Leading and Giving with Heart

Chief Executive Officer of CapitaMalls Asia (China), Mr Lock Wai Han, advocates a people-focus leadership and volunteerism

Issue: Dec 2011

Mr Lock Wai Han
Mr Lock Wai Han leads with a strong focus on people

Mr Lock Wai Han considers getting into Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), a school where the well-off families in Singapore sent their sons to, a head start in life. This has helped to shape who he is today and for that, he feels grateful to his mother.

“She queued overnight to get me a place,” recalled the Chief Executive Officer of CapitaMalls Asia (China). “My parents had only primary school education but they understood the value of having a good education.”

But, having a good education was not all his parents imparted to their eldest of three sons.

“They taught me the value of honesty and being able to relate to all sorts of people and to treat people with respect,” said Mr Lock.

This has clearly moulded his view of people. His ability to truly appreciate life’s different circumstances could have stemmed from his humble beginnings. His family lived in a rental flat for 18 years. His father held different jobs, being at times a contractor and a taxi driver.

Mr Lock has served 19 years in the Singapore Police Force and was also Commissioner of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore
Mr Lock has served 19 years in the Singapore Police Force and was also Commissioner of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore

All these life experiences have influenced the people-centric manner in which he leads – whether it is his colleagues, subordinates, potential job candidates, partners, or the underprivileged.

This man who laughs easily, displays a wry sense of humour and has a heart for people, once made a career of dealing with hardened criminals with a firm hand. For 19 years, he donned a uniform and was involved in solving some of Singapore’s toughest crimes and defending the country from threats like terrorism.

The 43-year-old was once the Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in
the Singapore Police Force and also the Commissioner of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore.

The Courage to remain People-focused

Two years ago, Mr Lock courageously exchanged his uniform for a suit and tie to pursue something different in a corporate world. But he stays true to his love of working with people which is clearly evident in his people-focused management style.

“What gave me the courage to switch from the public to the private sector is the fact that at a senior level, the main skill set that you need is management skills. It is about how you harness and share knowledge within the organisation, how you put technology and systems in place to increase efficiency, how you standardise processes and designs to ensure that quality is achieved and most importantly, how you develop and harness the energies of people. These are the skills that I had acquired over the years which I brought with me to CapitaMalls Asia,” said the engineering graduate and post-graduate from University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Mr Lock also has a Master of Science in Management from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in the United States.

Having gotten used to the adrenaline rush from his years of solving crimes in Singapore, handling high-profile cases such as the murder trial of eight-year-old Huang Na and the shooting of Mona Koh, Singapore’s famous mamasan; and ensuring strict immigration controls islandwide during the SARs period in 2003, Mr Lock remains interested in operation-based work.

“In the public service, after you reach a certain level, you tend to do a lot more policy work. Having spent a lot of time in my career overseeing operational units, I felt quite strongly that that was what I wanted to continue to do. So I started to explore other options,” said Mr Lock. “CapitaLand was very attractive. Firstly, real estate is interesting as it is a sector that is required in every city, anywhere in the world. Secondly, it offered me the chance to work in China. China is developing at such a fast rate that if you are in the private sector, you ought to be in China. I wanted to catch China at its current stage of development and be a part of it.”


Mr Lock working as a volunteer at this year’s My First Schoolbag

Mr Lock working as a volunteer at this year’s My First Schoolbag
Mr Lock working as a volunteer at this year’s My First Schoolbag

Heart for Volunteerism

True to his desire to be close to the ground, when he took over operations of CapitaMalls Asia (CMA) in China earlier this year, he regularly visited retail malls and held numerous dialogue sessions with his staff. To him, every CMA mall in China is different with different tenant mix and shoppers. It was during such visits that he discovered that his employees were very participative and motivated by corporate social responsibility activities organised by the company, especially the “My First Schoolbag” Programme which was organised with the support of CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand. The programme focused on providing Primary One students in China with a brand new schoolbag filled with stationery on their first day of school.

“It became apparent to me as I interviewed people that a lot of the staff and especially younger candidates were passionate about a job that was meaningful. They wanted to work in an organisation that was more than just about business and making profits. So, I decided to structure the Programme in such a way that we could achieve all these objectives,” said Mr Lock.

