Oxley Holdings CEO Ching Chiat Kwong.
Ching Chiat Kwong has juggled many roles in his life. Never one to shy away from taking risks, he took the plunge to become a developer 10 years ago. Today, his company Oxley Holdings is a major property player, both at home and abroad.
By Romesh Navaratnarajah
At the recent PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards held on 7 November, Oxley Holdings’ executive chairman and CEO Ching Chiat Kwong was honoured as the Singapore Real Estate Personality of the Year by the editors of Property Report magazine.
It’s a huge win for a man whose career path has been anything but conventional. Born in 1965 to parents of Shanghainese descent, he’s worked in various jobs including as a tour agent and a police officer.
His first foray into real estate was in 1996 when he set up Oxley Construction, which helped build show units for property developers.
Over a decade later, he took the risk of becoming a developer himself, and it paid off instantly. His first project, a 48-unit shoebox apartment called Tyrwhitt 139, was fully sold in three hours.
He went on to launch other successful projects before starting Oxley Holdings in 2010. That same year, the company was listed on the Singapore Exchange with a market capitalisation of $525 million, which has since surged to about $2 billion.
Today, Oxley has a portfolio of close to 40 projects globally and plans to grow even bigger. PropertyGuru sat down with Ching to talk about his leadership style, investment strategy and the property market.
Q. Congratulations on winning the 2017 Singapore Real Estate Personality of the Year award! What does this accolade mean to you and your team at Oxley Holdings?
A. This is an honour for me and my team at Oxley Holdings. It is an exciting time for us as we make a comeback in the Singapore market and expand our presence in the ASEAN market. This award is a testament to my team’s collective effort to grow our footprint and to make an impact in the domestic and international property markets.
Q. In your opinion, what makes a real estate personality?
A. In my opinion, it should be someone who has the leadership and foresight to bring the company forward, as well as having the vision to create outstanding projects with global standards. The person should be bold enough to explore and venture into places where opportunities lie.
Q. How would you describe your leadership style and how do you handle failure and criticism?
A. First, I believe in keeping the Oxley team compact. We cultivate empowerment and there is no multi-level reporting. Even the most junior staff are welcome to share their views and suggestions. My door is always open and I believe in a flat hierarchical structure. Time is of the essence in this industry and I want things done and answers fast, so it is important that our staff are always on the go and are not afraid of providing input.
Second, I believe in using fear to my advantage. I have never restrained myself from venturing into unfamiliar territory because of our fear of failure. This is why we endeavour to go into untapped markets and be the pioneer among Singapore developers to explore such places. We also make the best of our failures and use the lessons we learned to propel our future growth.
Third, criticism is always welcomed in my office. It is only through criticism that we see beyond our horizon, and it is only then that we grow. We listen to the market and we are always on the ground listening to our buyers’ needs and criticisms. I believe that this has allowed me to adjust quickly in anticipation of market demands.
Q. As a developer and real estate investor, what is your investment strategy?
A. One of our business strategies is to enter into joint ventures or strategic alliances with landowners for the pooling of financial resources and management expertise in project developments, which reduces the risks undertaken by the Group.
We have also chosen to diversify. Over the years, Oxley has grown to become an international property developer with projects in 10 other countries such as China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Cyprus, Ireland and the UK. This gives us an edge as we do not depend solely on any one market.
Q. Oxley is quickly expanding overseas with several projects in ASEAN countries. What is your view on the regional property market and will Singapore remain a core market?
A. There is a lot of potential in the ASEAN region, especially the emerging markets. In fast-growing emerging markets like Myanmar and Cambodia, their governments have put in quite a lot of effort to promote investment and encourage foreign investors. A friendlier business environment will definitely help us. Together with the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, there is still plenty of room for growth.
Singapore will continue to remain a core market for us, especially with several upcoming redevelopment sites such as the ones in Hougang, Serangoon and Pasir Panjang. We also recently acquired Mayfair Gardens (in Bukit Timah).
Q. What do you consider your biggest achievement at Oxley Holdings?
A. We have managed to propel Oxley from a local developer to an international developer with a presence in 11 countries in the span of less than five years. What I love about development is the ability to shape communities. As we take on larger township projects, I feel that my biggest achievement is in changing the landscape of towns, building communities, and in turn allowing people to build their dreams.
Q. What are your tips for growing a successful real estate business?
A. You need to have a keen eye for observation, to see what the market is lacking and be able to satisfy and fulfil this need. Timing is also another crucial factor in the property market. The upturn only lasts for a couple of years, so do as much as you can within this period. You will have to approach every market with a strategy and every decision you make must be a calculated one. Doing your due diligence is also very important.
Q. Where do you see Oxley Holdings in the ASEAN real estate scene in the next five years?
A. We are taking on larger development projects and have started working with governments. As I alluded to previously, Oxley will be taking on township projects in ASEAN in the next five years.
Q. To whom do you dedicate this special award?
A. I would like to express my gratitude towards our shareholders, my business partner Eric Low, deputy CEO of Oxley Holdings, joint venture partners of Oxley, and the staff of Oxley.
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