To Lead Is To Serve
For Mr Tan Tze Wooi, Regional General Manager of North China for CapitaLand Mall Asia, leadership is neither a position nor a title. Rather, it is service through inculcating the right mindset and leading by example.
Issue: Apr 2016
Mr Tan Tze Wooi’s experience in accounting and banking is serving him well in his current role as Regional General Manager for North China, CapitaLand Mall Asia.
While only in his 40s, Mr Tan Tze Wooi has accumulated a wealth of experience, leading to his 2014 appointment as Regional General Manager, North China for CapitaLand Mall Asia (CMA). He currently oversees about RMB 20 billion worth of assets in the region, including 10 shopping malls in Beijing. This effectively places him at the helm of the largest shopping mall operator in the Chinese capital city.
His path to becoming a successful property asset manager was a series of well-timed opportunities — “almost like fate”, according to Mr Tan.
After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accountancy from Nanyang Technological University, he joined professional services firm KPMG, where he completed his Chartered Financial Analyst certification and developed a keen interest in financial products. This led him to move to Standard Chartered Bank, his biggest client at KPMG and his first foray into real estate banking. From Standard Chartered Bank, where one of his biggest clients was CapitaLand, Mr Tan joined CMA in 2005.
“At the time, CapitaLand was a pioneer in REITs. CMA, in particular, was very active in China’s shopping mall market. Through strategic alliances with joint venture partners, CMA was intending to develop the shopping mall platform in China and list these properties as REITs in Singapore. Things were in high swing when I received a call from CMA. It was an exciting opportunity and I grabbed it,” recalled Mr Tan. He was to become Vice President, Investment and Asset Management, CapitaLand Retail China Trust (CRCT), which successfully held its Initial Public Offering (IPO) a year later. In 2008, Mr Tan relocated to Beijing.
“Being in Singapore while our assets and most of the team were in China wasn’t a very efficient way to work. I believe that the decision to move to Beijing, where I can live and feel the markets on a daily basis, was the right one,” he said.
Mr Tan later added General Manager of Investment and Asset Management of North China for CMA to his growing list of roles and responsibilities before becoming Regional General Manager for North China.
Two of Mr Tan’s most memorable acquisitions in China were CapitaMall Xizhimen (left), the deal that solidified CapitaLand’s capabilities in using a private fund vehicle to acquire, incubate and list a property – all amid an economic crisis that rocked the world in 2008 – and CapitaMall Grand Canyon (right), CRCT’s latest acquisition in 2013, being the first successful acquisition from a third party.
Serving as an observant leader
Transitioning from an asset manager to a business leader was a challenge, but one that Mr Tan took in his stride.
“I found my hands full with a suite of management responsibilities, and this was over and above my investment and asset management role. I wouldn’t deny that it was a steep learning curve,” shared Mr Tan.
While he schooled himself on the operational side of the business, Mr Tan was also very aware of the fact that he was to lead a team of about 500 people.
“As a leader, I serve both the business and our people. For the business, I need to be able to mobilise the right people, at the right time, for the right job. For our people, I try to be a mentor to their professional and career development. My approach begins with observation because I don’t think there is a single formula that works for all situations and all people. It’s important to constantly recalibrate ourselves for the changing times.”
“Broadly speaking, my leadership style tends towards guiding and inspiring my people to think bigger for themselves. When I see junior colleagues encountering the same difficulties that I once faced, I offer some hands-on help to set them on the right track. At the end of the day, however, my role is that of a guide — to provide direction and timely feedback so that they can progress on their own,” said Mr Tan.
As a thought-provoking leader, Mr Tan believes in a tailored approach to mentoring his people.
He also tries to inspire people with his own career story: “I always encourage my junior colleagues to pace themselves and plan a career roadmap. Based on my experience, I believe that the first five years of a career is the foundation-building stage. This is when I encourage them to be open-minded and try as many things as possible. The best time to acquire knowledge, habits and ethics is when you’re young and energetic.
“In their next five years, they can afford to be more selective. They should try to marry their natural strengths with their job interests and start going in-depth into certain areas. By familiarising themselves with the company’s direction, they can also be proactive in sourcing for progression opportunities.
“By their 10th year, they should have the deep functional expertise and transferable management skillsets to pursue their career aspirations.”
Mr Tan exemplifies a life of serving and contribution by participating in CapitaLand’s corporate social responsibility activities, such as Walk For Hope 2014.
Serving as the head of a family
In addition to a team of 500 at work, Mr Tan also has a team of four young children at home. He admits that his wife takes primary responsibility for the daily well-being of their five, 10, 11 and 13-year-olds, and laments not being able to spend enough time with them. To remedy this, at least in part, Mr Tan tries to involve his kids in mall events on Saturdays, while Sunday mornings are always set aside for the family to enjoy breakfast together.
“I take them CapitaLand mall-hopping for the year-end Christmas light-up events. For me it’s work, but they really enjoy it. I’m amazed that they can remember the events in detail, comparing one mall’s activities to another’s, and this year’s to last year’s!”
Adding on, Mr Tan said: “I think individual attention is important, whether for my kids or for my team at work. I guess you could say that my parenting style is similar to my leadership style. I believe in moulding the mind and character — by inculcating the right values and virtues in my kids, and by instilling a positive, self-starting mindset in my staff.”
Living in China has given Mr Tan and his wife the opportunity to expose their four young children to different cultures and ways of life, which he feels will benefit them greatly in their all-rounded personal development.