City & Country: Worldwide Holdings moving forward

In bustling Kuala Lumpur, between Menara Tun Razak and Bangunan LTAT on Jalan Bukit Bintang, is Menara Worldwide. It is owned by Worldwide Holdings Bhd (Worldwide), a subsidiary of the Selangor State Development Corp (PKNS).  

The 25-storey office building has taken more than a decade to complete, and it was a challenge for the developer embarking on its maiden Grade A office tower in the city’s Golden Triangle. The finishing touches are now being put to the building and it is scheduled to be completed in July. 

Worldwide acquired the vacant leasehold tract the building is on, slightly over an acre in size, in the early 1990s from the Malay Chamber of Commerce. Construction began in the mid-1990s, but stopped at the piling and substructure stage in July 1999, thwarted by the recession triggered by the Asian financial crisis, Worldwide CEO Norazlina Zakaria tells City & Country.

During the lull in construction, Worldwide decided to revise the building design. Construction recommenced in July 2007. “We decided to make some improvements to what had been earlier planned for Menara Worldwide,” she says.
Norazlina: The new Worldwide Holdings wants to be a more aggressive player. Photo by Abdul Ghani Ismail
It was decided to make Menara Worlwide a green building, as Norazlina believes having a green rating will help rope in longer-term tenants.

The developer received its non-residential new construction provisional design assessment Green Building Index (GBI) certified-ratings for Menara Worldwide on April 26. Design assessment is the second of three stages in order to be awarded a GBI certificate valid for three years. There are four categories, including certification, silver, gold and platinum.

“Some may find new buildings too flamboyant, and after a while one might get bored. But the all-glass columnless Menara Worldwide has a practical yet modern design ... a timeless design I would say ... And it has a Golden Triangle address, the hub of Kuala Lumpur’s central business district,” says Norazlina.

The RM250 million building is the developer’s first high-rise office tower. “We plan to open in 3Q2010, on a lease basis for now. Of course, if there’s a great offer to buy, we would consider it,” she says. The built-up of Menara Worldwide is 278,000 sq ft, including two penthouses.

“There will also be a podium with a rooftop garden, which tenants can use for functions. We will also have a business centre on the same level where tenants can rent meeting rooms,” says Norazlina.

Indicative leasing rates for the building space are RM5 to RM12 psf. “We do not see a problem with leasing out the offices, as we offer the address and proximity to Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Bukit Bintang. It is also located near amenities and shopping malls ... We believe prospective tenants will find our rates reasonable,” she says. Its leasing exercise started end-March.

“2010 is expected to be a tough year for the office building in Kuala Lumpur with over four million sq ft of office space coming into the market. Most of the supply are from the fringe area of Kuala Lumpur especially Damansara, Petaling Jaya and Mont’Kiara.

“Menara Worldwide would be in a better position to compete as it is located in the Kuala Lumpur Golden Triangle area which continues to be the preferred area. The address in Bukit Bintang will further compliment the situation. Accessibility is another advantage, as the traffic situation is not as bad as buildings located in some other parts of Kuala Lumpur,” Norazlina explains. 

There is also a possible upside with the recent announcement of the New Economic Model, she says, which will hopefully lift economic growth, especially in the services sector which will see further liberisation.

She says the expected completion of Menara Worldwide in July will also give it an advantage over its competition which will only enter the market mostly towards the end of this year or early 2011.

PKNS Holdings is looking at listing a real estate investment trust in the future and if that happens, Menara Worldwide may be parked under the REIT. “The idea is still in the pipeline,” Norazlina says.

The next project on the developer’s plate is a redevelopment project known as Datum Jelatek located near Keramat in Kuala Lumpur. While Worldwide is unable to provide further details on the almost 6-acre project, City & Country has learned that the mixed development has a GDV of about RM1.2 billion and it will be a joint-venture project with PKNS, who will be handling the project as landowner.

“We will be working along with PKNS as the developer. We believe the development will be a landmark in the area. It comprises offices, a high-end condominium complex, a neighbourhood mall and a hotel. We expect to launch sometime this year. PKNS is finalising land issues with the homeowners,” Norazlina says. 

Worldwide is also working on the 500-acre Subang Bestari in Subang 2, Shah Alam (near Sungai Buloh). “We have about 150 acres left to develop there. We also have a 124-acre tract in Puncak Alam. We are re-planning the whole development and may include a hypermarket,” she says.

Within Subang Bestari, Nova III will be launched soon. It comprises 40 units of 3-storey shopoffices with a GDV of RM39.6 million. Another  43 units of 2-storey bungalows will be launched next month, and 26 units of 2-storey semidees in August this year.

The developer is also set to launch its industrial component within Kapar Bestari in 3Q2010, a 252-acre freehold tract in Klang, Selangor. Norazlina says the plan is to sell the lots, with an option to construct the buildings on them. Indicative prices are from RM29 psf.

An artist's impression of the RM250 million Menara Worldwide which  will be completed in July this yearNew direction
Twenty years has passed since Worldwide Holdings Bhd was established. It was listed on Bursa Malaysia under the property sector in 1989 and taken private on Jan 18, 2008.

Today, the developer has new and ongoing projects worth RM4 billion within the Klang Valley, including mixed development Subang Bestari in Subang 2, Shah Alam, and industrial development Kapar Bestari in Klang, Selangor.

“Prior to the recession in 1997, we were involved in too many businesses. We were the building owners of Holiday Inn hotels in the Klang Valley, we were also into timber, automotive and we were the concessionaire for Grand Saga Highway (for two or three years).

“We have since focused ... on only three sectors — property development, property investment (through some joint ventures in Australia) and environment, including waste management,” she says. The company is also looking into medical-related manufacturing.

“But now, we are ready to move forward. The new Worldwide Holdings wants to be a more aggressive player. This year, we plan to focus on brand and value creation, to look outside of Selangor for projects, maybe through JVs with PKNS overseas since we already have experience in Australia. We are also aggressively looking to build up our landbank,” she says.

The developer is also interested in Europe for its property investment portfolio or even property development, “in London, for example, as the currency is low right now”, says Norazlina.

“We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary on May 18. That is to our advantage. We’re not a new player ... and we have remained stable,” she says. In FY2009, Worldwide Holdings recorded a profit before tax of RM99.4 million, compared with RM64.4 million in 2005.

Norazlina took over the helm of Worldwide about two years ago. And during City & Country’s exclusive interview recently, the boardroom was filled with the company’s senior management executives — all of them men. Surely this is not easy.

“I never expected to become the CEO, as most top executives of major organisations belong to the boys’ club. But women leaders are becoming more common, especially in the era of globalisation. So I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable when the board entrusted me with the CEO’s office in 2008. In fact, I have worked with men on an equal footing throughout my career,” she says.

“In Worldwide Holdings, we never talk about gender. We are professionals trying to run the business as best we can, with strategies formulated toward achieving our goals and targets. Everyone has a role to play. I am very much into KPIs (key perfomance indexes) and if  [the staff] deliver, they will be rewarded accordingly,” she explains.

Going forward, the developer is looking at Cheras for a high-end mixed development, as well as other parts of the Klang Valley to increase its landbank. Norazlina says they are also interested in participating in the redevelopment plan for government land in Sungai Buloh announced by the prime minister recently.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 806, May 17-23, 2010.

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