CEO of Orchard Turn Developments shares insights into her work to enhance luxury lifestyle in Singapore
Issue: Jan 2011
CEO of Orchard Turn Developments, Ms Soon Su Lin, has had experience in almost every sector of the real estate business but enjoys investment in real estate the most because it allows her to explore all sectors at the macro level
For a leader who steers one of Singapore’s biggest and most high-profile retail and luxury residential projects, Ms Soon Su Lin is, surprisingly, a woman of simplicity. What she considers a real luxury, she tells you, is some quiet time alone.
“And spending time with family and friends too,” she adds.
Her strong value of placing importance on people is also evident from her emphasis on instilling a sense of pride and belonging in ION Orchard’s and The Orchard Residences’ employees.
“In the end, it is the people that make the difference,” Ms Soon explains.
People Form the Key to International Acclaim
From a team of just over 10 people, Ms Soon now has a staff strength of some 170 people
Ms Soon believes that after building a world-class mall with all the right ingredients of design, tenant mix and quality, it is service from the heart that will sustain the reputation of the project to her shoppers and tenants. And it is this basic people-focused management principle that has spurred her to drive ION Orchard, a mall with more than 66,000 square metres of retail space, to international success. In 2009, ION Orchard was honoured with the Best Shopping Centre Asia award at the MIPIM Asia 2009 Awards. MIPIM Awards recognise the most ambitious real estate projects in the world.
And that only constitutes one in the long, impressive list of the many awards and recognitions the retail component of Orchard Turn Developments, ION Orchard, has achieved under the directorship of Ms Soon in the last four years. Others include Gold Award at ICSC Asia 2010 for New Media: Digital Marketing, Best Shopping Experience 2010 by Singapore Tourism Board and Asian Urban Landscape Award by UN-Habitat, just to name a few.
Spearheading Flagship Presence
Ms Soon holds an Honours degree in Estate Management and a Masters of Business Administration Degree, with a specialisation in Marketing and International Business, from the National University of Singapore. She is also a member of the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers and an Executive Committee member of Orchard Road Business Association which serves to advance the development of Singapore’s competitive edge as a premium shopping destination.
Recognising the strong demand from top global luxury brands to create their own branding facades for their flagship stores in cities like Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Ms Soon adopted this for the selected six luxury brands for ION Orchard, the first mall in Singapore to do so
With more than 20 years of real estate experience under her belt, Ms Soon is a well-known and highly respected veteran in the Asia real estate industry today.
Appointed CEO of Orchard Turn Developments in 2006, she is widely accredited for introducing numerous flagship stores in ION Orchard, with a remarkable 70 per cent of net lettable space significantly leased to flagship stores, new to market brands and new concepts presently.
“We wooed them with our first ever, one-of-a-kind show suite and gave them a clear idea of our vision for the mall and how each level has been carefully positioned and planned,” says Ms Soon
But her innovative spirit does not stop here. ION Orchard engages her visitors with an all-year long arts programme with ION Art, which includes an exhibition space for all forms of art; and ION Sky, the experience of an observatory “in the sky” right in the heart of Singapore’s most famous shopping district. ION Sky, at 218m and the highest point on Orchard Road will soon be open to the public in January 2011 offering 360 degrees view of the city.
Today, Ms Soon counts the fact that ION Orchard and The Orchard Residences have exceeded the high expectations for the project for all stakeholders as one of the highlights of her career as Orchard Turn Developments’ CEO. The road to success, however, is not a simple one. To illustrate this, Ms Soon relates an anecdote.
“Starting ION Orchard from scratch included taking the project from development planning to construction to marketing to sales and leasing and now to property management. For example, early in the construction of the development, one of the project managers asked me to decide on signages. But at that time, we haven’t even decided on a name yet, and with the name, the entire branding and personality of the mall we wanted to develop. Many things in development are inter-related and the challenge for the team is to have sufficient foresight in planning and decision making and to keep to a clear vision of the final product we want to see in the end.”
Daring to be different
With the high expectations for the project, there was no alternative but be daring and different.
“I believe in taking up the challenges when presented to me, even though they are sometimes out of my comfort zone,” says Ms Soon, when asked how she rose up the ranks to be one of a small number of women CEOs.
Her self assurance is palpable when she describes how she had envisioned ION Orchard and The Orchard Residences to be distinguished from competing retail and residential spaces by offering the ultimate in luxury shopping and living.
“We presented our vision and we spent a lot of time communicating our vision to our business partners, tenants and purchasers. We sold on quality, positioning and location,” she says.
The 175-unit The Orchard Residences is an oasis of calm and style rising above the bustle of Singapore’s shopping strip, Orchard Road, with its private party house and 75,000 square foot clubhouse
She elaborates that The Orchard Residences was designed to differentiate itself from its competitors with apartments that offer 360° unobstructed views of Orchard Road and a 75,000 sq ft clubhouse which includes a first in Singapore – a fully equipped private party house and wine and cigar room. The Orchard Residences hence first coined the new lifestyle concept – “super luxurious condominium living” in Singapore. For ION Orchard, it was set to be a catalyst for Orchard Road to be the retail destination in Asia. It was this clear vision that convinced tenants and business partners to come onboard this mixed development, and the rest is now history.
Committed to Balancing Family and Work
Married with two sons aged 21 and 19, Ms Soon has often been asked how she maintains the balance between work and family. And her answer is typical of her pragmatism, “There is no real way one can fully balance work and family. Sacrifices are inevitable. I believe that there is a time for everything in life and if sacrifices need to be made, you either accept or change and move on. It is useful to keep things in perspective as many things in life are transient.”
What she does truly enjoy doing with her family and does so at every opportunity is to travel. But even when she is on holiday, work comes into play. No holiday is complete without spending a day or two exploring the malls of each city to observe, compare and learn from them.
As a person who truly enjoys what she is doing, she affirms, “Part of the enjoyment is appreciating properties (malls, office buildings, serviced apartments and residences) from a different perspective.”
For someone who moved into real estate business simply because she had picked the course upon a friend’s advice, Ms Soon has definitely come a long way. Her openness to learning and feedback is, perhaps, one of the reasons why she has come so far along.
“I value good research, positive contribution and sound feedback. I believe they are important to good decision making,” Ms Soon says.
In the workplace, she appreciates integrity and sincerity amongst colleagues and business partners. She also accepts the delicate nature of human weaknesses and making mistakes, continually seeking to learn to be more generous and open-hearted.
“Learning is what helps shape a person,” she shares.
A basic life principle which illustrates a perfect example of how a leader in the finest retail and residential luxury development can actually be a really simple person.