Nurturing Talents, Building People
CapitaLand's President & CEO Liew Mun Leong believes talent development is the key to success, particularly during economic crises.
Issue: Mar 2009
Leadership development: CapitaLand President & CEO Liew Mun Leong shared with staff at RE100, a 100-hour in-house accelerated real estate course.
Some call him the architect of New Asia, but Mr Liew Mun Leong, President & CEO of the CapitaLand Group who is known in the property industry for his Midas touch, calls himself a ‘nu cai’, or ‘servant’ in Chinese. He has an interesting interpretation of the word. “‘Nu’ means labour, and ‘cai’ means talent, so, talent is my labour,” says the affable Mr Liew. “I’m the chief of labour talent, that’s all.Sometimes I call myself 'Chief Slave'!"
Humble words from a man who has been named Asia’s Best Executive (Singapore) by Asiamoney magazine and Best CEO in Asia (Property) by Institutional Investor in 2008. But his words actually reflect that as ‘chief of labour talent’, he is instrumental in the success of CapitaLand by exercising his vision of hiring the right people for the right positions within the company.
A civil engineer by training, Mr Liew joined Pidemco Land as CEO in 1996. In November 2000, CapitaLand was formed after Pidemco Land merged with DBS Land. Since then, CapitaLand has grown into one of Asia’s largest real estate companies, Asia’s largest owner-manager of retail malls, the world’s largest international serviced residence owner-operator and a leading REIT/real estate fund manager manager in Asia. The Group’s operations span about 120 cities in over 20 countries, with over 10,000 employees in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.
The People Developer
Mr Liew engaging colleagues from the CapitaLand Management Programme with his viewpoints on succession planning
The key to success, according to Mr Liew, lies in managing talent and not just property assets. The company’s credo of Building for People to Build People, Building People to Build for People
illustrates Mr Liew’s belief. “Bad times, good times – once you have the human capital, you can do a lot. If I get good people, even at bad times, they will be able to solve the problem.”
A firm believer in cultivating talents that grow the business and in turn, contribute to the societies within which CapitaLand operates, Mr Liew is also a passionate communicator. His book, ‘Building People: Sunday Emails from a CEO’ is a collection of what he calls ‘hobby emails’ penned to his staff over the last nine years. This hobby continues to this day. He also makes it a point to have breakfast with his staff one-on-one during the week to stay familiar with the business on the ground.
Ms Ho Ching, executive director and CEO of Temasek Holdings, says in the foreword of Mr Liew’s book, “Mun Leong is tireless in looking out for young people, as well as in teasing out the best in all sorts of people, including older as well as less-educated people. He is always giving people an opportunity or second chance to test themselves and grow.”
A Rich Talent Pool
And grow, CapitaLand’s staff did. Out of the 20 CEOs at CapitaLand today, 18 were nurtured in-house over the years. CapitaLand’s strategy is to identify and cultivate talented employees through job exposure and leadership courses, and groom them to take on greater and broader responsibilities when the opportunity arises.
The Group also makes a deliberate effort to recruit people at different points in their careers – young talents, mid-career professionals and experienced “silver hairs” – as collectively they are able to adopt a balanced approach for turbulent times.
One initiative that gives its staff an edge is the CapitaLand Institute of Management & Business (CLIMB). Launched in 2007, the in-house training institute has a dedicated campus on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, where Mr Liew, senior management and external lecturers provide leadership training to its staff. In 2008, CapitaLand launched a new programme at CLIMB called RE100, a 100-hour in-house accelerated real estate course customised for newly-recruited mid-career executives within the Group.
CapitaLand’s efforts to develop its human capital have led it to pick up awards for outstanding human resource practices, including the Most Admired ASEAN Enterprise Award (Employment Category) at the 2007 ASEAN Business Awards.
Downturn an Opportunity to Cultivate Leaders
Mr Liew sharing his views on grooming talent for business success at CLIMB, CapitaLand's own training institute.
Mr Liew believes the current economic crisis will be an opportunity for a new generation of leaders to be trained within CapitaLand.
“The current crisis is a good example of how we coach new leaders, as some people might not have gone through the SARS or Asian financial crises, so we tell them how we handled the challenges we faced.”
As this year looks to be quieter, he says it is an ideal time to train staff, consolidate operations, correct any weaknesses in the company system and build up the balance sheet.
“This time around, we will come out of this crisis even stronger as the company has gone through past crises and is a much stronger ship than before. The crew of the ship is also more experienced in handling a crisis.”
It looks like CapitaLand is in good hands.