The Petite Dynamite

Deputy CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited, Ms Jesline Goh, shares why resilience and responsibility are key values that help her manage work and family

Issue: Apr 2011

Ms Jesline Goh
Deputy CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited, Ms Jesline Goh’s small frame and youthful look can be misleading but her dynamism when she cuts a deal is not to be underestimated

If there was one person who can sell a fridge odour absorber for 900 per cent profit, that person would be the petite but dynamic Ms Jesline Goh. “When I was in secondary school, I bought a bunch of fridge odour absorbers in the shape of an egg for $1 each and I would go from door to door at my HDB flat, selling them for varying prices, as much as $10 sometimes and even as low as the cost price at times, depending on the situation and the people,” recalls the Deputy CEO of CapitaMall Trust Management Limited (CMTML).

That was what Jesline did during her secondary school days to help out with her family’s finances after her father met with an accident. She and her three brothers had to work to pay for their education. Jesline eventually graduated with Bachelor of Business Administration (First Class Honours) from the National University of Singapore and became a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Being responsible and resilient are important values that Jesline has learnt through this experience. These are the same values she would like to instil in her seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.

“I used my own financial difficulty when I was young as well as current events for example the crisis that Japan is going through now to teach my kids about picking ourselves up and having the discipline to carry on strong in life when setbacks come our way. Kids today are often referred to as the strawberry generation; like strawberries they can be easily bruised as life is almost always smooth-going for them. Thus, I would like my kids to develop a sense of responsibility and resilience as they grow up,” she explains.

Jesline and her kids
Jesline takes a well-deserved break from her career to tend to her school-going kids, seven-year-old Ethan and five-year-old Ezann

A mother of two, Jesline took a six-month sabbatical at the beginning of this year to spend more time with her children. “My son entered Primary One this year thus I wanted to help him settle into school. I’m glad that my bosses have been very supportive of my decision,” Jesline says gratefully. It was also a much-anticipated break after she and team worked tirelessly towards CapitaMalls Asia’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) in end 2009.

“I remember working such long hours every day before the IPO that when I went home one Sunday, my daughter turned around and addressed me as ‘Aunty’. I guess that’s because she hasn’t seen me around for so many days and at that split second, it was strange to see her mummy around. But that was such a wake-up call for me,” she shares humbly.

So, after completing her major projects, she took six months of sabbatical but admits that it was a rather painful decision to make.

“Being a woman, I have to ask myself how do I want to balance family and career. First of all, I have to accept that there are limitations to what I can do. Second, different stages of life calls for a different focus. This is the stage in my life which I think it is critical to spend more time with my kids during their formative years and I am grateful that the company and my bosses are supportive of my decision,” says Jesline.

And because of her role as a working mum, she often encourages her staff to learn to balance the demands of home and work. “I believe that if you cannot manage your home, you will not be happy at work,” says Jesline with conviction.

Great Opportunities, Rapid Rise

Jesline has more than 14 years of experience in investment and corporate finance of which more than eight years were in real estate investment management, asset management and creation of real estate private equity funds.

Today, at only 38 years old, she wears two corporate hats: one as the Deputy CEO of CMTML; the other as the Deputy Country Head of Singapore for CapitaMalls Asia Limited. In fact, she sees herself as having grown in tandem with the company.

“The shopping mall business of CapitaLand has grown very fast into the giant real estate company it is today. I grew because of all the opportunities that it has given to me. I am very grateful to the company for that. My time with CapitaLand has been inspiring. When I first joined CapitaLand, the company only had shopping malls in Singapore. Subsequently we began to develop malls in Japan, China, India and Malaysia and at the same time expand our portfolio in Singapore. It’s exciting,” Jesline exclaims.

The Natural Negotiator

One of the highlights in Jesline’s 10-year career in the shopping mall business was the deal to purchase Bugis Junction in 2001.

She was in her early thirties and a manager then but already she was put in the negotiating hot seat in the takeover deal. “It was a very difficult deal to crack because there were a few major parties involved. It felt as if the deal was going in circles. That was why we nicknamed it the “boomerang” project,” Jesline discloses.

But her early entrepreneurial experience in life has, on hindsight, prepared her to handle a big task like this.

Her mentor and boss then saw the spunk and ability in this young manager. “I was given many opportunities to negotiate alone with our team of lawyers. I was forced to learn fast and negotiate with the senior people on the other end of the table,” she muses, knowing that it was a golden opportunity for her to learn the ropes.

Nonetheless, it was a ride on the fast track for the young manager. But Jesline soon learnt not to be overwhelmed. “When you are confronted with things or situations you can’t resolve, you can always tap on the resources and people around you,” she admits.

Jesline and her team managed to close the tough deal after two years but this project was definitely a defining moment for her career.

Jesline and her colleagues
Jesline (1st row, 3rd from left) bonding with colleagues at the CMTML retreat in Sentosa, she believes that mutual respect is key in people management

David vs Goliath

Despite the opportunities given to her and the fact that she managed them beyond expectations, Jesline still has a constant challenge to battle. “One of my key roles is to drive transactions but because I am petite and look young, credibility can sometimes be an issue. People always ask if I had just graduated from university. So I must show the people on the other side of the table that I have the authority and that I know my stuff,” she admits.

Jesline is also mindful that her youth affects how she deals with more senior co-workers under her leadership. “I believe in mutual respect. I would ask the older staff for their opinion as I recognise they have more experience in certain areas then me,” she adds.

Growing the Mall Business

Still, being young and dynamic has come to her advantage in her other role as Deputy Country Head, Singapore for CapitaMalls Asia Limited. With the mall business getting increasingly competitive in Singapore, Jesline shares some of the strategies her team is embarking on to engage the shoppers and to keep them coming back for more.

“With the pervasiveness in technology, we recognise that we need to use social media to reach out to shoppers. So, some of our malls are already using Facebook, Twitter, and iphone applications to engage them. For example, there is an iphone application that acts like a personal directory and keeps shoppers updated of the latest deals and promotions at ION Orchard,” she expounds.

“Although online shopping is pervasive, I believe that the brick and mortar will be here to stay because shopping is, after all, an experience. We offer more than just shopping in many of our malls. Malls like Sembawang Shopping Centre, Plaza Singapura and IMM serve up many perks for families like kids club, family lounge and rooftop playgrounds. We have 19 malls in Singapore and we differentiate each mall so that shoppers will keep coming back to the malls,” says Jesline.

Different Season For Different Reason

For now, Jesline is dealing with a whole new ball game of being a full-time mum for six months. Being a highly productive person, she makes sure her time is well spent. “I drive the kids around to school and enrichment classes, do things with them to deepen the bondings and communicate openly to find out what’s troubling them. I am also taking the time to reorganise my home!” she says.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for someone who has been so committed to her career. “I feel a little isolated from what’s going on at work. For the first few weeks, I had withdrawal syndrome - from my Blackberry! It’s a good thing my current boss, Simon, calls me once in a while to keep me posted of what’s happening and I try to keep myself abreast of current business news by reading up once my kids go to bed. But we have such an experienced team that it gives me a peace of mind to take my sabbatical,” she says gladly.

With family duties weighing as heavy a responsibility as work, the resilient Jesline is set to take things in her stride – and do them well.

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