Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai - A heart to serve
Service with a heart is what sets Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai apart from any other ordinary business person.
The owner and president of Samoa Stationery and Books (S.S.A.B.) attributed her success story to God and her upbringing, which molded her to become a hardworking, dedicated and compassionate leader.
She told the Samoa Observer that the numerous awards that she has won, and the international recognition of her company’s service over 10 years, couldn’t have been possible without the support of her family and her employees.
It is her success in business and the phenomenal growth of Samoa Stationery and Books in the last decade, which makes her a nominee for the Samoa Observer People of the Year 2018.
Establishing her business in 2008 emerged out of her passion in reading, and bridging the gap in the market by providing stationery, books and office supplies that were of high demand by consumers.
Tofilau understood that to run a business, one needs to understand the market and how it can be improved so she did research of the market and customer needs.
“People wanted a variety of office chairs, but stores were not offering what the people wanted. So when I started S.S.A.B., I was filling in those gaps. The prices were reasonable. We first opened a really small store in Tamalini.”
Tofilau said the business than relocated to Lotemau, and it was at that point that the business grew.
“When I was talking to principals they were saying there were no really good book stores in Savaii, so I went there to scout the place, and see where we can be relocated. We rented a place at Salelologa in 2011, and whatever we had we went to set up there. A lot of people think you need a lot of capital to set up, but we just took whatever we have.”
SSAB Mega Store in Togafuafua was established in 2012, and a land was also bought by the business in just a span of 10 years.
“I started with four employees and then to Lotemau I hired another three. The business grew fast because I hired people quickly. I now have about 150-160 employees.
Raised by her grandmother at Moataa, Tofilau learned the art of becoming a successful person by living an orderly life.
“The upbringing I had with my grandmother at Moataa was always about church, honouring God, pretty orderly because my grandmother had a set time for food, sleep,” she said.
“My aunty Epe then looked after me. She was all about loving and a very kind person. I came back to my real parents when I was still at a young age, they were at Togafuafua. My dad was a businessperson. My mum used to be a teacher and then she left her job to help out with our business.
“It was that environment that really nurtured hard work, because straight after school we had to go look after our shop. We used to have supermarkets, and chains of shops, buses, and a bakery.”
Tofilau said it was a miracle that she passed and got a law scholarship as everything was centered on the business.
“We were really nurtured for school and then business, not like school and then university. That is why my other siblings straight after school they go on to set up their own business or help my dad. That was kind of the trend with my family. I remember being so tired, and there’s no excuse you have to help out with the shop. It was not easy. I think from that environment, it helped us to work hard,” she said.
“My mother is a very strong Christian, and she taught us values that are still with us, but my dad was total opposite.”
Tofilau said she is the fourth of six siblings of her mother and father, and she has 15 other half siblings.
Tofilau attended Apia Primary School and then Samoa College before attending the National University of Samoa to pursue her Foundation studies. She later attained a scholarship to study law at the Waikato University in New Zealand where she met her husband, who was also on the same scholarship.
Her work experience has included stints with the Ministry of Finance and the National University of Samoa as a senior law lecturer, after she got her Masters from Australian National University. But it was at the NUS, when she was head of the commerce department, when she decided it was time to set up a bookstore and a consultancy law firm.
Tofilau said good leaders need to be connected to their staff and have a good heart to help and serve others.
On her future plans for the company, she said she would like to improve products within and provide to the needs of schools and parents.
“Plan is to open a branch in Samoa next year, but if opportunity arises then we will open up a branch in the region. S.S.A.B. is looking at doing an e-waste project.