Hoon Teck Ming appreciates he’s a tough taskmaster. In fact, he’s rather pragmatic about it and makes no apologies for ‘blowing up’ if he sees something not quite right on one of his sites. With refreshingly honest insight, the Group Managing Director of GuocoLand China (GLC) confesses that working with him ‘is difficult’.
“Yeah, I’m tough, very tough, particularly if I see something wrong with the safety on a site, then I’ll really blow up,” he says. However, Teck Ming firmly believes that with every tough action he takes, or difficult decision he makes, the ultimate outcome is always beneficial. Not only for him, but for his employees. He insists they either learn or they don’t. And if they don’t, then it’s time to leave.
“I have to let them go,” he says. “And that doesn’t always mean that they are not good at what they do, it might just mean they’re dropping the ball. After their first year in the job I always ask them to reflect on whether they’ve learned something, whether they grew. If they haven’t, I’ll tell them it’s time to leave. It’s not worth staying; they are just wasting my time and theirs.
“Yeah, I’m tough, very tough, particularly if I see something wrong with the safety on a site, then I’ll really blow up.”
“On the other hand, when they do learn and grow from working on great projects, I tell them they’ll eventually appreciate the experience. They should be very proud when one of their developments is finished because when they are old and go past it, they can tell their grandchildren they were involved in its construction.”
Headquartered in Singapore, GuocoLand is the real estate arm of Malaysian conglomerate the Hong Leong Group, focusing on development, property investment, hotel operations and property management. It has substantial operations in Singapore, China, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as investments in Australia and the UK, through Eco World International Berhad.
The company began operating in China in 1994, originally setting up an office in Beijing before moving its head office to Shanghai a few years ago. GLC has a portfolio of developments including residential, commercial, retail and hospitality in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Tianjin and Chongqing, ranging from single components to large-scale integrated developments, all in prime locations with access to transportation hubs.
“We are not aiming to be the biggest foreign developer in China,” Teck Ming concedes. “We focus on what we’re good at and that is developing high-end projects at prime locations. Having been in China for 25 years, we know the market very well and understand that the property sector is very local and requires a lot of local talent. But we also engage top-class architects with global reputations to provide superior service to our customers.”
Of course, working with globally renowned architects means dealing with an abundance of creativity and vision – imagination that can sometimes interfere with practicalities. Teck Ming accepts it’s a delicate balance fulfilling the architects’ dream of producing something iconic while keeping developer costs in check.
“Yes, everyone has their views and sometimes they don’t align with the commercial aspect of the project,” he admits. “Either you do an ordinary project where you meet budget, or you do an excellent project where certain financial aspects have to be sacrificed. Naturally, we want to produce the best build, but you have to achieve a balance.”
To achieve that balance and ensure interests are aligned, Teck Ming incorporates architects into the project as partners, rather than service providers – a relationship he believes is vital to cultivating a common agenda. While respecting their designs and aspirations, he insists architects also fully appreciate the commercial aspect of adevelopment.
“Our corporate culture is to treat everybody as a partner. Everybody is equal,” Teck Ming explains. “We understand architects want to build iconic projects, excellent projects, and we strive to understand what their ultimate dream is. Naturally, we are also very customer-focused and must always think of who the customer is and what that customer wants. We like to deliver something above what the customer is used to, to bring something new to them,” he says.
“Our corporate culture is to treat everybody as a partner. Everybody is equal.”
“But, at the same time, we also have to take care of the financial numbers, so working together with architects in a partnership is key to delivering a good project everyone is happy with.”
Teck Ming joined GLC in 2016, bringing with him more than 32 years of experience in property development and construction. He obtained his Master of Science in Engineering and Bachelor of Civil Engineering (First Class Honours), both from the National University of Singapore.
When Teck Ming began with GLC, ambitious plans were on the drawing board to construct a massive commercial project on prime land in the Changfeng Eco Business District in the Putuo District in Shanghai. It was the last phase of development in Changfeng for the company, which already boasted an impressive portfolio of office towers, apartments and the Guoman Shanghai hotel.
Construction for the integrated commercial park, Guoco Changfeng City, began late last year and is due for completion in 2021. The mixed-use project provides 195,000 square metres of gross floor area comprising two 18-storey Grade A office towers, two low-rise office buildings and supporting retail, entertainment and cultural centre to provide a variety of dining and lifestyle options to residents working and living in the vicinity. It will be integrated with Shanghai Metro Line 15’s Changfeng Park Station, which is planned to be completed at the end of 2020.
Positioned near convenient transportation links and opposite the stunning 364,000 square metre Changfeng Park, which boasts an artificial lake and aquarium, it is targeted to attract demand from both multinational corporations and domestic companies.
“The whole development is about 690,000 square metres in the city centre,” Teck Ming says. “We finalised the design and construction permits and started work in November 2018.”
The development is designed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Pre-certification for green buildings. It’s also the first large-scale commercial project in Shanghai to obtain the WELL Gold Certification – a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring construction features that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community.
