Delivering Quality with Heart
Senior Vice President, Project Development & Management of CapitaLand Residential Singapore, Lee Yew Kwung, shares the 3Ds of his life
Issue: Nov 2012
Senior Vice President, Project Development & Management, CapitaLand Residential Singapore, Lee Yew Kwung
Known to be approachable and always ready to share a laugh, Mr Lee Yew Kwung, Senior Vice President of Project Development and Management at CapitaLand Residential Singapore Pte Ltd (CRS) does not disappoint when he sat down with INSIDE. The 48-year-old shares candidly and without pretense the highs and lows of his life, endearing with his easy manner.
“I believe that we must have a heart for people,” said Yew Kwung of one of his cherished life values. “My management style is more consultative than confrontational because I‘m by nature more empathetic. But I’m also careful to make sure that people don’t take advantage of this. It’s a delicate balance that I have to maintain.”
That kind of discernment is, in part, the result of observing how his bosses managed situations and challenges throughout his career, in particular, his 15 years in then Pidemco Land and subsequently CapitaLand when Pidemco Land and DBS Land merged.
“Some things you just can’t learn from textbooks. You have to learn on the job, and from watching how others behave. These experiences have certainly shaped me,” said Yew Kwung who was working with a private consultancy arm of JTC overseeing projects in Suzhou Industrial Park, China before he was asked to join Pidemco Land.
He has since been tasked to manage numerous major projects beginning with his maiden assignments, Woodsvale and The Floravale. These two condominiums were developed under the design and build arrangement which was relatively new in the industry at that time. For these projects, Yew Kwung also got to work with international contractors from France and Japan.
“I was thankful to be given the opportunity even though I was new. Managing foreign contractors require a certain skillset because they abide very closely by the contractual arrangements. Working with them raised the overall professional standards of the team.”
“These projects helped me to hone and polish my project management skills. So I am very grateful for the opportunities.”
Yew Kwung and team after being accorded CRS’ first Workplace Safety & Health Developer Award at the 2012 awards dinner
With every project he manages, Yew Kwung has been mindful to offer the best in quality and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Floravale achieved the highest Construction Quality Assessment System (CONQUAS) score accorded by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in the industry in 2000. The BCA quality benchmark for excellence in construction is one of the gold star standards that developers strive to attain. Today, CRS is consistently one of the top performers in construction quality in the Singapore residential market. Yew Kwung himself has also been appointed a BCA Industry Ambassador, a role which requires him to actively support the Quality agenda in the real estate industry.
Incorporating green features in its developments is another crucial pillar of CRS’ quest for quality.
“As early as 2005, before being green was ‘in’, we were proactively using more natural lighting, natural ventilation and environmentally-friendly products. We were consciously arranging our properties in a north-south orientation to avoid direct sunlight. We also try to maximize cross ventilation within the units as far as possible to facilitate better air circulation.”
As part of CRS’ quality journey, the concept of Universal Design (UD) - designs that are friendly to the disabled and elderly as well as the able-bodied, were incorporated into its projects long before these ideas became fashionable.
“To me, UD is an expression of a person’s care and empathy for his fellow community members. It is not just for the physically impaired but also for the able-bodied. At some stage of our lives, we will have a need for practical, sensible and relevant design features,” said Yew Kwung. Click here to read more about Yew Kwung’s views on Universal Design.
To Yew Kwung, striving for quality is not simply for the sake of enhancing the developer’s reputation in the market.
“I always tell my people to put themselves in the buyer’s shoes. A home purchase is a substantial investment so it is vital that we deliver products of high quality and standard to justify the buyer’s trust in the CapitaLand brand. We may not be perfect, but we must strive for perfection. If we make mistakes, we make it a learning experience and try not to repeat them. That is how we improve.”
And one lesson he learnt came early in his career in CapitaLand when he failed to thoroughly read a report his subordinate had written. Instead, he put his signature to the document and submitted it to his boss. When an error was detected, he attempted to justify the position taken.
“I became defensive naturally. But I was told that a mistake is a mistake. The person who prepared the paper is an idiot, the one who signed it is a fool. As a leader, you must be prepared to take accountability for your actions.
Over the years, Yew Kwung has also grown to be a better judgement of character. He remembers a case when a resident engineer had problems managing his team and was in turn affecting overall productivity. When it came to his performance appraisal, Yew Kwung still supported his annual salary increment with the belief that he would buck up.
“However, my boss was very firm and told me that the he was unlikely to change. Looking back, I realise I should perhaps have been less accommodating, given his track record but I wanted to give him a second chance. Now, I am more discerning and I am not afraid to cut my losses if needed.”
With discernment came a greater measure of decisiveness in his actions. This can be seen in the recruitment drive which he intensified since 2011. To-date, the project division of CRS has grown by 50 per cent. But the process was not an easy one and Yew Kwung has had to exercise both discretion and decisiveness.
“For every 50 people we interview, we sometimes only find a couple of suitable candidates. It’s not simply about the right credentials but finding someone with the resilience to last long enough to grow professionally and contribute to the company. Project management is all about delivering results. It involves long hours where you have to brave the elements and manage contractors and consultants in order to meet project deliverables,” Yew Kwung confessed.
“In my role, I have to think about succession planning, and building up a technical talent pool. We want to build a diverse team with broad industry knowledge. So we recruit from various industries like engineering, architecture and of course, real estate.
Yew Kwung with his children, Faraday and Faith, on vacation in Kyushu, Japan in 2011
The thought for talent development came after a life-altering episode in Yew Kwung’s life. In 2010, he suffered a massive heart attack that left him comatose for days. Doctors estimated he had only a 20 per cent chance of survival. But Yew Kwung’s will to live was very strong and by God’s grace, he miraculously pulled through, waking up after 10 days.
“I was determined to recover and regain my strength. Although I was discharged in early January 2011, I set myself the targets of being able to walk by February and to return to work by April; and I did it!” Yew Kwung said.
“After that I told myself: if there is anything you want to pursue in your life, just go ahead and do it. Don’t procrastinate and don’t live with regrets. If I had not woken up, I would have lost the opportunity to do anything.”
That brush with mortality and his recovery period gave Yew Kwung time to ponder on succession planning at work. It also made him dig deep into a steeliness and determination that were characteristic of his rise to success.
Yew Kwung shares that it was his paternal grandparents who brought him up. Running a humble herbal tea shop in Joo Chiat then, they offered to take care of him to help his parents alleviate the financial burden of raising four young children.
“I’m grateful to them because I think I had a better life growing up as compared to my siblings. Although I had to help out in the shop every day after school, that actually gave me some early insight into running a business,” he recalled.
His grandfather had the foresight to switch him from a Chinese school to an English-stream primary school. It was also his grandfather who supported him when he was faced with several options in his education later on.
“I am deeply grateful to my late grandfather for understanding and respecting my choices and for his unwavering support.”
Yew Kwung’s close relationship with his grandparents has in part shaped the values he holds dear in life.
A young Yew Kwung (third from right) enjoying an outing with his grandfather and siblings
“饮水思源 (when you drink, remember the source of the water) – that’s what I always try to inculcate in my children,” said Yew Kwung who maintains that he is eternally indebted to his grandparents for the chances they gave him. Another value that he lives by is 己所不欲，勿施于人 –‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you’. “It sounds simple but it’s not as easy in application. When it comes to work, I’m guided by this saying to strive for win-win partnerships.”
Discerning, decisive, determined – the man at the heart of CRS’ quality journey is surely one who lives his life with heart.