THE EDGE Property Excellence Awards 2013: Teamwork the key to success

The Edge Top Property Developers Awards 2013 + Best in Qualitative Attributes: No. 1 - S P Setia Bhd

DRIVING up to the new Setia International Centre on a Monday morning, we were impressed by the attention to detail of the building and its surroundings. But one has come to expect that from S P Setia Bhd, having nabbed the top spot of The Edge Top Property Developers’ Awards for the eighth time. S P Setia has been a consistent performer and has featured in the Top 10 of the awards since 2003.

S P Setia also won the Best in Qualitative Attributes Award 2013. It also won this award last year when the award was first introduced.

It achieved a ranking of 7 for its quantitative attributes, but S P Setia’s qualitative marks were so high that it propelled the developer to the overall top spot.

The man at the helm, who some have heralded as the quintessential rags-to-riches man, is Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin. He tells us that for all of S P Setia’s successes, the credit goes to his team.

“We feel honoured to be in the Top 10 again, as every award, to us, is important,” he says. “We feel that our development philosophy and strategies are attracting attention, and this is only possible because we have Team Setia. Every member of the team works very hard to make us what we are today.”

The effort can be seen in the expansive Setia International Centre located in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, which was set up to cater to people interested in the developer’s projects.

“Setia International Centre is a huge showcase of all our international projects in London, Melbourne, Singapore, China and Vietnam as well as KL-based projects. We wanted this place to be a one-stop centre, where if you want to buy a product from us anywhere in Kuala Lumpur and in our international locations, you come here,” Liew explains.

The fundamentals of doing business anywhere in the world is the same. Number one is people, get the right people for the right job. Number two, your cost structure must be correct. Number three, you must capture your market share, very important. — Liew

“We show you the models and the floor plans, the lawyers will come and get the agreements signed for you, and the loans are done here. Even if you invest in London, Melbourne or Singapore, we in Setia provide you with everything here.”

It has been announced that Liew will leave S P Setia in March 2015, although industry talk says he will leave before that date.

However, he has in place a succession plan where he will be passing the baton to Datuk Voon Tin Yow, the current COO. It would be assumed that Liew will be taking things easy, but this is not the case.

“I’m still busy because of my work in London, which is at a critical stage,” he says. “The faith given to us for the Battersea Power Station is so much. People believe in us that Battersea will be a success,” Liew says of the £8 billion joint project with Sime Darby Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund.

Besides sharing S P Setia’s current activities as we sit down for an interview, Liew also gives his views on the property market and what makes him tick as an entrepreneur and a father.

The Edge: What is the secret of your success in leading S P Setia?
Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin: From the very beginning, I believe that I must create a strong team. I must always have people who can “cover” my weaknesses of things I am not good in doing, which they are better in doing. So when I started business in 1990, I made sure I had people around me who were not equal but better than me. By creating a strong team, we can face any challenge.

The fundamentals of doing business anywhere in the world is the same. Number one is people, get the right people for the right job. Number two, your cost structure must be correct. Number three, you must capture your market share, very important.

What is the key to your success in the international arena?
We’ve done well in Singapore and Melbourne. For example, a fortnight ago, when we launched Parque Melbourne, our second project in Melbourne in St Kilda Street, 95% was sold — about 50% was bought by Malaysians and the rest by Australians. People just come and buy from us despite the appreciation of the Australian dollar against the ringgit. This is because of branding. They believe we can deliver what we promised. We must always deliver on our promises in terms of service and quality.

The catchphrase in the market is affordable housing. What needs to be done to ensure every Malaysian has the opportunity to own a home?
As a country, we come from a low base. I strongly believe we must become a high-income economy. Once you’re a high-income economy, salaries improve and people have a better lifestyle. But a high-income economy does not come from a government giving out money; that will be a total failure.

A high-income economy must come from an increase in productivity, the ability to produce more with less resources. We must be able to achieve that. To do that, the workforce must be more educated and better trained ... and then with a higher income, you can buy houses.

