His Father’s Son

CapitaLand’s Group Chief Financial Officer, Arthur Lang, talks about his father, his fighting spirit, his move to CapitaLand and his family focus

Issue: Jul 2012

A family man and corporate highflyer, Group CFO, Arthur Lang, spends all of his time between work and his family
A family man and corporate highflyer, Group CFO, Arthur Lang, spends all of his time between work and his family

By all accounts, Mr Arthur Lang is a successful man: graduate of Harvard University with an MBA from Harvard Business School; investment banker with Morgan Stanley; and now, the man who “holds the purse-strings of the CapitaLand Group”. But, Mr Lang has not quite had a charmed life. This was something Mr Lang revealed at CapitaLand’s third In Conversation with CEO, a series of heart-to-heart staff conversations have with the top management of the Group. To a packed room, Mr Lang, shared at length about his life and family, his academic history and his career highlights. His straight-talking, sincere style lets Mr Lang come across as an everyman, something those who attended the talk appreciated of a man at the top.

“He was humble and had no airs about him even though he is a smart guy who graduated from Harvard. His willingness to talk openly about his personal life and family helped me to understand him as a family man, a good and understanding boss, and one who generously shares his experiences, and knowledge,” said Katherine Zee, Senior Executive, Finance, CapitaMalls Asia.

Mr Lang kept the crowd captivated with his stories about his childhood, army days and his high-flying banking career
Mr Lang kept the crowd captivated with his stories about his childhood, army days and his high-flying banking career

The Family That Made the Man

His may not be a rags-to-riches story, but Mr Lang does come from a relatively humble background. His parents were working middle-class folks living in a Housing Board Development (HDB) flat in Geylang Bahru. In the mid-1980s, the family fell on very hard times when the economy faced a severe downturn.

And tragedy would strike again in 1987 when his grandmother, who had been taking care of Mr Lang and his younger sister, passed away after battling liver cancer for six months. Then, his father died unexpectedly from pancreatitis in June 1988.

“He was hospitalized the night before. We never knew there was anything wrong with him, and he probably ignored his health while he was working hard on the night shifts. When I reached the hospital the next morning, he had passed away. I never really had a chance to say goodbye to him. That really left a very big impression in my life,” recalled Mr Lang. “I think it would honour my dad to tell [people] that my dad fought hard. He was a fighter.”

Even though his father passed away at the age of 42, he was and continues to be a driving force in Mr Lang’s life.

“My dad had a very, very big influence in my life. He gave me the determination to do well,” said Mr Lang.

His father was the one who encouraged Mr Lang to excel in his studies because as the only non-graduate among his siblings, the senior Mr Lang had felt keenly how a lack of a degree had disadvantaged him in life. The hardship the family went through during the economic recession also gave Mr Lang an important life lesson.

Mr Lang’s pride and joy: Michael (礼渊), Elizabeth (婉云)  and Laura (文玲)
Mr Lang’s pride and joy: Michael (礼渊), Elizabeth (婉云) and Laura (文玲)

“I always tell my kids: never think you are entitled to a good life,” said Mr Lang who has a twelve-year-old son and two daughters aged seven and five. “Have a sense of gratitude, never forget where you come from.”

Although he never came right out to say it, it is clear that his father has shaped Mr Lang’s view of fatherhood and family.

“I am a workaholic by nature so a lot of time is spent on work. However, family is also very important to me. So when I am not at work or thinking about, I spend time with my family. I do very little of anything else,” said Mr Lang.

As a result, he says he almost has no hobbies now and has never gotten around to improve on his golf or tennis, two sports he has always been interested in. He does find time to indulge in, on occasion, his passion for music. But even then, it is a family affair.

“I have a little secret to tell you. I actually went to the Lady Gaga concert in Singapore recently with my son. He enjoyed himself though I think I enjoyed it more than he did,” laughed Mr Lang who is a xinyao (Singapore songs) and jazz music fan.

The Education That Shaped the Man

Academically, Mr Lang was a stellar student. Although his grandfather and father were from St Andrew’s Junior School, Mr Lang himself ended up in Anglo-Chinese School.

“In those days, they were encouraging families to stop at two. So, they gave priority for school entry to women who had gone for ligation. My mother was nice enough to do that and that’s how I got into ACS,” he shared as the crowd burst out in laughter. “Till today, I thank my mother for doing that.”

