City&Country: New direction

Looking to the Middle East

These are exciting times for the Maju Group of Companies with the recent appointment of a new chief executive and big plans not just locally but overseas as well. 

An indication of where Maju Holdings is heading is the recent announcement that it is developing the exclusive 1,000-acre Ulu Tiram township in northern Iskandar Malaysia in Johor, featuring the first US PGA-sanctioned signature golf course designed by golfing legend Greg Norman in Malaysia. The project will be developed by subsidiary ASM Green Sdn Bhd.

The group’s main focus has always been local since it was founded in 1977 by executive chairman Tan Sri Abu Sahid Mohamed. The diversified group is active in  five business sectors — manufacturing, engineering, property development, infrastructure and services.

The Maju Expressway (the former Kuala Lumpur -Putrajaya Highway), Maju Junction in Jalan Sultan Ismail and the Royal Malaysian Customs Complex in Kelana Jaya are among its projects. The listed steel producer Perwaja Steel Bhd is its subsidiary. Maju Group and Tan Sri Abu Sahid are also major shareholders in the listed Ipmuda Bhd.

Maju Junction, which was designed and built by the group in 1999, comprises two office towers and a five-level shopping mall. The two office towers are 33 and 43 storeys high. The Maju Junction Mall has a total lettable area of about 223,397 sq ft and four levels of office suites with a total leasable area of about 75,644 sq ft.

The group designed and built the Royal Malaysian Customs Complex, which was completed in 2003. It comprises office blocks, apartments, a car park, a multi-purpose hall, a surau and other ancillary buildings.

The Public Works Department recently declared the company a preferred contractor because of its track record of delivering projects ahead of schedule, the recently appointed chief executive Amro Al Khadra says.

Overseas venture
Also a director on the board, Amro tells City & Country that the group has decided to step out of its comfort zone to grow its core business, looking at property development and construction projects overseas.

Amro, who was appointed last October, is a Kuwaiti and he is leveraging on his experience and contacts in Kuwait to grow the group’s property and construction business overseas. He hopes to extend the company’s expertise in the construction sector, in particular to markets such as India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

“We are already in the process of signing an agreement to form a local company in Saudi Arabia for housing, infrastructure and highway projects. We are looking to get our first job in Saudi Arabia by early 2011, but it all depends on the market and the jobs available. Saudi Arabia has a shortage of 1.5 million homes,” he says, adding that the second country Maju is looking at is India.

Prior to joining Maju Group, Amro was a vice-president at his family company, Dan Holding Group, in Kuwait from 1996 to 2007. According to Dan Holding’s website, the Kuwaiti company has diversified market operations in energy (oil fields, refining, petrochemicals and power) including engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning, operations and maintenance, industrial trading, medical services as well as logistics and technology.

“Basically, I’m switching from one family business to another,” quips the confident 38-year-old in his heavy American accent. Upon graduating in business administration from Monmouth University in New Jersey, he went on to take up key managerial programmes at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he met his wife, Ruthlene Abu Sahid. Ruthlene is a daughter of Abu Sahid, and when they got married in December 2007, Amro came to Malaysia and began his career with Maju Holdings as director of business development and international marketing as well as project director in January 2008, until his appointment as the chief executive last year.

Having worked in his family business in Kuwait, he understands what it takes to work with family. “It is not easy as there is a very thin line between the company and the family and you have to maintain the balance. So my job is to make sure that everyone is happy,” he says.

He does not have much free time, and when he does he likes to catch up on his sleep or ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Being a member of the Kuwait riding team, he also wants to ride horses again.

Ulu Tiram
For the group’s Ulu Tiram project, Amro says the master-planned development of 1,000 acres will encompass multiple projects such as the golf course, an equestrian centre, luxury residences including lakeside bungalows, waterfront villas, serviced apartments and condominiums, and superlink homes; a commercial centre with office blocks, a shopping mall, private hospitals, a specialist medical centre, sports rehabilitation centres, and resort and spa facilities.