What the government is doing is correct, in terms of pushing for affordable housing. The government has the policies, but I think it needs more coordination with associations like Rehda (Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association).

Rehda is not here to make money for its members, but it is well verse with the laws and knows the market very well. I hope the government will work more closely with Rehda and come up with a solution where we can participate in solving the housing problem.

The market has cooled due to Bank Negara’s loan policies. Does the market need more cooling or should Bank Negara ease off a little bit?
Today, for every three houses or apartments that we sell, one loan application will be rejected. If Bank Negara imposes more measures, it may destroy the economy. The housing industry is a big component of the GDP. The government has to be very careful balance between cooling measures and genuine demand for houses out there. It has to be mindful that the cooling measures may drive the market the other way.

Besides these measures, there is also talk about the build-then-sell (BTS) and sell-then-build (STB) systems. There are many forms of BTS and STB in the world; we must find the right one for Malaysia. We cannot just adopt the Australian or British system lock, stock and barrel; we can’t. We have to find our own solution. If we were to do BTS, we will cut down the supply of houses by at least 60%. The issue of affordable housing has nothing to do with BTS or STB. It is how to make more homes available to the general public. When supply increases, there will be competition, and prices drop. When you curtail supply, prices will go up and won’t come down.

How are you guiding and bridging the generation gap between your Gen Y son Liew Tian Xiong, who is getting into property development, and yourself? [Tian Xiong is a director of Eco World Development Holdings Sdn Bhd, which two former directors of S P Setia Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Manaf and Datuk Eddie Leong Kok Wah are shareholders. Recently, Eco World along with Tian Xiong made a bid for Johor-based listed developer Focal Aims Holdings Bhd.]
My father was a lorry driver and my mum, a rubber tapper. So, life was tough for us. I am tough because of that tough environment. Tian Xiong is different. He’s born with a silver spoon [in his mouth]. He was born with a driver, maids, good schools, good life and so forth.

Tian Xiong, director at EcoWorld Development

How to make him tough? He has to find his own way of doing it; he has to find his own niche. He has to face problems on his own. As a father, I can only tell him one thing — build a team. It’s the same thing I tell every one of my friends or when I give a speech — build your own team and find your own way. There is no ‘one shoe fits all’.

Tian Xiong has to think of what he is today, who he is today, what job he’s doing, what his capacity is and so on. He must analyse the market and build his own team. And be humble, in the sense that you may come from a well-to-do family today, but the other guys out there want your position, they want to sit in your place. If he does not build his team to cover any weaknesses that he may have, he will never be successful. He will always be known as Liew Kee Sin’s son.

If he wants to be known as Liew Tian Xiong in his own right, he has to build a team; a team that can support, can complement each other and one more thing, he must learn to treat people well, with respect; everyone, be it the driver or the maid. We may be from different generations, but if you have a strong team and you show respect to people, you will succeed in life. How he does it and which methodology to use, that he has to find on his own.

What is the outlook of the property market for the rest of the year and 2014?
The market is slowing down because of the slowing economy and the depreciating currency. Everything is becoming more expensive. But for Setia, we are doing extremely well. We are lucky we have a strong customer base and a very strong brand, and whatever we put on the market is sold.

What advice would you give to genuine homebuyers, investors and armchair critics?
To the genuine homebuyer, look at the product carefully, do not buy on speculative instincts, buy what you need, what you can afford, this will take care of speculation in the long run. To investors, look for quality developers. To armchair critics, developers are good guys. If you look at the records of the last five years, all developers have done well. We also fulfil our corporate social responsibility. Give us a chance to prove that we are helping and contributing to the country.

Top: The impressive Battersea Power Station project by the Thames. Bottom-left: S P Setia’s second Australian project, Parque Melbourne in St Kilda Street. Bottom-right: The KL Eco City development in Bangsar.


This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 14, 2013.

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