The young Mr Lang went on to do very well in Primary and Secondary School, securing a place at Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College respectively. In fact, he was so good that he was among those the school was grooming for the President’s Scholarship, a university scholarship awarded by the Singapore government and the country’s most prestigious of undergraduate scholarships. Mr Lang was also on track to becoming a doctor. But the unexpected happened – his A level results were not up to the criteria for the scholarship and hence he was denied the award.

But the years in National Service gave Mr Lang time to re-think his ambition to be a doctor.

“I knew my dad really wanted me to be a doctor. With my dad passing away, I felt it was my duty as a son to fulfill his wishes,” admitted Mr Lang. “But I asked myself: do I really want to be a doctor?”

Despite being offered a place in NUS to study Medicine, Mr Lang eventually turned down Medicine and decided to go abroad to pursue Economics instead. After much effort, he managed to secure scholarships from the URA and from Harvard University. “I am always grateful to the URA for their faith in me. Despite not scoring straight A’s, they believed in my potential, but I decided not to take up the URA scholarship as I wanted to keep my options open after graduation do after graduation.” That decision would create a decidedly different path for Mr Lang’s career.

The Work That Trained the Man

After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics (magna cum laude) from Harvard University in just three years instead of four, Mr Lang chose to return to Singapore instead of working on Wall Street for a year because of family. “My mother always reminded me not to forget about Singapore when I was abroad,” said Mr Lang. “I have no regrets not taking up a job in New York because I had been away from my family for three years,” said Mr Lang.

Speaking from experience, Mr Lang shared passionately with colleagues about why they should give their all at work
Speaking from experience, Mr Lang shared passionately with colleagues about why they should give their all at work

Instead, he got a job with Morgan Stanley’s investment banking division and asked to be immediately transferred to Singapore in 1996. He would go on to be the Chief Operating Officer for the Asia Pacific Investment Banking Division where he was based in Hong Kong for two years, and then to co-head the Southeast Asia Investment Banking Division for Morgan Stanley.

The early years as a young banker were difficult.

“In the first few months, I worked every single day including weekends, often to the early hours of the morning. There were days I saw the sunrise from my office cubicle,” he recalled.

But those years as an investment banker also gave Mr Lang a chance to broaden his network and learn how corporate heads in Singapore and Southeast Asia strategised. He would be involved in several groundbreaking deals in his time with the global financial services firm: the sale of the three power generation companies - Tuas Power, Senoko Power and Power Seraya - by Temasek Holdings; the stake purchase of Hutchison Ports by PSA; the US$1 billion rights offering by Neptune Orient Lines; bond financings for Singapore Power, Singapore Telecommunications, ST Engineering and PETRONAS; and various financing, and merger and acquisition transactions for corporates.

Of those years, Mr Lang said, “In everything, give it your all. Only then will you be able to get maximum satisfaction. To whom much is given, much is required.”

In 2011, he was approached for his current position at CapitaLand. The fighter in him enjoyed the idea that the Company was a “high octane” organisation.

“Nothing stands still at CapitaLand. When I was a banker, I had interacted with people from CapitaLand. Everyone is so driven to do well and they feel good about themselves and proud to be carrying the CapitaLand namecard. Yet, they are humble and they have a strong sense of ethics and corporate culture, a lot of camaraderie too,” said Mr Lang.

But giving up his Morgan Stanley job of 15 years was painful. The family man used a particularly apt metaphor to describe the experience, “It was like divorcing my wife.”

It has been nearly a year since he joined CapitaLand and since then Mr Lang has certainly imbibed the CapitaLand spirit of building people. Of his leadership style, he said, “The sum of the parts is much stronger than the individual parts. I believe in leadership from behind - listening to people and fully developing their potential. But the leader has to make the ultimate decision – whether it turns out to be the right decision or not.”

His approachable manner aside, those at the talk also came away describing him as very positive and resilient despite the various curve balls life threw at him.

Mr and Mrs Lang with their children, Michael, Elizabeth and Laura
Mr and Mrs Lang with their children, Michael, Elizabeth and Laura

“He was not born with a silver spoon and going to Harvard was through hard work and deliberate choice. He went through tough times yet they did not hinder him. Instead these setbacks made him a more resilient and empathetic person. Mr Lang has displayed how he made good out of the bad situations in his life,” commented Joan Chen, HR Executive, CapitaLand.

Mr Lang’s father may no longer be around but the lessons he left behind have clearly gone a long way to shaping his life; whether it is to do his best in his studies, or to face challenges head-on, or “never forget what is truly important.”

And in Mr Lang’s world, that would be people and his family.

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