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City & Country: Emphasising the eco theme and sustainability

We feel we can deliver better, over and above what we have done - Chang

EARLY on a Wednesday morning, before meeting us for an interview, Datuk Chang Khim Wah went to Shah Alam to show his support for his former S P Setia Bhd colleagues in a debate competition.

“We had worked together as a team for so long — friends forever,” says Chang, who is CEO of new property developer EcoWorld Development Sdn Bhd. Now, he has brought that same team spirit to EcoWorld.

EcoWorld has been the subject of much talk in the industry following its RM604.65 million acquisition of four tracts in Kuala Lumpur and Johor earlier this year. There were also rumours about its link to Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, S P Setia CEO and president, because not only is his eldest son, 22-year-old Liew Tian Xiong, a director of EcoWorld, but a sizeable number of its 120 employees, including the top management, are from S P Setia.

According to Chang, EcoWorld’s two shareholders are Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Manaf and Datuk Leong Kok Wah.

Abdul Rashid was appointed a director and chairman of S P Setia’s executive committee in 1996 and chairman of the board in 1997. He resigned last year and before venturing into business, he was a senior partner in a legal firm.

Leong has extensive experience in the banking industry. He was a director at S P Setia and a member of its audit and nomination committees, and chairman of its remuneration committee before stepping down from the board in February. He is currently an executive director of Salcon Bhd and sits on the board of MUI Continental Insurance Bhd.

“We have worked together and been friends for 20 years. After they retired, they told me they wanted to continue in this business and that they already had a few parcels of land. We were chatting and I was giving them some business suggestions when they suddenly asked, ‘Why don’t you join us?’” recounts Chang.

Having joined S P Setia in 1994 and been instrumental in setting up its property division in Johor Baru, Chang found it very hard to leave the company.

He was the executive vice-president in charge of the southern and northern property divisions, including the Singapore and Indonesia offices. He was also a board member of S P Setia.

“After making the decision to leave, I had a heart-to-heart talk with Liew. It’s hard to describe how I felt. We had worked together for so many years. Being an entrepreneur himself, Liew understood and told me, ‘Go do what you have to do.’ And that is how EcoWorld started,” says Chang.

Datuk Sundarajoo Somu, former S P Setia divisional general manager of property (north), and Heah Kok Boon, former head of corporate affairs, soon joined Chang. Sundarajoo is now EcoWorld chief operating officer while Heah heads the corporate finance and affairs department.

“How we ended up with so many former S P Setia employees is a situation that developed after I talked to Heah and a few others about my plans,” says Chang.

He also took Tian Xiong, who had just graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from Melbourne University, under his wings to show him the ropes.

“Tian Xiong wanted to learn the business and Liew asked if we were willing to help him. We’re teaching this young man today and who knows? A year or two from now, he could be the one teaching us!” laughs Chang.

Team EcoWorld (from left) Sundarajoo, Chang, Heah and Tian Xiong

Differentiating factors
As a new player in a highly competitive market, being able to differentiate itself can be crucial to the success of the company.

“There will always be competition. That’s why we need an identity of our own and we need to set ourselves apart from the others. So, every one of our projects will have an eco theme and sustainability elements that will benefit our residents in the years to come. That’s our driving difference,” explains Chang.

However, he is quick to point out that he does not consider the company an expert in eco/green projects.

“However, in terms of property development, individually we have learnt a lot from past projects. We are able to build more holistically and a holistic approach is what we put into our design philosophy. We look at things from all levels, such as how heat comes through the windows, keeping the original contour of the land, how to trap construction water and so on,” he remarks.

As an example, in EcoBotanic, the developer’s upcoming township in Nusajaya, 75% of the trees on the site were preserved and will be replanted.

“Rather than chop them down, we rescued them and are replanting them around the boulevard to show that these are the original residents,” says Chang.

“Developers always get a bad reputation for damaging the environment, right?” he laughs. “But we make a conscious effort to develop as responsibly as possible. Our tagline is ‘Creating tomorrow and beyond’. We are not just developing for today, but also for our future generations. What we take, we must put back.”

EcoWorld is placing emphasis on its products and services and making sure they are among the best.

“That is our dream. We must also have unmatched services. Buying from us should be very easy and pleasant, an experience the investors will not forget. And we want the properties they hold to appreciate in value and meet rental yield expectations,” says Chang.

Security is one of its main design elements and each development will have two to three tiers of security.

“Infrastructure and landscaping are also crucial to our developments. These three elements must be there,” says Chang.

EcoBotanic and EcoSky
Sept 22 will be a big day for Chang and his team because EcoWorld will be launching its maiden project, the 300-acre EcoBotanic in Nusajaya, Johor, and its EcoWorld Gallery in Jalan Ipoh, KL.

