CEO Chong Kee Hiong believes meritocracy can cultivate talents
Issue: Sep 2009
Mr Chong sharing insights with staff at the Ascott Annual Global Conference (AGC) 2009
In seven years, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, 43, aims to achieve financial independence. An accountant by training, Mr Chong has risen from humble beginnings to become the chief executive of Ascott Residence Trust Management Limited (ARTML).
His work may be quite different from his family life, yet Mr Chong, who is also deputy chief executive of Finance and Investment at The Ascott Group, reveals that he applies the same principles at home and at the office.
"I believe in meritocracy, objectivity and fairness and apply these principles both in the office and at home. I think when people are rewarded based on results and they see that these rewards are based on a fair system, they will naturally be motivated to do their best," he says.
He says that he and his wife Monica, a home maker, motivate their children to be the best that they can be. In the same way, Mr Chong believes in actively cultivating his staff and keeping a lookout for potential leaders.
"I think that the best way to let my staff realise their potential is to give them a free hand in doing their jobs."
This is a CEO who does not mollycoddle his staff. He wants them to think independently and perform to their best ability without seeking constant approval. "Of course, at the end of the day, I am still responsible for the end results," he concedes.
Mr Chong interacting with staff at the AGC
One can only imagine how growing up as the youngest of 11 children in a three-room rental flat in Toa Payoh has shaped Mr Chong into a team player. He firmly believes that sharing, cooperation, and communication could pave the way to success. He says, "It is important for those who are groomed to be future leaders to understand that teamwork is key to the success of any project."
He interacts as often as he can with his staff in an informal setting to celebrate successes or simply to build a relationship with them. Approachable and affable, the CEO hosts Lunar New Year lunches at his semi-detached house in the Bishan area for his staff.
Mr Chong was a key driver in the successful listing of Ascott REIT, the world's first Pan-Asian serviced residence real estate investment trust. The trust, which comprised an initial asset portfolio of 12 strategically located properties in seven Pan-Asian cities, was listed in March 2006 with an asset size of about S$856m. Since then, Mr Chong has been leading the Ascott Residence Trust Management Limited, responsible for charting its business, investment and operational strategies. Under his charge, Ascott REIT's asset size has almost doubled to about S$1.6 billion with 38 properties in 11 Pan-Asian cities.
Mr Chong (left), with Mr Tan Choon Kwang, MD of Ascott Europe and Mr Eddie Lim, Country General Manager of Thailand & Vietnam at the AGC gala
Yet the man doesn't consider himself the epitome of success, saying there are many areas to be successful in and it is difficult to find someone who is successful in all areas.
To young people who want to make their first million by the time they are 30 he has this advice: "Perhaps the key is to work for an organisation that has equity-linked compensation so that you are naturally participating in the stock market. As the amount of equity you are entitled to is based on your performance, you have control over how you want to create your own wealth. This will form a virtuous cycle as you will want to do your best for your company so as to prosper with it."
Mr Chong started out helping at his father's shoe stall at an early age. He learnt the value of money and studied hard to clinch a scholarship that got him into university. It is no surprise then, that Mr Chong has made it a goal to attain financial independence by 50.
Those eager to take a leaf out of Mr Chong's investment portfolio would quickly realise that he has predictably placed his faith with real estate and REITs.
Although focused on his work, Mr Chong is no workaholic. He names playing with his four young boys as one of his most enjoyable pastimes right up there with jogging with his wife.
The CEO puts to rest the old "quality time" concept espoused by other road warriors. "I don't believe that 'quality time' can necessarily replace the amount of time that one shares with the family. Being around counts even though the time spent may not be centred around any specific activity," he explains.
And for his own downtime he says: "I enjoy playing golf because it requires a high degree of concentration and completely takes your mind off work when you are at the game. I also like to read to relax."
The advocate for work-life balance shares that good communication with family and friends, as well as proper time management will help one to find a balance. He says, "Enjoy what you do at work but don't make work your life."