Features will include solar panels on the roof, shower facilities on every office floor, electrical floor heating at the ground floor lobby, outdoor charging stations for portable devices, and intelligent toilet housekeeping. “There’ll be sensors within the toilet that will send a signal to property management if they start to smell and a cleaner will be sent immediately to clean it,” Teck Ming explains.
However, finalising the design for the final phase of GLC’s development in Changfeng was not without issues. Building a large-scale project in an already well-developed neighbourhood triggered potential problems.
“There were objections to the proposed design of this last phase of the development. We had to be more prudent and spent a lot of time adjusting the design to better integrate into the neighbourhood,” Teck Ming says.
“Fortunately, the government was very supportive, as were our bosses – our top management in Singapore and Malaysia. They were understanding of the problems we encountered. In fact, there was a lot of understanding from everybody; finally, we got the planning approval and the construction permit and we’re on track now.”
An even greater challenge facing Teck Ming was in the early days when he came on board only to find himself thrust into a culture of conflict and negativity. There was dissension within the ranks at GLC and the Changfeng residential project had almost come to a standstill because of a dispute with contractors.
“There was zero trust between us, the developers, the contractors, the suppliers and also within our own teams,” he remembers. “Everyone was pushing away their responsibilities and pointing their fingers at each other. I not only had to bring the project alive again, but I also had to clean up the company. That meant that anyone who wasn’t aligned with the culture we aspired to, got the boot. Within 18 months we turned it around and managed to deliver the residential project at the end of 2017. It was my greatest challenge both internally and externally.”
Another major development underway for GLC is in south-west China at Chongqing. Along with Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, Chongqing is one of China’s four municipalities, directly under the administration of the central government and with the same political, economic and jurisdictional rights as a province.
GLC secured four land plots for redevelopment into residential, commercial and retail projects right in the heart of the city’s historical neighbourhoods next to the iconic 18 Steps, which lead from the upper level of Jie Fang Bei down to the slums below. The immediate challenge for GLC is to integrate its 341,000-square-metre development with the historical neighbourhood.
“This is a huge city with a population of 30 million people,” Teck Ming explains. “The project is our first in that region and we have to deliver what we’ve promised the government.
“We secured the land through public land tender in November 2016, just a few months after I started with GLC, and because the only constant in China is change, we’ve had to adjust our design to suit the latest planning requirements. It’s a difficult site, where the terrain from the highest to the lowest point is a difference of 50 metres.”
With the Chinese government very particular about the preservation of historical buildings, GLC has had to work closely with relevant departments to gain planning approval. “These days, you just can’t go in and demolish everything,” he says.
“You need to preserve old buildings and their historical value. In the Chongqing project we have two heritage buildings to conserve. This is something very new to us. We had sought advice from many professionals and did a lot of research to develop the best solutions and conservation methodologies for this project.”
Teck Ming says the collaboration has worked well and GLC now has planning approval to start construction, with excavation and shoring work having begun on two of the plots. Building will be staggered and the whole development is expected to be finished in 2023.
“We are starting on plots one and two, and have yet to start on the planning for plots three and four,” he says. “Development has to be staggered simply because a lot of things are market driven. This is particularly evident with residential demands, which change very, very quickly. We cannot just go in and – boom – start everything in one shot. We need to test the market on what we are planning to deliver.”
Teck Ming explains that GLC is very hands-on, monitoring each step of the development process. While there are many levels of regulated inspections carried out, he ensures that GLC is equally involved in quality assurance and control. It’s a commitment he regards as vital and as a point of difference between his company and others.
“We always want to bring something new and we’ve done that.”
“Once the final product is delivered, we bring a full team of engineers and architects onto the site and start our inspections. With our reputation at stake, we make sure that we are fully involved from the beginning to the end throughout the construction activity. We need to be very responsible, because if something is wrong, we’ll have to face the music from our customers.”
The quest for innovation does not stop here. “From the very beginning we’ve been trying to be very innovative,” Teck Ming says.
“We always wanted to bring something new and we’ve done that. We have sky gardens, aqua gyms, cigar bars and a 50-metre indoor heated lap pool, which is the first in the market – all cutting-edge facilities that make the owners feel they don’t need to step out from their buildings, except for holidays of course. In September 2019, the Chongqing project’s Experience Center opening ceremony was successfully held. This time, we had installed many innovative and high-tech devices in our Experience Center to maximise and enhance the sensory experience of our visitors. For instance, automatic retractable staircases, 270-degree multi-screen LED displaying platform, AR technology, and such, shall bring about an amazing and unforgettable experience for our visitors.”
Meanwhile, at home, Teck Ming is a dedicated family man with two sons studying in the US and Canada and his teenage daughter at home in Shanghai. He graciously defers to his very understanding wife as being his greatest support and reliable sounding board for any problems he may bring home from work.
“I am a very lucky person. She has followed my career from city to city and is the biggest comfort,” he says. “I also get a lot of inspiration from watching sport – that ‘never die’ attitude and team spirit. I want to see that positive approach at GLC with me leading by example.”
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