The first phase of EcoBotanic, which has a gross development value (GDV) of RM3 billion, will offer 624 cluster homes and semi-detached homes. The township is located next to the upcoming EduCity and is minutes away from major highways such as the Second Link Expressway and the new Coastal Highway.

“EcoBotanic will have a botanic theme with gardens and parks. The houses are inspired by classic colonial-era architecture and there is a butterfly-shaped lake as its centrepiece,” says Chang.

The land area for houses in the first phase, the Verandah Homes Collection, starts at 32’ x 70’ and the built-up, from 2,340 sq ft. The cluster houses are tagged from RM900,000 onwards while the semidees start at RM1.6 million.

They have high ceilings for enhanced ventilation, solar panels for energy conservation, a smart rainwater harvesting system and plenty of natural light.

“One of the key features of the homes is the verandah — each house will have one. The verandah is where the family comes out to chat after dinner,” says Chang.

According to him, the registration for EcoBotanic has been encouraging with more than 6,000 registrants. Sales will be conducted through ballots on Sept 22.

In the Klang Valley, EcoWorld is planning to launch its 10-acre integrated mixed-used development, EcoSky, which will be showcased in the EcoWorld gallery. Located in Jalan Ipoh between two KTM stations, it comprises retail units, offices and residences and has a GDV of RM1.2 billion.

One of the key features of the EcoBotanic houses is the verandah EcoBotanic has a GDV of RM3 billion

“EcoSky is pivotal to us in the Klang Valley. Some 20% of the site has been reserved as green space, including a 33,000 sq ft community park and The Centre, a landscaped space comprising gardens, recreational facilities and F&B outlets, among others. Right next door is the Kuala Lumpur City Hall park, which we have undertaken to rehabilitate, so residents will have a good green lung here,” says Chang.

EcoSky will be certified by the Green Building Index, the Singapore Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark and the US Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The built-up of EcoSky’s high-rise residential apartments will range from 860 to 1,200 sq ft. Each unit will come with kitchen cabinets, hob and hood, microwave ovens, a refrigerator, hot water storage system and air conditioners in all the bedrooms and the living and dining areas.

It will have three levels of facilities — The Club with a 50m lap pool, fun island pool and children’s water play area; The Pavilion with a garden lounge; and The Peak — a penthouse club for socialising and entertainment.

“It has a great view of KLCC on one side and the limestone caves and Batu Caves on the other. We didn’t expect the view when we came to see the site,” says Chang.

He believes the development sets itself apart from competitors with its facilities, location, view and close proximity to amenities such as AEON Big Kepong, Jusco Metro Prima Shopping Centre, the Selayang Hospital and Tesco, which is right next door. EcoSky has more than 10,000 registrations of interest.

More to come
With a landbank of 3,000 acres in Malaysia, a GDV of RM30 billion and a focus on the hot spots of Penang, the Klang Valley and Johor, EcoWorld is just getting warmed up.

“We have eight upcoming projects — two in Penang, which are now under submission, two in the Klang Valley and four in Iskandar Malaysia. We will be building our base on the projects we have in hand and are looking for more land.”

Chang says EcoWorld will develop one township in Penang near the Second Link; two, including EcoBotanic, in Iskandar; and its biggest township, the RM6.1 billion EcoGardens, in Semenyih.

“We are hoping to launch the Penang projects, which include a niche development on the island, and the 1,000-acre Semenyih township next year. Two of our Iskandar projects will be business parks and we would love to have one in Selangor as well.

“As you can see, we build across the board; we have high-rises, business parks, shops, offices and townships. We are a well-rounded developer. This gives us flexibility — whichever submarket goes up or down, we are covered. We are very market-driven. The most important thing is for us to focus on the designs and eco elements of our products.”

On the timing of its launches, the uncertain economic outlook and the jittery market, Chang says, “There is never a perfect time to launch a project. We have to face the market as it comes. We have to have confidence in our products. Business goes on regardless of the environment.

“One of the things Liew always told us when we were at S P Setia was: always be humble. We will never stop learning, we will never know everything. That’s what we are here to do — move forward, learn and test ourselves together as a team.”

Chang believes his team is capable of delivering what was promised.

“In our previous jobs, we delivered some 30,000 to 40,000 homes. We feel we can deliver better, over and above what we have done. We already have a set of values learnt from Liew and we’ll enhance them with new ones. Hopefully, with all these in place, our customers will be able to feel the difference, something better when they buy from us. It is our goal to create world-class eco-living in all our projects,” he says in conclusion.

 

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 16, 2013.

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