Man of Influence, Gratitude and Zest

CapitaMall Trust CEO, Mr Simon Ho’s approachable manner takes him far

Issue: Apr 2010

Mr Simon Ho
Live life with zest, treat people with dignity – a mantra Mr Ho lives by

CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited, Mr Simon Ho, is, by all accounts, a friendly man. He greets everyone with an easy smile and his warm, affable manner is as inviting as it is inspirational.

When asked about his style of leadership, Mr Ho considers for a moment before saying, “I value diversity and see it as a source of strength. Hence, I like to have different types of people on my team. I also believe that everyone values and deserves dignity and respect. If you can remember to accord dignity and respect to people, they will want to work for you.”

Humble Beginnings Shaped Outlook

The middle child of a logging manager and a homemaker, his family was, by his own admission, not well to do although he never really felt in want. For the first nine years of his life, home was a rubber plantation in Kota Tinggi, Johor. His father, who had only secondary education, worked in the lumber industry in the jungles of Terengganu and would spend months on end away from the family.

“But somehow we understood that he was busting his guts to give us a better life. This made my siblings and I work harder in our studies and stay grounded,” Mr Ho said.

Come school holidays though, all three Ho siblings would visit and live with their father at his work site in the jungles of Terengganu. There, they not only got to spend quality time with their father, they also got to see, first-hand, what the life of a logging kepala (head or manager) was like.

“We lived deep in the jungle and we were in real danger of being attacked by tigers and other wild animals; so we kept dogs to serve as an early warning system for us. The work was tough; my father led rough men but I could sense the respect accorded to him by the people who worked for and with him. This I think was my first exposure to real leadership in the working world.”

CapitaLand – A Land of Opportunities

By the time Mr Ho came to work for CapitaLand in 1996, that healthy respect for his fellow workers, a legacy from his father, was already deeply ingrained in him and the company’s credo, “Building People”, resonated with this personal value of his.

In keeping with CapitaLand’s belief in investing in people, Mr Ho was given opportunities to explore his interest in real estate. For eight years, he worked in The Ascott Group (now known as The Ascott Limited), being involved in investment and business development for six of those years and operations for the next two years. He was exposed to operations from Europe to Southeast Asia to China and even Australasia. He then moved to CapitaLand Retail (now known as CapitaMalls Asia) for another six years as COO before assuming responsibility as the CEO for CapitaMall Trust in November 2009.

“My personal journey within the Group is a real testimony of the opportunities available to staff who are willing to take some risks and try new things,” noted Mr Ho. “With CapitaLand, I don’t just have a job, I have been given a meaningful career.”

And it certainly has been a meaningful one. Mr Ho was part of a team involved in the acquisition of the Citadines portfolio when he was in The Ascott Group. For seven weeks, he was in France going through the 40 properties under Citadines doing due diligence. With that single buy, The Ascott Group grew from a mainly Southeast Asian and China hospitality player to an international one with the largest portfolio of serviced residences outside of the United States. Mr Ho was also involved in the 86 malls that formed the listing portfolio of CapitaMalls Asia.

“It was gratifying to witness the listing of CMA as the process unlocked value from the last five to six years’ hard work and grind,” recalled Mr Ho.

A Time for Everything

Mr Ho trekked Nepal with his son, Bryan, and climbed Mt Kinabalu with his daughter, Hazel, during his sabbatical
Mr Ho trekked Nepal with his son, Bryan, and climbed Mt Kinabalu with his daughter, Hazel, during his sabbatical.
But success comes with a price and Mr Ho certainly paid for his.

“The travelling in Ascott and the early years of CapitaLand Retail was really intense. It was challenging when my two kids were younger as I was conscious that I was paying a price and trading off family time with my extensive travelling. Fortunately, for me, I have a very supportive spouse who held the home fort well,” said Mr Ho.

Perhaps that’s why in 2008 when he asked for a sabbatical after working for 22 years, Mr Ho used that time to not only recharge but to reconnect with his family, especially his son, then 14, and his daughter, then 17.

Mr Ho dressed up as Austin Powers at the 2007 CapitaLand Dinner & Dance (top) and in punk fashion at the 2008 CapitaMalls Asia annual party (bottom) as he leads the way in creating a fun environment at the workplace
Mr Ho dressed up as Austin Powers at the 2007 CapitaLand Dinner & Dance (top) and in punk fashion at the 2008 CapitaMalls Asia annual party (bottom) as he leads the way in creating a fun environment at the workplace.

Live Life with Zest and Gratitude, Do Some Good If You Can

That sense of fun, however, is not limited to his personal life. On the professional front, Mr Ho also believes in creating an atmosphere of openness and adventure, a lesson he learnt well from his ex-boss and mentor, Mr Kee Teck Koon, who headed The Ascott Group after its merger in 2000 and was the Chief Investment Officer of CapitaLand Limited before he retired in 2009.

“He has a great feel for people and this fantastic ability to make you feel very engaged at work. This unleashed a lot of positive energy in the workplace,” said Mr Ho.

Communication lines between him and his staff are kept open and he makes it a point to inform them of milestones in the company and to celebrate the conclusion of major deals with them. And there is certainly a lot to celebrate in the shopping mall industry.

“It’s a good time to be in the shopping mall business in Asia. The population is generally young, the propensity for consumerism is growing and the retail mall space is a blue ocean. We are well-positioned to ride this wave,” said Mr Ho.

Because of the high traffic in the malls, Mr Ho also believes that they offer great opportunities for CapitaLand to promote healthy lifestyles and eco-friendly messages. On 27 March 2010, more than 45 CapitaLand malls across Asia including all malls in Singapore participated in the Earth Hour movement, one of the many green initiatives organised at the malls.

“Every month, about 40 million shoppers pass through our portfolio of malls in Singapore. Hence, they are great educational platforms that can be used to spread the green message.”

Just as he has much to look forward to in his career, Mr Ho has a thing or two he is looking forward to in his life.

When asked what he would like to achieve in the next five years, the former marathon runner says with a laugh, “Reach Everest Base Camp and run a full marathon without dying in the process!”

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