In his people-focused management style, Mr Lock quickly looked into meeting such employee aspirations. But here is where Mr Lock differs from the other volunteers. He has the foresight and power to take volunteerism to a whole new level. Initially run by a small Corporate Communications and Marketing team, Mr Lock opened up the “My First Schoolbag” program as a volunteer opportunity to all of CMA China.

“The response was overwhelming,” he said, “After all, we can always do with more hands.”

With that, he deepened CMA China’s corporate social responsibility efforts on a successful platform by increasing the scale of this year’s “My First Schoolbag” programme in China. This year’s programme reached out to 17,000 Primary One underprivileged children from over 200 schools across 17 provinces in China, aided by an impressive turnout of over 400 staff volunteers (read Carriers of Love and Hope). In 2010, the programme supported more than 10,000 Primary One students from 129 schools in 15 provinces in China.

While Mr Lock was present at the launch of this year’s “My First Schoolbag” programme which took place in Hong Shan School in Chaoyang District, Beijing, he did something different.

“I signed up as a volunteer,” said Mr Lock and added with a smile, “Not as a guest-of-honour.”

In fact, he made volunteerism a family affair. His wife of 15 years, Mapel, also participated. “She helped to mind the school children and play with them,” he said.

When Raffles City Beijing launched a donation drive to collect books for the CapitaLand Hope School in Inner Mongolia, Mr Lock encouraged his two sons to participate in the donation.

“Justin, my younger son, who is nine, readily went to his book shelves and took out all his Chinese books, ready to donate all twenty of them, some brand new,” laughed Mr Lock at his son’s attempt to avoid reading Chinese books. “Eventually, he donated the books that he had read. That day, the family went to the event with me and my older son Brandon also donated some books.”

Mr Lock enjoys involving his wife, Mapel, 13-year-old son Brandon and nine-year-old Justin in corporate social responsibility activities
Mr Lock enjoys involving his wife, Mapel, 13-year-old son Brandon and nine-year-old Justin in corporate social responsibility activities

People-centric at Work and Home

This passion of working with a heart for people can be seen in Mr Lock’s approach to the mall business as well.

“When I took over CMA, I looked at what we were doing: what does a mall mean in a town or a city? It is not about collecting rent and making money. If you think about it, what we are really doing is improving the quality of life of the people. When we run a mall, we are bringing new brands, a higher quality of life to a city that has never seen such things before. Now they don’t have to go to the big cities to buy good brands because we bring it right to their doorstep. We bring in good quality supermarkets that offer fresh and clean produce and a first class shopping environment. Malls are not just a destination; they are a centre of activity for the precinct.” Adopting a people-centric approach to leadership, Mr Lock spends a large part of his time travelling across China, visiting the malls under his care and talking to his staff.

“Every mall I go to, I try to spend time with the team, have a meal with them and occasionally join some of their singing sessions over drinks,” said Mr Lock. “I try to understand their aspirations as individuals and where the team wants to bring the mall to. Feeling the excitement and the passion for the job is very rewarding for me.”

As a result, much of his time is spent on the road or in the air. On one record-worthy day, Mr Lock was in four Chinese cities in a single day.

“My friend asked me if I am based in Beijing. I told him that I am based on Air China,” he laughed. “But my wife is very supportive. Having her in Beijing looking after the family, I can concentrate on what I do. I had warned her about the long hours when I contemplated moving to the private sector. She was totally for it.”

Thanks to his wife, Mapel, Mr Lock is able to carry out his heavy work commitment with ease. But he makes a conscious effort to spend the weekends with his family - on his boys’ lives. He also values catching up with close friends over drinks whenever he is back in Singapore.

Whether Mr Lock is at work, at home with family or volunteering his time helping the underprivileged, it is evident that putting people first will be high on his list.

Comments
User Leow Siew Beng
202.79.215.X | 2011-12-06 10:03:29
I believe this is the first CEO who has formally signed up as a volunteer in a CSR program. That is something and tells a lot about this CEO. My salute to you, Wai Han.
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