 104–7.
13. Thin, Story behind Their Success, 120–31.
14. “Mustafa Centre Cuts Staff amid Retail Woes,” Straits Times, 31 August 2020. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
15. Lee Hsien Loong, Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally 2006 on Sunday, 20 August 2006, at University Cultural Centre, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2006082010)
16. “Create Distinct Niches to Gain an Edge, Retailers Told,” Straits Times, 15 July 1995, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Mustafa Centre's Owner Mustaq Ahmad Wins Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award,” Channel News Asia, 25 March 2004 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Sim, “Next: Buy in Bulk Cheaply from Mustafa's”; “3 India-origin People among Singapore’s Richest List,” Press Trust of India Limited, 22 August 2008. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
18. Jessica Lim, “What Rich Singaporeans Want,” Straits Times, 24 November 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
19. Low, Who's Who in Singapore 2006, 356. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
20. “3 India-origin People among Singapore’s Richest List”; Corinne Kerk, “The Man Who Built Mustafa Centre,” Business Times, 30 November 1996, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
21. K. C. Vijayan, “Mustafa Founder in Legal Tussle with Stepfamily,” Straits Times, 1 July 2018; K. C. Vijayan, “Mustafa Centre Boss Being Sued by Sons of Dad’s Partner,” Straits Times, 6 December 2018; Selina Lum, “Step- family of Mustafa Boss Want Company Wound Up,” New Paper, 14 October 2020; Selina Lum, “Cousin of Mustafa Centre Boss Seeks One-third Stake in the Business, Says His Father Cried ‘Like a Baby’ after Making Will,” Straits Times, 21 October 2020. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
22. “Cousin of Mustafa Centre Boss.”

The information in this article is valid as at August 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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