All’s Well on the Western Front

Regional General Manager, Southwest China, CapitaLand China Holdings, Mr Hoon Teck Ming, tackles Western China while taking the country to heart

Issue: Oct 2012

Mr Hoon Teck Ming is CapitaLand’s man in China’s west who has tirelessly worked on the Group projects in Southwest China
Mr Hoon Teck Ming is CapitaLand’s man in China’s west who has tirelessly worked on the Group projects in Southwest China

Mr Hoon Teck Ming is a man of precision and details. Focused, determined, and, by his own admission, “task-oriented”, he is not one to shy away from difficult situations or challenging tasks. Instead, he faces them with serious-minded steadiness.

“It may be because of my training,” noted Mr Hoon who has a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering from the National University of Singapore.

Whether nurture or nature, these traits make him the perfect candidate for taking on the western region of China which CapitaLand has a burgeoning interest in. In fact, 41 per cent of the Group’s total assets are in China. But unlike the coastal regions or the capital, the west has only lately gotten the attention it needs for growth and development and is, therefore, a much newer ground to break for investors.

But Mr Hoon is unfazed, “I am a perfectionist. If I do something, I want to do it well.” I adapt very quickly to local environment and I always love what I do.

As the Regional General Manager of Southwest China, CapitaLand China Holdings, Mr Hoon is in charge of CapitaLand China’s various investments in Chengdu and Chongqing. He has been involved in major projects such as mixed developments Raffles City Chengdu and Raffles City Chongqing; as well as residential property, The Loft.

Call of the West

“Actually, it was CapitaLand’s work in western China that drew me to the company,” explained Mr Hoon of his decision to join the international property giant in 2007. “At that time, western China was opening up and they were working on several projects in Chengdu. I wanted to be a part of that.”

He certainly had his work cut out for him. One of the first projects he oversaw was the development of Raffles City Chengdu, the fourth Raffles City in the world and the largest one at the time of its construction. Sitting along Renmin South Road right at the heart of the city’s international business hub with connections to Chengdu Metro, the development is city within a city. It encompasses a shopping mall, international grade A offices, a hotel and international high-end serviced residences.

“Raffles City Chengdu is an iconic development and an once-in-a-lifetime project,” declared Mr Hoon. “Cities in southwestern China used to be considered second tier cities but the region is developing so fast that we now call them 1.5-tier cities and Chengdu is ranked one of the top cities in that area.”

But helming a project as massive as Raffles City Chengdu was not without its challenges.

“We had to balance the architect, Steven Holl’s vision of the building with the commercial viability that we wanted to achieve. While he envisaged the structure with a lot of open spaces, we also had to ensure we had enough usable spaces,” explained Mr Hoon. “It was a balance between form and substance.”

He also had to be the go-between for the international consultants and talents brought in to design and build the development; and the local team hired to manage the project.

(From left) Mr Hoon with Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong; and President and CEO of CapitaLand Group, Mr Liew Mun Leong at the Raffles City Chengdu Inauguration Ceremony in September 2012
(From left) Mr Hoon with Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong; and President and CEO of CapitaLand Group, Mr Liew Mun Leong at the Raffles City Chengdu Inauguration Ceremony in September 2012

There was the language issue since not all the locals are fluent in English. We also had to work hard to interpret the designs and drawings for the local contractors,” said Mr Hoon. “It was like going to war every day. There are many battles in a war, you have to tackle them one at a time. You win some and you lose some. Most importantly, you need to win the war at the end. The Chinese say 中庸之道必有取舍。”

The mixed development was also of a complexity the city had yet to encounter since mixed developments are rare there. Getting relevant local expertise was another matter Mr Hoon had to manage.

“We had a tough time building up a team. But we persevered.”

Raffles City Chengdu opened in September 2012 and Mr Hoon could not be prouder. “We want to make Raffles City Chengdu the third place for the people in Chengdu.”

“It is just like seeing my own daughter all grown up after working so hard to bring her up. The joy of seeing the completion of Raffles City Chengdu despite the complexity of the project is indescribable,” the father of three said.

