Having a plan is useful in several situations, especially when it comes to property development. “Whatever it is that you plan to do – when you conceptualise it in the big picture – the most important thing is asking ‘how do I achieve it’?” says Zamani Bin Kasim, CEO of Malaysian property developer Astaka Holdings. “I lock in the concept and vision, concentrating on the implementation of what is important in the overall plan to activate and do right every day.”
For Zamani, having a set plan means everyone in the company won’t be anxious about the next steps. “They’ll have to think about what they need to do each day to ensure we meet the timeline,” Zamani continues, “so that by the end of the day, the finished product is realised.”
Zamani has been in the property development industry for more than 35 years. After graduating from university with a Building Science degree, he worked his way up through the industry, getting involved in several residential, commercial and industrial development projects. Zamani is especially proud of how hard he had to work to get to where he is because of his background. “I went up step by step,” he says. “I didn’t have a godfather who picked me up from bottom to middle management or from middle management right up to the top. Where I am now is a culmination of all the efforts I’ve been involved in.”
“I came from a poor family,” he explains. “My mother was a religious teacher and I still remember, in the 1960s, she was earning 260 ringgits a month (US$60). My father was an ex-British Army officer and after the British left, he came back to the village to do village work. And they were supporting nine of us.”
This, however, didn’t stop the determination Zamani and his siblings had to succeed. “My older brother got a PhD and is a professor, and one of my sisters got a master’s,” he says. “There were six graduates out of nine.”
Astaka Holdings has a strong belief in contributing to its community, with a focus on supporting development projects such as clinics, schools and social impact initiatives to help those who are disadvantaged.
In 2015 it completed construction of a three-storey mosque at the Johor Police Headquarters in Johor Bahru.
Since then, the mosque has been used by the local Muslim community as well as being a centre for outreach programs. Additionally, Astaka Holdings will conduct maintenance activities on the building to ensure its upkeep over the years.
In all the roles he has had so far, Zamani makes sure he doesn’t forget his roots. “What I’ve been doing so far is pushing myself,” he says. “Because to me, when you have a job to do, you do it. You must plan the task properly, understand what your role is, strategise how to do it and then track your progress. Tracking is the most important thing.”
It is from this experience, that Zamani is now willing to share what he has learned with the next generation. “I am in my early sixties and I’m in this position,” he says. “It took me 35 years to get where I am. But if you want to do it in 10, 15, 20 years, you must have the right direction. Where do you want to go? How do you want to do it? Getting the work done is simple; if you have the right frame of mind, it can be done.”
“Getting the work done is simple; if you have the right frame of mind, it can be done.”
The journey to Astaka
Astaka Holdings began as Astaka Padu Sendirian Berhad and was founded by Dato’ Daing A Malek Bin Daing A Rahaman in 1993. In 2005 the company’s privatisation exercise with the state government to redevelop the indoor and astroturf hockey stadium was successfully completed. In 2012, Zamani was appointed CEO of Astaka Padu and he set out his grand vision for its future.
“When I came in, I convinced the company owner that the land we had was a gold mine,” he explains. “So I started off with getting the consultants who came on to conceptualise the whole development, because the land we had at the time was 7.65 acres in the town centre. The location was fantastic.”
And thus began plans for the company’s highly anticipated flagship development, The Astaka @ One Bukit Senyum. “Bukit means hill and Senyum means smile; so, Smiling Hill,” Zamani adds. “We started work in 2013 and when it is complete, it will be the tallest residential tower in South-East Asia. We are 1,020 feet above sea level and you can see the whole cityscape of Singapore, right up to Marina Bay Sands and One Shenton Way. We’re even taller than the tallest building in Singapore.”
“We need each and every one to do their part of the job to enable the whole development to be completed to satisfaction.”
Ascending high above the city skyline, The Astaka mixed development will include a five-star hotel, branded residences, serviced apartments, a premium shopping mall and an office tower. The company has received a lot of positive responses from its stakeholders to the upcoming building since construction began. “They’re very happy because we believe in giving a quality product,” Zamani says. “It’s not so much about us trying to make as much money as possible. We put quite a bit of fun inside and we increase the value by putting in better things. The most important thing is we want to be a very good brand in the property industry.”
“Astaka Holdings shares the same vision as Lian Mong International Sdn Bhd – to always do our best to provide a luxury living environment as a whole for the resident, not only internally but also externally.” –Tan Hock Siew, Managing Director, Lian Mong International Sdn Bhd
Planning is a major priority for Zamani. “In doing all of the projects, what you need to look at closely are all of the preliminaries,” he says, “because getting the job done is very easy once you have conceptualised a good product which is in line with market requirements. When you do the construction, its only the contractors, consultants and the site team that are required to ensure compliance and quality standards and, by that stage, all construction drawings are ready to be executed. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is the preliminary; how you conceptualise this development in line with market requirements because, at the end of the day, you’re talking about the bottom line for the company.”
