Winning Hearts, Inspiring Minds
Deputy CEO of CapitaLand (Vietnam) Holdings, Mr Yip Hoong Mun, shares his art of engagement
Issue: Jul 2011
Mr Yip credits his engineering training for helping him to analyse and assess situations in order to be adaptive to change
He looks you in the eye and greets you with a genuine smile. He is friendly, frank and fully at ease with people. So affable and open is he that you cannot tell that Deputy CEO of CapitaLand (Vietnam) Holdings, Yip Hoong Mun, is a civil engineer by training. He graduated with a first class honours degree in civil engineering from the National University of Singapore.
"Most engineers are introvert either by nature or by training. That's why they take up engineering because they don't have to deal too much with people; they just deal with their work. I am actually a very introvert person," confessed Mr Yip.
Yet, he manages to change himself to become someone who effectively engages everyone he meets. "With the work demands, you need to have certain social skills: be able to express yourself, communicate and get to know people. I have no choice - either I change my job or I change myself.”
To build up his social skillset, Mr Yip was actively involved in toastmaster activities in Singapore for a good three years when he even became president for one of the toastmasters' club.
His pro-activeness to become a better communicator, together with his rational, analytical and systematic engineering mind, enabled Mr Yip to succeed in every one of his postings since he moved from being a civil engineer up the business management ranks in CapitaLand 16 years ago.
Mr Yip (at the 10th anniversary celebration of CapitaLand in Hanoi) counts his 16 long years of service with CapitaLand an achievement in his real estate career. 16 years of his prime life in the company's prime life as well has made him to be stronger in handling change effectively
Engaging Different Cultures
"I worked as a civil engineer for three years but always knew I didn't want to be one for the rest of my life," reflected Mr Yip.
So, he went to Stanford University in the US where he obtained a Master's degree in Business Administration. He joined Liang Court (which later was acquired by Pidemco Land and merged with Ascott following the establishment of CapitaLand) in 1994, working on property investment work. Five years into his job, he was posted to Shanghai to be a general manager with Ascott in China in 1999.
"I was in the investment department doing business development then. I told them that I had no experience running serviced apartments but Mr Kee Teck Koon, then CEO of Ascott, felt that I was up to it and gave me the exposure," he recalled.
Though he did not have the know-how, he more than made up for it with his desire to immerse himself in the job and engage his staff
"Though I did not have the technical skillsets, my engineering-trained mind enabled me to analyse work situations better and pull people together to work for the better of the serviced apartment," reflected Mr Yip.
To build his rapport with the local staff and business associates, he took night classes for six months to learn the local Shanghainese language.
"I believe that when you are in a country, you need to really understand the local language. Knowing and speaking Mandarin is not enough. When my staff speaks the local dialect or when you meet officials or partners, they appreciate your ability to speak their local language. It's easier to break the ice. It also enables you to be more effective in running a business," Mr Yip said with conviction.
Even now at his current posting in Vietnam, he also takes time to pick up the Vietnamese language from a tutor after work to help him understand the local culture and immerse in the local community better.
His leadership in Shanghai definitely paid off. In September 2004, after five years in the city, Mr Yip was presented with the Magnolia Award by the Shanghai Municipal Government for his contribution to the city.
"Serviced apartment was a new concept in China in the late 90s because everyone was either building hotels or apartments. We were one of the pioneers in the country and I helped to popularise the concept of serviced apartments, particularly in Shanghai. I set up an informal alliance amongst other serviced apartment operators to join forces to establish and promote this concept in the city," Mr Yip explained.
Mr Yip (last row fifth from left) with his Vietnamese staff at a 2010 outing in Hanoi, believes in participative management to build rapport with staff
Engaging Gen Y
At his current posting in Vietnam, Mr Yip has effectively used his people-oriented management approach to engage his staff. Most of his over 100-strong employees are Gen Y – below 30.
"The way they approach things is very different from my generation. So, I spend time talking to them to really understand them. As an effective and good manager, one has to spend time in staff activities with them and interact with them even after office hours," shared Mr Yip.
The down-to-earth Mr Yip readily joins his staff for social gatherings such as dinners at roadside stalls, karaoke sessions and pub crawls. His Vietnam office also organises several staff activities from Family Days to Sports Days and corporate social responsibility events. At work, beyond an open-door policy, Mr Yip makes it a habit to approach his staff instead.
"An open-door policy does not mean that staff will come to your room readily when they have issues. Often, staff feel nervous about approaching you while you are in the room, fear of approaching you at the wrong time. So, I walk out of my room and around the office frequently to talk to my staff. I find out what they are doing, what's troubling them and what is going on in their lives beyond work. They in turn feel more comfortable and most of the time, a lot of work issues can be settled in this way before it escalates," said Mr Yip.
Another way he engages his young staff is to empower them.
"I give them the playing field to do things - more room to learn and be innovative. In doing so, I also have to make provision for mistakes. As a mentor I will guide them so that they will not repeat the same mistake," Mr Yip continued. "I find it quite effective and dynamic."
With the set up of the new business unit, CapitaValue Homes, staff are actively engaged in formulating the product type. Such involvement gets them driven in the job.
Mr Yip, with his Vietnamese staff at last year's Christmas party in Hanoi, is a strong advocator within CapitaLand on building the hearts as a foundation for a long lasting company
Engaging Hearts and Minds
Earlier this year, Mr Yip was tasked together with a group of Gen X managers to share an idea at the management retreat as CapitaLand moves into the second decade of establishment.
"CapitaLand has done really well since it started in 2000. But can we sustain this success?" wondered Mr Yip. Like a true engineer, he pondered this question over several days and nights, analysing the situation in search of a solution.
"I realised that we need to have more heart," he said. "From my observation, interaction with customers, tenants and market feedback, I found that the way some of our staff treat our customers has caused us to be not as well received by people outside the company. The public perception is that we may be big and successful but we lack the personal touch."
To build up the relationship between CapitaLand and its stakeholders, Mr Yip proposed that the company focused on two key areas: Building the heart as a foundation and building a stronger culture of innovation.
"We have successfully implemented many new ideas but we need more ideas. They don't have to be big ideas and it is not only the responsibility of senior management to be innovative that will change the company. Innovation must filter down throughout the organization. Every level, every individual can be innovative in doing his work," said Mr Yip. "If everyone treats others with a heart and thinks of better ways to do things, then the company will be more vibrant and competitive."
His proposal contributed to the birth of the "Because i Care" programme at CapitaLand May 2011. Indeed, wise words from a man who has put heart, mind and soul into engaging the people he works with – and with great panache, too!