Twists and Turns that Created Great Value
CapitaLand Limited's new Group Chief Financial Officer, Mr Arthur Lang, shares his experiences on how he creates value in his life
Issue: Oct 2011
The new Group Chief Financial Officer at CapitaLand Limited, Mr Arthur Lang, knows what it means to create value in his work and personal life
Mr Arthur Lang is a person who knows how to create value – in business and in life.
As a 12-year-old student, Mr Lang already understood what it meant to create value in his life. After attending primary school at Anglo Chinese School (ACS) in Singapore, Mr Lang took the unusual route of enrolling himself in The Chinese High School, a secondary school that taught the Chinese language at a higher level.
"I wanted to go to Chinese High because I felt that the big hole in my education was that I could not speak Chinese well. So I thought I should just jump into the deep end and learn Chinese," said the gung-ho Harvard graduate who now counts 水浒传 (Water Margin) and 红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber) as some of his favourite Chinese classics.
Mr Lang not only succeeded in mastering Chinese, he was even chosen by his school principal in The Chinese High School to represent Singapore in 1986 in the Pacific Rim International Camp, a youth camp programme that provides a forum for international exchange at a cultural level for youths of the Pacific Rim region. He also served as the President of the school's Students' Council.
Mr Lang (with raised hands) displayed natural leadership even as a youth at Hwa Chong Junior College
Taking the Unexpected Path Adds Value
By taking the unexpected path, Mr Lang found himself experiencing many twists and turns in his personal life – something he found exciting rather than nerve-wrecking. "On hindsight, I have no regrets on these unconventional decisions I have made. It gave variety to my life," he remarked candidly.
Unconventional decisions he made indeed, as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) revealed he never even studied economics before university. The former investment banker did three science subjects in junior college and was offered a place in the School of Medicine at National University of Singapore. But while he was serving his two-and-a half-year national service, Mr Lang had a change of heart and mind. So he gave up this opportunity to become a doctor and applied to study at Harvard, eventually majoring in Economics.
"To me, Economics is an interesting pseudo-science. There's a lot of human behavourial aspect which is not really scientific but there are also a lot of economic principles which are based upon empirical data and theories. And that took my life in a very different direction," he quipped.
Mr Lang, a proud father and MBA graduate of Harvard Business School
And it sure did. After graduating from Harvard University, Mr Lang started work as an investment banker in the American bank, Morgan Stanley, in 1996. He worked on many important advisory and financing transactions for clients such as Temasek Holdings, CapitaMall Trust, Singapore Power, Singapore Telecom, PSA International, Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), Fraser & Neave, and Singapore Airlines as well as various financing and M&A transactions for corporations. Constantly wanting to improve himself, Mr Lang resigned from the bank to pursue his MBA at Harvard Business School full-time.
Adding Value to the Real Estate Space
Real estate means more to Mr Lang than you would expect from the CFO of CapitaLand. Some of his best moments in his personal life happened in these built environments, including a wedding proposal to his now wife. The romantic gesture which he has described as "rather corny", took place in a shopping mall! With a ring in his hand and one knee to the ground, one would not expect any other answer but "Yes". It is moments like this one that reminds Mr Lang that real estate is more than just brick and mortar, it is part of one's life journey.
Mr Lang and his wife, Kar Lay, whom he proposed to in a shopping mall
"Real estate is something that is close to my heart. When the CapitaLand opportunity came,
I made the decision quickly. CapitaLand is a high-octane company with many good quality individuals at all levels. My only hesitation was the big shoes I need to fill as I was taking over Olivier Lim, one of the best CFOs I have worked with at Morgan Stanley."
The capital intensive and cyclical nature of the real estate industry also fits well with Mr Lang's background in finance, "Here is one area I can contribute. We need to show that CapitaLand has many options. If things become more volatile, there could be some sources of capital that close up because of capital flight. So by being in every aspect of the capital sourcing spectrum, I think that gives us maximum flexibility. At the end of the day, my view is that you have to respect the markets. But do not let the markets control one's decisions. In order to avoid that, we have to maximise flexibility," he expounded.
In his new role as CFO, Mr Lang is set to strike, what he sees, a fine balance between minimising risks and maximising opportunities for the Group. "The CFO cannot consistently say no to things. However, there needs to be enough discipline and business rigour put in place in order to make sure our decisions meet our benchmarks and strategy," he said.
Mr Lang found great value in living with his family away from Singapore for a short stint as it brought his family so much closer together
Despite his busy travel schedule, Mr Lang makes it a point to spend time outdoors with his family
Adding Value to Family
Taking on new challenges is not a foreign concept to Mr Lang as he had a two-year stint in Hong Kong as Morgan Stanley's Chief Operating Officer for the Asia Pacific Investment Banking Division.
Another plus point from this overseas stint was that it exposed his son, Michael, to a different education system and environment which had caused him to be more mature and taught him to get out of his comfort zone.
Being a father, Mr Lang is also mindful of the values he wants to impart to his children.
"One of the values I want to instill in my kids is to have the ‘fire in the belly' I see in the Hong Kongers. Having self-motivation is very important. Whether you push yourself to do something conventional or something completely different, that's really up to the person. But I think what is fundamental is that the person needs to be motivated from within rather than have parents 'crack the whip' on them," Mr Lang said.
While having self-motivation is important, Mr Lang would also like his children to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness for the fortunate life they have and a sense of gratitude to the people who help them. "There is a Chinese saying 取诸社会, 用诸社会 which translates into ‘you contribute back to society what you take from it'."
Values People Bring
The sense of gratitude is something that Mr Lang readily has, attributed to people that have influenced and shaped him in his life.
From his late father, whom Mr Lang was very inspired by and deemed as the most influential person in his life, he learnt to handle obstacles in his life. Mr Lang is also full of respect for his mother who worked as a clerical officer in the Registry of Companies and Business.
"I can't help but feel sentimental whenever I think about those years where my mother had to raise my sister and I up – she was one strong and selfless lady who cared for her family, "said Mr Lang.
Mr Lang credits his wife, Kar Lay, for being his pillar of strength
Mr Lang is grateful to his wife, Kay Lay.
"My wife and I are complete opposites. I think these differences help complement our family and how we raise our children. It keeps me grounded. We are into the thirteenth year of our marriage and I must say she has been my pillar of strength these years. She usually provides me the strong validation of my decisions. When I was 90 percent sure about my CapitaLand move, she made it 100 percent. I accepted the offer immediately."
He is also thankful for all the opportunities and advice given by his educators in life including his school principal at The Chinese High School, his vice principal of Hwa Chong Junior College and his renowned Harvard Business School Professor, Clay Christensen.
From the latter, he learnt not to compromise and to stick to his principles 100 percent of the time.
"It is easier to stick to your principles 100 percent of the time than 99 percent of the time. This is because once you start compromising, it is a slippery road downhill," said Mr Lang. Even though business decisions are driven by hard numbers and returns, Mr Lang believes in caring for his people and doing the right thing at the right time - in short, to have a hard head but a soft heart.
With all these invaluable advice, Mr Lang will no doubt continue to add and create value in his life.