S P Setia's entrepreneurial spirit drives its success

WITH less than two years to go at S P Setia Bhd, president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin assures us that the property developer's entrenched entrepreneurial determination will continue to drive its success.

Liew joined S P Setia in 1996, when its market capitalisation was only RM800 million. Today, the group is the most recognisable name in Malaysia's property industry, and has a market capitalisation of RM8.3 billion.

S P Setia has gone from being a construction outfit to a property development juggernaut, with projects within and outside the country. Its most notable development is Setia Eco Park in Shah Alam, Selangor, while its latest is the 40-acre Battersea power station redevelopment in London.

Last year, after Permodalan Nasional Bhd increased its stake in the developer, the Johor-born Liew began mapping out his departure from the company. He is on contract until March 2015, after which he will leave the company.

Liew is passing the baton to the current chief operating officer Datuk Voon Tin Yow, while Datuk Teow Leong Seng, who is executive vice-president and chief financial officer, is slated to take over as deputy president. Liew will also leave behind a strong S P Setia that is estimated to have projects worth RM70 billion in gross development value.

Speaking at The Edge Billion Ringgit Club's (BRC) "Meet the CEO" talk, Liew notes that it was the company's entrepreneurial spirit that won the Battersea project in London. He reasons that what the group lacked in technical expertise was more than made up by its entrepreneurial spirit.

"Professionals in the UK are very strong, technically. Their technical knowledge in engineering and architecture are superior. But they somewhat did not have the entrepreneurial spirit to take on risk," he tells university students at Taylor's Lakeside Campus, where 220 students attended the talk.

He says this had given S P Setia the opportunity to break into the London market. "Not because we are better than them technically, but because we have strong entrepreneurial determination."

In his talk entitled "Developing a Leader", Liew says that previously, it was just a dream for an Asian company to compete against professionals in the West. "I am not saying that we are better than them. But today, we are as good as them and will continue to be as good as them, as long as you have the motivation to learn continuously."

Liew says Malaysians have an advantage against those in other countries because they are able to build a strong foundation in their business here. He reasons that this was due to the exposure from growing up in a multi-racial country, which allows Malaysian professionals to see situations differently.

"If you can survive in Malaysia, you can survive anywhere in the world because here, we learn to adapt to and adopt different situations and cultures," he says.

He fielded several questions during the session that lasted more than an hour. The questions ranged from how he manages S P Setia, to which leader he admires the most.

Present at the talk was The Edge Media Group's publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat, The Edge Communications Sdn Bhd managing director Au Foong Yee and The Edge Education Foundation CEO Dorothy Teoh. Also present was OCBC Bank (M) Bhd's head of business banking Ong Eng Bin and Taylor's University School of Architecture dean Tony Liew.

The "Meet the CEO" series is being held in conjunction with The Edge BRC awards. The main sponsor for the awards is OCBC Bank. During the sessions, college and university students are given the opportunity to meet and engage in discussions with CEOs of Corporate Malaysia.

Ho is of the view that these talks will enable students to learn and be inspired by the experience of the CEOs and in the process, gain invaluable knowledge beyond what the textbooks offer.

Initiated last year, the CEOs who have taken part are CIMB Group Holdings Bhd group CEO Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, former Malayan Banking Bhd president and group CEO Datuk Seri Wahid Omar, Petronas Dagangan Bhd former CEO and managing director Amir Hamzah Azizan, and QL Resources Bhd managing director Dr Chia Song Kun.

The Edge BRC and its corporate awards were established in 2010, to group Malaysia's largest-listed companies and to acknowledge the top performers in various categories. BRC membership is free and automatic for listed companies that meet the qualifying criteria.

The Edge BRC awards include Malaysia's outstanding CEO award, most profitable company award, highest profit growth company award and best performing stock award. Last year, 114 companies made up the club, representing 15% of the total number of companies listed on Bursa Malaysia.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of August 5-11, 2013.

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