Only 3% of family businesses are expected to survive into the fourth generation. Michelle Yong – the fourth generation of her family’s construction company, Woh Hup Holdings – never expected she’d take on a directorship role. However, fate had a different idea. “From a very young age, my brother was always groomed to take over the family business,” Michelle tells The CEO Magazine.
“I grew up thinking he would be the one to join the company and that I’d take a different path and chase my own goals. I worked in academia for a little while, consulting with a private sector think tank for the UK government, and then I did a stint in management consulting.”
She fondly recalls the two years she spent working as a management consultant as a “rich period” of her life when she got to meet many interesting people. However, she soon found it unsatisfactory. “It wasn’t sustainable,” she says. “There were weeks where I did 18-hour days. So I got a bit disillusioned with that industry because a lot of it was up in the air and I wasn’t creating anything tangible.”
Michelle Yong tries on the family business
Michelle did eventually end up joining the family business; however, it sadly happened under less than ideal circumstances. “My uncle, who was running one of our subsidiaries, Aurum Land, passed away unexpectedly. He was only 40 years old and had a stroke. The timing was right for me personally; I was looking for a change, so when I was approached by the family and asked to take over that business, I said yes.” Michelle was at a point in her life where she was looking for something new.
The offer was to take over the business, make it my own, and try to turn it around.
“I wanted to be able to make a difference. I felt like I had gained enough experience outside the family business to vouch for myself professionally, so I was ready to give it a try.
“The offer was to take over the business, make it my own, and try to turn it around because, at the time, Aurum Land was quite small and not as profitable as it could be. It just made sense for me to accept,” she says.
Aurum Land takes a hands-on approach to design
As the director of Aurum Land, Michelle oversees the operations of the boutique property developer. She says that at first there were many challenges to overcome. “I didn’t know anything about the industry, real estate or construction,” Michelle confides.
“As I said, I grew up thinking I was not going to join the family business. But I did do economics, accounting and law as part of my studies, so I had quite a broad background. All of the due diligence work I did as a management consultant – all the number crunching and feasibility analyses – helped me greatly.”
In addition to learning on the job, Michelle signed up for a part-time course at the National University of Singapore (NUS) to understand the foundations of real estate. But her best teacher, she says, was her uncle. “He was instrumental in guiding me. He’s an architect by training, so he taught me how to read drawings, how to critique them, and how to add value in that sense,” she shares.
A focus for Michelle has been to continue to nurture the user-centric approach that differentiates Aurum Land from other property developers. “We take a hands-on approach in the design–development process. We don’t just leave it to the architects, consultants and contractors to coordinate the design and build. We see ourselves as representing the end user, the owner, the buyer, at the decision table because they’re the most important stakeholder,” she says.
Collision 8 – a co-working space for innovators
With a proven track record of success at Aurum Land, Michelle has become the co-founder of Collision 8 – a co-working space for innovators. Developed in collaboration with a former colleague from her consulting days, Collision 8 was spawned from the idea of combining the residential development experience with the co-working style of operating and building an empowered community instead of just building spaces.
“It’s a curated members club, but for innovators, bringing together those from the technology, start-up and investor world and the traditional corporate world that my family business inhabits.
“I was hearing a lot of talk among corporates about better ways to encourage engagement and co-creation, so Collision 8 was born as a platform to create new growth opportunities for both sides of the equation.”
As Michelle continues with her business ventures, she knows there is a lot more to discover, and she feels confident in accomplishing it with the support of her family. “There’s still a lot to learn, and the great thing is I’ve got the support of the family – the older generation as well as my generation – to keep looking for new opportunities and to keep trying,” she says.