Another high priority for Astaka Holdings is to maintain a culture of transparency throughout its operations. “At Astaka, I want everyone to be involved in everything that we do,” Zamani says, “which means I need to be transparent. I have to paint the team a picture and show them the full perspective of things – how we are moving and what everybody is required to do to allow us to achieve everything – so that they know that their part of the work is equally as important in the whole scheme of things.”
Zamani highlights that the first line of attack is at top management, whose task it is to align everybody. “The top management unit heads will impart all these plans onto our staff so that everybody can work together in a very cordial, friendly manner,” he continues. “It’s just like in a family.”
Further, Zamani says he is very approachable as a leader and reinforces the importance of having an open line of communication when it comes to internal operations. “God has given you a mouth so you should open up and talk,” he says. “If you have a stumbling block along the way, I say you communicate. If the communication goes through, then everybody’s aligned. And then at the same time, the tracking of it complete. We need to make sure we know where we are, where we are going and what needs to be done.”
“Where I am now is a culmination of all the efforts I’ve been involved in.”
This alignment is crucial when it comes to undertaking large projects. For Zamani, it means always working on something to move the project forward. “I’ve been trying to make sure that everybody is aligned and at the same framework moving forward,” he says. “It’s not just okay for me to tell you to do one thing, ‘A’, and then you come back to me and say, ‘I finished ‘A’ already, what else do you want me to do?’ That is not the way. To me, I like to tackle the mind first. Why am I doing this work? How does it benefit me?”
Moreover, Zamani believes in knowing where your place is within a company, not letting that discourage you from what you want to achieve later in life. “In the meantime, don’t always look at the successful people now,” he says. “You must always be grounded and have that opinion that you’re happy with where you are right now. Work your way up and results will be the proof of your capabilities.”
From present to future
In 2015, the company embarked on its next venture, a reverse takeover of Singapore-based travel agency services company, E2-Capital Holdings. Subsequently, it got listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. “When I started at the company, there were only four staff members together with me,” Zamani says, “but now, we have over 100 staff. And further to that, we started with 7.65 acres and then we acquired another 3.5 acres within the same site.”
“Dato Zamani is a hands-on and dynamic leader who does not hesitate to make decisions, and take responsibility and accountability. He gets his hands dirty despite his position and attends necessary meetings to assist the project and consultants’ team. An exceptional leader.” – Soh Boon Siew, Director, Jurutera JRK Sdn Bhd
Following the development of The Astaka, the company secured a design and build contract to construct the Johor Bahru City Council office building. This was sold to the city council for RM308 million. Astaka Holdings also entered a joint venture with Saling Syabas to develop Bukit Pelali, a 363-acre integrated township in Pengerang. It will include a hotel, school, shopping mall, hospital, offices and a club house. The Bukit Pelali hill will be utilised as a recreation area.
It’s these developments that Astaka Holdings is using to make a name for itself in the property game. “I’ve got a lot of experience with companies that do various developments,” Zamani says. “But at the same time, our company is new, therefore we need to push ourselves into the market. My controlling shareholders said they’re not interested in doing small units as it means we’d have to compete with everybody else.
So we go for the niche market. That’s why we build big units from 2,207 square feet in the tallest residential tower in South-East Asia, to announce our presence in the property scene in Johor. These developments are already realised. We are now delivering the units in The Astaka, and it is the best development where condos are concerned. We have set a new standard here.”
All the company’s progress couldn’t have been achieved without a stable and reliable source of suppliers. “To maintain our relationships with our suppliers requires a lot of communication,” Zamani says. “For me, I go to the shareholders themselves or to the top management of the company to make them realise that we are in this together; that everybody is equal. There are a lot of threats onsite so coordination is very important. I have to go down to the ground to align everybody and to make sure that things move according to plan.
“I tell everybody in my company, ‘Don’t think too much. Get it done,’” Zamani says. “Do it, because most of the time, we think too much. That if this thing was to happen, then it could impact on this and that – most of it is in your head. And then you make it so difficult but what you’re thinking actually won’t happen. Just move it aside, get the things done. And then at the same time, you’re not perfect. But it’s better to revisit it and if there are some issues that arise from it, then you quickly tackle them to enable you to move forward.”
Zamani also imparts this nugget of wisdom to his workers: “Getting the job done is very easy, provided you do it the easy way,” he continues. “Meaning that if we have a problem, ask, ‘What’s the problem? How am I going to settle this? What are the resources that I need? How do I strategise to move this? What kind of time frame do I need to get these things done?’ Approach it and then move accordingly. That’s why I tell everyone, if you make things difficult, of course, it will be difficult. When you think negatively, at the end of the day, you won’t be doing anything because you think everything is so difficult.”
“We need each and every member of our team to do their part of the job to enable the whole development to be completed to satisfaction. Because at the end of the day, when we complete the buildings, people never ask who the developer is, who the contractor is, who the architect is. They are equally involved.”
Zamani goes on to mention the support that is given from having strong supplier relationships. “If I have a bit of cash flow cringe I’ll inform them,” he says. “And then when they have some cash flow issues, they’ll come to me and I will try to assist. So it’s give and take. It’s important that we move these things together. Teamwork is the most important thing.”