For the Record - Interview with Tan Sri Danny Ooi

The Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) was first launched in July 1995, after 6 years of research a half a million ringgit spend to finance the project. It was a near disaster and chalked up losses of RM800, 000 within the first three years engaging researchers and renting out an office space, which caused his partners to pull out of their business deal but founder Tan Sri Datuk Danny Ooi was adamant and sedulous in his dream to give locals due recognition for the feats and more importantly to encourage and inspire fellow Malaysians to strive for excellence.

The MBR holds within its pages extraordinary feats by ordinary individuals. It embodies the determined human spirit and the quest for excellence. Even how the MBR came about is a remarkable story in itself of one man’s steadfast refusal to accept to defeat. Coming from a very poor family, the life Ooi led in his earlier days was a stark contrast to the lofty heights he is at today.

Ooi did not have it easy as a child, moving houses 15 times because his parents could barely afford to pay the rent. Meals at the Ooi household usually consisted of plain porridge and soy sauce, with the occasional serving of fish. At 15, with no encouraging prospects in the horizon Ooi, fearing he would not pass his LCE, took a job as a waiter. Ooi did manage to scrape through his LCE, and onwards to finish his secondary education.

At the age of 18, he was hired as an apprentice draughtsman, however, for the next 22 years, he went through the gamut of jobs and trades, which included selling foot massagers, hand phones as well as opening his own printing and music school businesses. More often than not, he met with failures which pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy, twice.

Still, calling it quits has never crossed his mind, “I have gone through many failures but I never gave up. Instead, I focused on moving forward in life and turn those failures into success.”

When I was young I was very interested in the Guinness World Book of Records but it was only much later in my adult life that the idea was brought to mind once more,” He was reminded of the story of a cyclist from India who attempted to cycle his way into the Guinness Book of World Records. Ooi thought to himself, “I wonder how many other Malaysian’s have broken records and what would it matter if there we no official records for this?”

“We started with zero records in 1995 and three years later in 1998, the first edition of Malaysia Book of Records was published,” says Ooi. Subsequently, new editions of the book were published every two years: in 2000 (2nd edition), 2002 (3rd edition), 2004 (4th edition), 2006 (5th edition), 2008 (6th edition), 2010 (7th edition) and 2012 (8th edition). In 2012, a Mandarin edition was published. Earlier this year, the 9th edition of MBR was launched.

Today, 19 years later, Ooi is still at it.

“We get eight or 10 entries a day from people who make bids to enter the record books. Of course, there are those who laugh and ridicule the records that people attempt to break or set but I always challenge them,” he said, “Why don’t you give it a shot?” After many years, Ooi has the knowledge and experience to understand the hard work and preparations required, “People always laugh when I talk about the 300m cake record but the amount of teamwork, dedication and accuracy that goes into such a feat is tremendous!”

In his many years in MBR, it comes as no surprise that there would be some peculiar bid to enter the record books, Ooi recalls a rather tickling enquiry, “There was a man from India who had contacted us to say that he wanted to set the record for the longest time spent staring at the sun! He said he would be able to do it for 6 hours!” he shared with a small laugh, adding the over the years MBR has taken a stand against & discourages hazardous acts.

Still, for Ooi it has never been about novelty or personal gain, “For me it’s not about saying one record is better than the other but over the last 20 years but it’s the memories of certain significant events that I hold very dear. I will never forget the challenge of the longest Malaysian flag (Jalur Gemilang) on the Great Wall of China,” he said, having travelled there with then Minister of Youth & Sports, Tan Sri Hishamuddin Hussein and 80 students from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), “When they were finally done, there were tears in their eyes seeing our Jalur Gemilang up there,” he reminisced, “Not many people are privileged to share and see the feeling on the face of someone who has broken a record.”

A man of simple desires who admits he prefers his Char Kueh Teow over a meal in a posh restaurant, Ooi also believes the MBR is a wonderful tool to instill the spirit of nationalism and patriotism among the young, “In this current time, when everything is so easily accessible and kids most of their time glued to their gadgets, it’s good for them to see their fellow Malaysian striving for excellence and achieving it too,” said the father of three.

When asked if he’s ever considered making an entry of his own into the records, he simply replies, “The Malaysia Book of Records was set up for others and not for me,” said Ooi who is also well-known as the franchise owner of the prestigious Miss Tourism International beauty pageant, which has reached more than 50 countries across the globe.

While he still holds the Malaysia Book of Records close to heart, Ooi has begun making plans for retirement. Adding that he wants to the time off to travel, “Every place I have never been is my new favourite place because each new place will have something different to offer which I have yet to experience.”

This article was published in the Unreserved on September 12, 2014.