Up next for him is Raffles City Chongqing which is targeted to begin construction in late 2012. The mixed development designed by Moshe Safdie who also designed Marina Bay Sands will be the ninth and largest Raffles City. He feels fortunate to have the chance to do another once-in-a-lifetime project. This time round, it is much bigger in scale and much more complex. Of CapitaLand’s strategy in China’s west, Mr Hoon said that mixed developments was the edge the Group had over others because few local developers have rich experience to manage such properties.

“It’s not just the design and construction. We have to consider the management and operation of the property thereafter,” said Mr Hoon. “The economy in southwestern China is developing very fast and it is very vibrant. We plan to have a long-term foothold in the region.”

Lessons from the Past

Doing what he does today has always been Mr Hoon’s dream.

“When I was young, I always wanted to be a civil engineer. It was my childhood ambition to build tall buildings, bridges and such. But I never thought it would ever come true because I thought it would be something difficult to get into,” he said.

Like many men who made good, Mr Hoon came from humble beginnings. “I have to wake up and go to the wet market as early as 3-4 am in the morning.”

“My parents owned a fish stall in Malaysia and from as young as in primary school, I would help out at the stall,” said Mr Hoon who is the oldest son. He has an older sister and two younger brothers.

Right up till high school, Mr Hoon would balance school and work.

“My high school was 30 kilometres away from home. I would work at the stall in the morning and then rush to take the bus to school. I was always the last to get up the bus and the driver would always have to wait for me.”

This small town boy would go on to snag a job with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in Singapore; SembCorp Engineers and Constructors; as well as work with international companies that would see him live several years in various parts of China. He moved to China in 1994, and has been there for over 16 years. His children – two sons in their teens and a little eight-year-old girl – and his homemaker wife have all made China their home.

Mr and Mrs Hoon and their family
Mr and Mrs Hoon and their family

“My youngest was born in China,” he quipped.

His jobs have also taken him to Dubai and Abu Dhabi where he lived for two years before moving back to China to join CapitaLand in 2007.

“Working in Dubai and Abu Dhabi was like in the United Nations. There were people from all over the world. It was vibrant and fast-paced. I had to learn to work with different nationalities and cultures and to work fast,” said Mr Hoon.

Perhaps because he is no stranger to hard work, Mr Hoon is, today, a very hands-on boss.

“I believe in leading by example. I don’t just give them instructions; I go to the site and try to solve the problems. I show them what needs to be done and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. I enjoy every moment of being on the construction site, and every day is a learning experience for me.”

Mr Hoon, with two young victims of the Sichuan earthquake, has a heart for those affected by the tragedy
Mr Hoon, with two young victims of the Sichuan earthquake, has a heart for those affected by the tragedy

Cry from the Heart

Indeed, Mr Hoon may be a man who deals with hard steel and concrete in his everyday job, but he has a heart that cries out to those in need. He has been actively involved in helping victims of the Sichuan earthquake and has visited them more than 10 times; working with local authorities and partners to restore order and help the people rebuild their lives.

“We try to bring them necessities whenever we see them,” said Mr Hoon.

Their plight is especially real to him because he was there when the quake in Sichuan happened.

“At that time, I was on the 31st floor having a meeting in the office. When the building started to shake, no one knew that it was an earthquake,” he recalled.

The team raced to an open field below and everyone survived unscathed. The city of Chengdu was not greatly affected. But the rest of the cities in Sichuan were not so fortunate. The devastation that followed was heartbreaking.

“But the survivors are very resilient. They may have lived through very tragic circumstances but they are mentally very strong. You can see this even in the children at CapitaLand Hope Schools in Sichuan,” said Mr Hoon who regularly volunteers at the schools.

Mr Hoon enjoying a game of table tennis and looking on at the students hard at work at the temporary school built by CapitaLand in Mianzhu Gongxing town in 2009
Mr Hoon enjoying a game of table tennis and looking on at the students hard at work at the temporary school built by CapitaLand in Mianzhu Gongxing town in 2009

Just as resilient as the children he has met, this CapitaLand’s man in China’s west, has tackled challenges in his job with steely determination while serving the local community with a heart of gold. He has now made China his home and taken its people to heart and, for him, all is truly well on the western front.

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