Leading the way in giving

CapitaLand Financial Limited CEO Lui Chong Chee makes the sharing of the Christmas spirit his business

Issue: Dec 2009

Mr Lui Chong Chee
Mr Lui Chong Chee (standing 2nd from left) visiting a 79-year-old lady, one of the beneficiaries of the Boys’ Brigade Sharity Gift Box project this year, whose house was rewired and fitted with new light bulbs through sponsorship support for Christmas

He looks nothing like Santa Claus. But what CapitaLand Financial Limited CEO Lui Chong Chee is doing this Christmas may well qualify him to be one: the 49-year-old CEO is Chairperson of the annual Boys Brigade Sharity Gift Box for the second year running.

The project encourages Singaporeans to donate gifts or fulfil wishes of the needy – all in the name of spreading the Christmas spirit. When the gifts are collected, thousands of volunteers and Boys Brigade members (Mr Lui included) fan out across the island to make door-to-door deliveries. The Sharity Gift Box at Ngee Ann City is open for donations until December 21, 2009.

I think when people approach their 50s, they move from achievement to significance. They want to do something that’s a bit more lasting,” he says. “I’ve always been searching for something to help out in, so it was fortunate that someone suggested that I take on the role.”

Mr Lui, chairing the Boys’ Brigade Sharity Gift Box for the second consecutive year, seeks to bring significance to the lives of the beneficiaries and the volunteers

Mr Lui recounts a touching scene from last year’s door-to-door delivery: “When the door opened, I noticed that the husband and wife – white-haired and in their early 80s – were still holding hands.” After chatting with them in Cantonese, he found out that they were receiving help for the first time as their only son, who had abandoned them to live in a bungalow on his own, had just passed away. “They were very happy that we visited, so that’s why I urge the boys (from Boys Brigade) to spend more time talking with the elderly so that we can give them hope for the future, strength for the present, and peace for their yesteryears,” he adds.

Last year, Mr Lui also roped in CEOs of other companies to deliver food items for the Sharity Gift Box. He will do that again this December. “We hope the CEOs will understand the project, and hopefully over time, engage their company and staff to do some of this work,” says Mr Lui, who hopes that the CEOs would involve their families in the charitable act as well.

Mr Lui sees the Boys’ Brigade as a uniform group that cultivates long term positive social values in the young

Mr Lui, who joined the Boys Brigade at nine years old, has kept in touch with his cohort for nearly 40 years. This strong connection influenced his sons, now aged 19, 16, and 12, to join the Boys Brigade when they were younger.

“The Boys Brigade is very focused on building leadership for boys at a very young age, team building and caring for peers and others. These values, I think, should be preserved in this fast-paced world, where many children are into electronics, and have less people-to-people interaction.”

To get the boys outdoors, Mr Lui and his wife have also introduced them to many sports so they are into swimming, cycling, running and squash. The couple also makes the effort to expose their children to social issues by packing the entire family off to a mission trip annually. Despite his responsibilities at work, Mr Lui makes it a point to connect with his children; he has a Facebook account, and he often hops onto a mountain bike to hit the Bukit Timah trail with them.

The CEO mentions several times during the interview that he hopes to live life without regrets. This has motivated him to strive for balance in his busy life. “There are three things which are always in my mind: family, health, and work,” he says. “These I try to balance, but not all of them would be on an even keel all the time, but I try to keep a healthy tension.”

As CEO of CapitaLand Financial Limited , Mr Lui’s work involves managing private equity funds and real estate investment trusts worth more than S$25 billion and spanning 11 countries. Though he deals with billion-dollar investments, he is keenly aware of the intangible value that comes from investing in people. “During National Service, I learnt that to be a leader, you’ve got to be genuinely interested in your people, your soldiers. I learnt that you can only start to eat after all your soldiers have been fed,” he shares. The CEO believes in listening to his staff as they may have new ideas to share: “First care for your staff, then the good ideas will flow.”

A woman more than hundred years old (left) from a Chiang Mai hill tribe resting after a full day's work in the fields and a nine-year-old orphan photographed by Mr Lui during his travels

Perhaps Mr Lui’s management ethos stems from his innate curiosity about people. The photography buff loves capturing people on film when he travels and chatting with them. He shares animatedly: “We can’t go through life just seeing people on a superficial level. You’ve got to hear their stories and memories, and it is so exciting to hear them. But if you’re not genuine, they can see through you quite fast.”

For the CEO who has made charity his business, being real is an important bottom line.

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