Power of Family Bonds

Deputy CEO of CapitaLand Financial Limited, Ms Ang Siew Yan, views family and relationships as key to tackling her personal and professional challenges

Issue: Feb 2011

Ms Ang Siew Yan
From an accountant to the Deputy CEO of CapitaLand Financial Limited, Ms Ang Siew Yan, is grateful for the many opportunities that have been given to her over the past two decades with the company

Family matters. In fact, the importance of the family cannot be overstated that throughout the one-hour interview with Ms Ang Siew Yan, Deputy CEO of CapitaLand Financial Limited, her family’s strong bonding was mentioned repeatedly. Ms Ang, who comes from a family of eight, tells that no less than 40 family members will gather at her parents’ house for dinner every Saturday. That’s how strong her family bonds are.

The strength of family bonds has shaped Ms Ang’s life. Even at work, Ms Ang views CapitaLand as a family; having built up close relationships amongst colleagues. After all, she has been with the company for a long time.

“I’m going into my 20th year with the company,” quips Ms Ang, who joined as an accountant with DBS Land in 1991.

That year, she had returned to Singapore after spending three years in the United States. DBS Land, which subsequently merged with Pidemco Land to form CapitaLand, was the first company she worked for upon her return. Since then, she has stayed in this corporate family for the last 20 years, seeing the organisation transformed into the real estate powerhouse that it is today.

“I have been changing jobs every three to four years without changing the company!” shares Ms Ang. She adds that she feels lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience different aspects of the business.

She has also had a hand in setting up Singapore’s first commercial REIT, CapitaCommercial Trust (CCT). While managing CCT, she was also the head of Finance and Corporate Services for CapitaLand’s commercial business unit. Thereafter, she became Deputy CEO of CapitaLand’s real estate financial services arm, CapitaLand Financial Limited today.

“It is important to be comfortable and happy where you are working at. In CapitaLand, I am very comfortable working as a team with all my bosses and colleagues here. I’m not ambitious. I just contribute my expertise and my experience to my team members. I see myself as no different from everyone else in the company; all of us are just tasked with different job scopes. We are all working for the company and earning a living for ourselves. When there are problems, we just need to solve them together. Even if I went to another company, I would still have to deal with people and solve problems,” she reflects.

Breaking New Ground

Her biggest professional challenge to date came when she was offered to be the Finance Manager for the IPO of the first REIT in Singapore in 2001. Having no knowledge about REITs then, Ms Ang still gamely took up the challenge.

“I recognised that all these opportunities will add value to my job experience, so I didn’t mind taking up the challenges and learning new things,” recalls Ms Ang. But soon she found herself on a very steep learning curve.

Her first IPO for a REIT, SingMall Property Trust, got off on a rough start. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances -- CapitaLand’s joint venture partner of the REIT decided to walk out of the deal, the head honcho for the REIT faced health problems, there were not enough interest from the investors for the new REIT, the listing of the REIT was not successful on the planned day of the listing.

“This first REIT IPO experience has taught us that we needed to be very hands-on. We were dependent on the consultants to tell us about the investment climate and the investors’ requirements. We learnt that we needed to personally understand what the investors want. Investors questioned us about delivering growth. We had no idea where the growth could come from since we were just renting retail space within our buildings. We all came back from the road shows and thought hard about how we could add value of the REIT to the investors. And that’s how the whole notion of asset enhancement initiative came about. That’s how the whole industry started to grow.

“Being at the forefront of things, we also had to educate and work closely with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Singapore Exchange to create the REIT industry in Singapore. There was a lot of explaining and trial and error, for example the reporting templates that we were using then are now the standard template for the listing of REITs at MAS!” she exclaims.

The experience has valuable takeaways for Ms Ang personally. “It has taught me how to deal with people. I consider myself a quiet person in the past; I hardly went out to meet and talk to people. Going on the road shows and working on the REIT IPO have really helped me to open up and talk to people,” she shares candidly.

Even though she entered the real estate industry by chance, Ms Ang finds that using real estate to create financial products is the most interesting aspect for her. And offering real estate financial products and services as part of the CapitaLand Group’s portfolio is indeed unique to real estate developers.