“We have finalised Phase 1 and Phase 2 but the full plan will only be finalised by year-end. We are working on getting certain approvals from the Iskandar Malaysia authorities and the government. We are ready to go ahead with this project,” he adds.

The leasehold project has a gross development value of RM4.5 billion to RM5 billion. It will be developed in three to four phases over four to five years. The site is formerly an oil palm plantation which the group acquired in 1992.

Construction on Phase 1 is expected to commence in the second half of this year. Phase 1 will feature the 18-hole golf course designed by Norman, also known as “The Great White Shark”.

The first-of-its-kind US PGA-sanctioned signature golf course in Malaysia will also be home to the Greg Norman Golf Academy. This phase will take 18 months to complete. The initial design also includes a signature hole and a clubhouse.

Why Greg Norman?
“Greg Norman Golf Course Design Company definitely has the top expertise in designing golf courses. We contacted two to three golf course design companies but we opted to go for the best because this is my intention for the whole community… to segment a market of our own. It is a niche market by itself  luxury and premium,” Amro says.

It took Maju Group two months to finalise negotiations with Norman, particularly with regards to the commercial terms, the expectations from both sides, the duration of the execution of the golf course as well as the commitments of both parties, he adds.

Greg Norman Golf Course Design was established in 1987, and has completed more than 70 golf courses on six continents, according to its website. Among the courses are the 11-hole Norman Course PGA West Palm Springs, California; the 18-hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes in Florida; as well as the 14-hole Doonbeg Golf Club in Country Clare, Ireland.

Apart from the golf course and academy, Norman will also design a lakeside bungalow and condominium project, dubbed the Greg Norman Signature Residences. Facing a natural waterway, the residential component will be developed later and sold at a premium. Norman has previously designed homes in Milan, Italy; St Lucia, in the Carribbean; and Palm Beach, Florida.

Phase 2 of the Ulu Tiram project, meanwhile, covers 100 acres and plans are to develop an international school and an international college. The developer plans to complete them within the same time frame as the golf course with construction expected to start in the first half of next year.

The international school and college will act as a feeder school offering students placement in European and American universities. The developer has shortlisted two candidates to provide the education services and a decision is expected within a month.

The residential and commercial components will come after the international school development. The developer plans to start the construction of these components by late 2011 or early 2012.

“The properties here will be high-end and will be marketed at above average prices,” Amro says, without elaborating.

The developer is in talks with two international Olympic equestrian riders to open an equestrian school at the equestrian centre planned for 200 to 300 stables.

It also intends to apply for local and international green certifications for the project, as it plans to create a green city in this southern region of Peninsular Malaysia.

Bandar Baru Bukit Mentok
In addition to the Ulu Tiram project, Maju Group is also developing a 200-acre township in Kemaman, Terengganu. The project called Bandar Baru Bukit Mentok comes under its unit ASMD (Terengganu) Sdn Bhd. Spanning 221 acres, it is a RM400 million joint venture with the state government.

The land is owned by Lembaga Tabung Amanah Warisan Negeri Terengganu and will be developed over five phases comprising 1,978 residential and 206 commercial units. In February, the developer launched 34 units of 1-storey link homes priced at RM125,000 each, four units of 1-storey semidees which cost RM245,000 each and six 1-storey bungalows tagged at RM325,000 each. The link houses and semidees have been fully sold, and the bungalows are 50% sold. The developer will be launching 16 units of 1½-storey shops, tagged at RM199,000 each, in July.

ASM Development Sdn Bhd started with 187 acres of land for integrated development in Bandar Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur, in 1991. The RM402 million township is fully developed with medium-cost apartments, low-cost flats, 2-storey link houses and shop/offices.  Maju Group currently has an undeveloped landbank of 1,700 acres in Ulu Tiram, Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Terengganu.

Amro says constant education and development for the employees are important in turning dreams into reality. Recruiting the right people in the right position is equally important, adds Amro, but a problem in Malaysia is getting the right personnel. This, however, will not stop the group from rolling out its Ulu Tiram project or from venturing abroad.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 800, Apr 5 - 11, 2010

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