Quill Group of Companies is a familiar name in the property industry, but what might not be known is that the company had started off as an interior design outfit called Quill Design. In fact, its first office was a tiny 100 sq ft space and its first design project was worth just RM3,800.
Quill Design was founded in 1986 by Datuk Dr Jennifer Low, group managing director of Quill Group, who had spent five years with MAA Architect as an interior designer. By 1987, business was so good that Low decided to set up Quill Group with Datuk Michael Ong, a former colleague at MAA Architect and now group executive director of Quill Group.
More than two decades later, Quill Group has amassed a big portfolio of properties and interior design projects. Its core business is designing, constructing and leasing investment-grade properties to multinational and Malaysian corporations.
Low’s success with Quill has not gone unrecognised. Last year, she was named Property Woman 2011 by The International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci) Malaysia — the first time an award was conferred on a woman in the 19-year history of the Malaysia Property Award.
While many people have inspired and mentored Low over the years, she says her late father was her guiding light in her early years. “He was a self-made businessman, honest, hardworking, caring and giving. He set high standards and had strong business ethics. I continue to be guided by what I learnt from him.”
Quill Group’s first development — Quill 1 in Cyberjaya — was completed in 2002 and is on a long-term lease to DHL Malaysia, functioning as a DHL Global information services and data centre.
The property has since been injected into Quill Capita Trust, which is managed by Quill Capita Management Bhd that consists of Quill Group, CapitaLand RECM Pte Ltd — a wholly-owned subsidiary of CapitaLand Financial Ltd — and Coast Capital Sdn Bhd.
Low believes Quill is now a brand that is known to design and develop highly sophisticated office buildings in the Klang Valley and Cyberjaya with MNCs and listed companies as clients.
“We employ a basic concept that permeates all Quill projects. We aim to create value by blending key ideas, namely cost efficiency, space optimisation, contemporary features, aesthetic designs and meeting green building certification,” she points out.
However, she stresses, each building is unique because of its different location and project profile. Using the same concept, Quill will soon be adding three office buildings — Quill 13, Quill 18 and Quill 15 — to its portfolio.
In the pipeline
Quill 18 is a multi-block campus-style commercial building located in Cyberjaya. Sitting on a 6.25-acre tract, the MSC- compliant building comprises two office blocks with a net floor area (NFA) of 522,577 sq ft.
“The design embraces the Modernist tradition of aluminium, glass and steel cladding with articulated aluminium sun shading to reduce tropical glare that doubles as an expression of the machine metaphor,” says Low.
She believes the building’s location in the heart of Cyberjaya, which offers plenty of amenities, large floor plates of about 35,000 sq ft each, generous parking space and green low-rise and heavily landscaped campus atmosphere, will draw tenants. Quill 18 is expected to be completed in 4Q2013.
Over in Section 14, Petaling Jaya, Quill has in the pipeline Quill 13, a 22-storey building with an NFA of 372,192 sq ft.
“The thinking behind Quill 13 is cost and design efficiency without sacrificing aesthetics, visibility and space utilisation. It is highly visible from the Federal Highway and is linked directly to the Asia Jaya LRT station,” says Low.
However, the project that is getting the most public attention is Quill 15 in Jalan Sultan Ismail. Formerly known as Vision City, the project was originally developed by RHB Daewoo Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Rashid Hussain Bhd, and had been abandoned for a number of years.
In 2007, Quill Retail Malls Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Quill Group, acquired a portion of the uncompleted project, measuring 7.1 acres, for RM430 million. The acquisition included the pre-approved development order for a retail centre, an office tower and a block of serviced apartments.
Low calls Quill 15 a future city within a city that can sustain its population and economic activities because of its strategic location.
“When Quill 15 was conceived some 15 years ago under the Vision City concept, it was to be a premier mall designed to meet the shopping trends at the time. Now, it has been given a contemporary design in line with current lifestyle trends, catering for the middle-upper market segment,” she explains.
Positioned as a vibrant and hip destination with entertainment and F&B companies dominating the tenant mix, the idea behind Quill 15 is to provide consumers with a new and exciting shopping experience that cannot be found at Suria KLCC, Pavilion KL and the like, she adds.
Low notes that for any mall to succeed, it must cater for the market segment that frequents the place. In this case, it appears to be the middle-upper segment that favours lifestyle, F&B and entertainment outlets.
Quill 15 comprises a six-level retail mall with an NLA of 763,725 sq ft, a 36-storey residential tower of 548,165 sq ft and a 40-storey office building with an NLA of 644,882 sq ft.
Low is confident that the office tower will fare well despite the current soft office market in Kuala Lumpur, thanks to its location, visibility and amenities. She is also not worried about the oversupply of apartments in the city centre.
“The smaller units and SoHos are selling well. The lifestyle of the younger generation is such that they only need a small unit to sleep in while they work and chill out in the mall. In this sense, the mall’s amenities have an advantage over other residential properties in the offing,” she reasons.
The construction of the office tower will depend on timing, but it is expected to be completed in 2016 when the present cycle of oversupply has come to an end.
All three developments will be green-certified.
Low has long been an advocate of green spaces. In 2009, she published a book on green buildings titled Nanotechnology: Green Buildings & Sustainable Design.
She says while the idea of sustainable development is not new, it has picked up momentum in the last few years. This can be seen in the greater commitment made by the government and the industry. “Consumers are demanding greater accountability for sustainability. This is a global trend. The pressure for change is pervasive and affects my industry as well. Green technologies have become one of the key drivers of this change.”
Low contends that it also makes economic sense as it adds value to the marketing of the building, especially to Tier-1 companies and MNCs. A building that is resource-efficient will command premium rents and green buildings generate greater yields and savings in the long term despite the higher initial investment, she points out.
Low proved that she puts into practice what she preaches when Quill 6 in Lebuh Ampang — a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified building — came out tops in the office development category of the Malaysia Property Award 2011.
The 22-storey green building was a challenge in terms of space and heritage — it sits in a tight space of just 12,000 sq ft, is surrounded by pre-war shophouses and high-rise buildings and is next to the light rail transit tunnel and the confluence of two rivers.
“It was a geotechnical and logistical challenge to meet the scheduled completion date without causing any problems to the surrounding buildings. The development truly benefited from its architect-developer-led design-build-and-lease concept in terms of construction time and cost efficiency,” remarks Low.
HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd, whose current headquarters is located right next to Quill 6, has leased the building for 15 years.
Quill 6 is a jewel in Kuala Lumpur’s urban regeneration programme as it supports City Hall’s policies and is a bright spot amid the urban blight.
Although the outlook for property is not so bright in the new year, Low believes Quill has a proven track record to attract blue-chip tenants both before and after the completion of its buildings.
“The success factors of any property developer are location, timing, cost advantage leading to better pricing and yields, and attractive and efficient designs,” observes Low, adding that Quill aims for long-term investment periods for its properties.
She cites a predatory approach to pricing, creating cost advantage through economies of scale, efficient design, strong property facilities management, landbank selection and ensuring quality tenancies before commencing construction as some of Quill’s strategies to stay ahead.
“Networking is key, together with keeping abreast of developments in Malaysia and the region. We are conscious of and acknowledge the competition. To stay ahead, we need to be focused, innovative and keep abreast of the trends in the industry,” concludes Low.
This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 893, Jan 16-22, 2012
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