“Offering real estate financial products and services has proven to be an integral part of the business model for CapitaLand. Without these financial products like REITS and private equity funds, I don’t think we would have been able to be asset light, and find a more efficient platform for our assets,” Ms Ang remarks when asked about how CapitaLand Financial Limited has helped in building CapitaLand to be where it is today.

Moving forward, CapitaLand is continuing to break new ground in the area of real estate financial products. “We have to find a new niche. We understand real estate so we are able to take real estate risks where the banks can’t,” she explains.

Jen and Ms Ang
Ms Ang’s pride and joy – Jen Goh, who used to represent Singapore in golf tournaments and loves to cook for her mummy

Pillars of Strength

When Ms Ang looks back on her involvement in the company’s various milestones over the two decades, a sense of achievement rises within.

“It’s tough being a woman in the corporate world. I cherish all the opportunities that I was given in the company and I just work very hard in every task,” she shares. But she reveals that while she was tackling corporate challenges, she was also battling challenges on a personal front.

“In 1999, I was caught in a family crisis and was debt-laden. I had to work really hard. Although my parents said they would help me financially, I was determined to solve the problem on my own. But I am very thankful that I had a domestic helper at home who was able to take care of my daughter while I was hard at work. She even helped her with her schoolwork. My mother-in-law was also a key caregiver who has been staying by our side all this while. I am still very close with her and my sisters-in-law who come over to our house for a visit almost every day. Together with my own parents and siblings, family has formed a vital support in my life and my career as well as my role as a mother. At the end of the day, family is the most important to me,” Ms Ang says.

Her daughter, Jen, is also her pillar of strength. At 16 years old, Jen, is independent and mature, giving Ms Ang a real peace of mind at work.

“I remember the year she was taking her Primary School Leaving Examination I was tied up with the acquisition of One George Street then. I was working many late nights and I didn’t have time to attend to her. Jen understood my predicament and said that she would study by herself. She even found her own tuition teachers for the subjects she was weak at. So I didn’t have to take time off at all,” Ms Ang says. Through this experience, Ms Ang has also learnt to “let go” and advises parents to allow their children to find their way around, as they would in their process of learning.

Ms Ang gives Jen plenty of space to explore and learn on her own. Jen’s two passions are golf and cooking currently. In fact, Jen was thinking of playing competitive golf games but she recently decided to use her passion in golf to help others. She is working on organising a charity golf event at the end of the year.

At home, Jen cooks while Ms Ang washes up. “She cooks Western dishes mainly but she loves to experiment. One day she cooked a really unusual but great tasting bruschetta. I asked her what she had put in it. She was reluctant to reveal at first. She finally revealed that she added in whatever she could find in the kitchen: orange, tomatoes and even ikan billis (small fried fish),” muses Ms Ang.

Triumphant and Treasures

Having emerged triumphantly on both the personal and corporate fronts, Ms Ang graciously shares her life experiences and holds on to family ties that have pulled her through when she was at her lowest point in life.

Ms Ang’s parents with the grandchildren
Drawing strength and inspiration from her parents (pictured with their grandchildren) have helped Ms Ang walk through her struggles victoriously.

Her parents, both in their mid-seventies, have been her main source of inspiration. “My parents have shown me unconditional love and that life is about living with family. All I want is to be a good mother like what my mum has done for me,” says Ms Ang.

And without fail, about 100 family members, including extended family, would gather at the Ang household on the second day of Chinese New Year every year.

“It’s a family tradition. No one goes on a holiday during this festive period. My mum will cook traditional Hokkien fare like gnoh hiang (fried spring rolls), soon de (dried bamboo shoot stew), tapioca cake cut in strips and fried in hey bee (dried shrimps). Her signature item is a sweet called kiat hong which she will make from scratch. In fact, many of my friends will call me before Chinese New Year to ask me when I will deliver the kiat hongs to them,” Ms Ang relishes.

Indeed at a time when traditions hold strong, for Ms Ang, family ties hold even stronger.

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