Feisty, Fiercely Independent and Fun-Loving

Ms Sharon Lim, CEO of CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management shares her adventures above ground and under the sea

Issue: Sep 2010

The new CEO of CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management, Ms Sharon Lim
The new CEO of CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management, Ms Sharon Lim’s independence and financial savvy since a young age has brought her to where she is today

Seven – that’s the age when innocent, bright-eyed children in Singapore have their first taste of formal school. At seven, Ms Sharon Lim was not only introduced to the ABCs of primary school, she was also initiated into the adult concept of budgeting.

“We didn’t come from a rich background. My parents used to tell us they had no big inheritance to leave us, and the only thing they could give us is an education. My parents were very strict. My older sister and I were given a monthly allowance. They didn’t care how we spent it daily or how much we spent daily, but the sum given had to last us the entire month,” the Chief Executive Officer of CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management reveals.

At seven, when most kids are still being ferried around or chaperoned, Ms Lim was also taught to make her own way around.

“On the first day of all my extra-curricular activities, my mother would take me on the bus just to show me the way. She did that only on the first day of all my extra-curricular activities, be they ballet, piano or tuition classes. She told me that if I fell asleep and missed my stop, I should get down and cross the road and take the bus of the same service number to get back to where I was supposed to go. She also gave me a few ten-cent coins in case I needed to make an emergency call. I remember I also had to take the lift up to the flat myself. Being a short girl then, I couldn’t reach the lift buttons. So I always had to wait for someone taller to enter the lift,” recalls Ms Lim.

With all this strict training and discipline, it’s no wonder Ms Lim turned out to be the independent, confident and savvy investor that she is today.

The Life Buoy

While it may seem harsh to let a seven-year-old “swim in the deep blue sea on her own”, her training as a kid parallels her time at CapitaLand.

Her Malaysian team over a barbaque session
Ms Lim (top row fourth from left) bonding with her Malaysia team over a barbecue

“My seven years at CapitaLand have been both enriching and marathon-like at the same time. Things move very fast here and I am very fortunate that I have great mentors and know that there’s always a life buoy at hand; my bosses are always behind me all the way,” Ms Lim says.

She started her career at CapitaLand in 2004 as an investment manager looking into acquisitions and new markets. Although it was a huge learning curve for her initially, she soon learnt the ropes, thanks to good mentors and bosses.

“At my first job, my boss would take me to management meetings and I’d be taking copious notes and asking my boss lots of questions. Through those meetings, I learnt a lot,” reveals Ms Lim.

She rose to become a Vice President of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited, where she was responsible for actively seeking out new investment opportunities in Singapore and new markets. Ms Lim focused on identifying and evaluating new retail investment opportunities, which involved performing financial analyses and structuring deals. She also worked closely with the centre management teams to evaluate, plan and steer the assets under management to optimise investment returns.

Later, she became Country Head for CapitaMall Asia’s (CMA) operations in Malaysia, and was instrumental in establishing CMA’s retail platform there. This involved steering the subject properties and building the local team in preparation for expansion.

In July this year, Ms Lim was made CEO of CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management, the manager of CapitaMalls Malaysia Trust (CMMT). Under her leadership and with support from senior management and great teamwork by the working team, CMMT, Malaysia's largest 'pure-play' shopping mall real estate investment trust, was listed on July 16. And this, Ms Lim says, is only the start of exciting times ahead.

“We need to build the platform in Malaysia for the next phase of growth. The challenge is to build a good team, as people are the building blocks of a good company. People are the most important resource. Without good people to execute and run the business, we don’t have a business,” she says.

Decisive Moves

A triumphant moment with the ladies
Ms Lim (in white jacket) sharing a triumphant moment with the ladies at the CMMT listing

Although Ms Lim has only been with CapitaLand for seven years, her experience in the real estate business spans 14 years.

Armed with a diploma in building and a Bachelor of Business (Distinction) degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, Ms Lim specifically sought out a job that would give her the right experience.

“I knew that the Singapore market was very small and so whatever experience you gain, you will need to venture out of Singapore. So, I landed a regional portfolio as my first job with the then JTC International (currently known as Ascendas),” says Ms Lim who also holds a Master of Business Administration from Murdoch University, Australia.

For the next few years, Ms Lim worked in the region, gaining experiences in property investment and development, sales and marketing and asset management in Australia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. She has also amassed extensive experience in property investment covering the retail, industrial, mixed development and residential sectors.

“I enjoy working in different markets. It widens my perspective and exposes me to different cultures and business climates. Singapore is a small market and would need to tap on other markets for growth. Having experienced working overseas and understanding other markets is valuable to personal development,” comments Ms Lim.

Ms Lim had five offers on the table when she decided to pack up in Australia and move back to Singapore. She was then working for the Australian government, helping them to monetise their land.

“CapitaLand Retail (now CapitaMalls Asia) was one of the five offers. I sought some advice from seniors and they advised me to take up the job at CapitaLand because they said it was a good company to work for. I did, and I’ve never looked back!” says Ms Lim.

Besides the interesting projects she has had a chance to work on, Ms Lim has learnt many work values at CapitaLand that have stood her in good stead.

“I learnt to think out-of-the-box, to have a never-say-die attitude, to persevere and that hard work pays off; what doesn’t kill you makes you a stronger person,” Ms Lim says. Further, honouring your commitments and building trust with your colleagues and business partners are key to long-term success.

The Deep Blue Sea

Deep blue sea
Ms Lim exploring the mysterious and beautiful world of the deep blue sea

Indeed, getting out of her comfort zone and working the ground in foreign lands are things that Ms Lim takes to naturally. After all, she was, figuratively speaking, thrown into the “deep blue sea” to learn survival skills at the age of seven.

Dive trip to Sipidan, Malaysia
Ms Lim and friends gesturing the “shark” move on a dive trip to Sipadan, Malaysia

Ironically, Ms Lim does find the actual deep blue sea “calming and wonderful”.

“I am still an amateur diver but I enjoy every minute in the water as it opens you to another world. When you are in the water, all you hear is your breathing and the experience is wonderful. It also trains you to be calm as there is no room for panic in the water,” she says.

Indeed, in a world where sea creatures reign, Ms Lim has learnt to stay calm and be awed at the sight of all creatures big and small.

Apart from diving, Ms Lim also enjoys quality time with her parents and sister, Wendy, as much as she can.

Notwithstanding her love of the deep blue sea, with Ms Lim’s never-say-die attitude, the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to her approach to work!

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