Malek Mattar


For some, a mid-life crisis can only mean bad news. But for Malek Mattar, his mid-life 'itch' as he calls it, was one of the best things to happen to him. The Founder and Managing Director of Singapore-based furniture design company Ierus said he had never regretted the decision to leave his foreign exchange broking job in 1995, after holding down that job for 15 years.

Now the MD, who is also his Company's principal designer look forward to meet with clients who want his signature-style designs furniture in their home. Recalled Malek, , "When I became a foreign exchange broker in 1979, the market was very good with the promise of big pay-outs. Everybody wanted to have a piece of the action because it was a money-making industry." As he put it, "Yes, you could say the job allowed me to taste the fine things in life; I ate good food and travelled extensively."

Then, when he got transferred to the night shift, trading with markets in the United States, his crisis set in. "I was 35 and getting restless wondering if there was anything else I could learn."

That was when his interest in design lured him.

"I have always been interested in the arts, in paintings, creative expression and converting that interest into interior design and home decor was always something I dreamt of doing."

That vision and passion saw him juggling his night shift job with helping in his friend's interior design business during the day, "carrying tiles and cleaning toilets after the renovation," to see if his expectations of the industry were realistic.

After six months, he realised he was more drawn toward the furniture industry than decorating homes. Despite his company offering him a daytime broking job, his passion led him to quit his stable financial job to study the retail market in Singapore. He roped in a partner and they opened up a furnishing shop specialising in retailing furniture and offering home decor services across Singapore's border in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Together they went to Indonesia where Malek, with the help of new contacts he made, built a small factory to start producing furniture which consists mainly of classic reproductions or ethnic Indonesian designs.

Of course, no good businessman started out without any hiccups.

In Malek’s case, he had to go without a salary for two years as his start-up in JB struggled due to insufficient demand. "We were still in our experimental stage but we soon realised that the JB market was small and to attract more business, we opened a Singapore branch."

"I think it all came down to not having enough knowledge, particularly in the production process. It's not simply taking the orders and rolling it out; we had to understand  skills management and people management."

Interior Effects Rustica was renamed Ierus Pte Ltd, with its retail front named Ierus Living when he went global in 1999) in mid-April 1997. Then tragedy struck. His factory disappeared overnight in Indonesia when it burned down in August that year, which also killed two workers of his. Instead of throwing in the towel, he decided to sell what he’s got in order to build a new factory. Its took him another year to build and complete an 8,000sqm factory, while he rented space which he used, to keep his production going.. With a workforce of 300, they are able to ship out ten 20-ft ship container-loads of furniture every month.

"By this time, I knew where we had to go. We could not simply rely on doing reproductions or copies of European-style or typical Indonesian designs - all what you refer to as classic style. We had to come up with our own concepts. I was determined to make it work simply because I felt it was my passion and I was adamant I could stick to it." So he started designing his own flavour of furniture with touches of the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian and eclectic style.  A global fusion style.

Why be daring? Malek says, "I have to go beyond the trend and that's what makes my works collectibles. Why compete when you can be unique?" For his entrepreneurial and creative spirit, Malek has been lauded with several prestigious national awards, such as being recognised as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Singapore-Malay Chamber of Commerce in 2002.

 I am living my dream now and that satisfying my customers counts above anything else."