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MAH SING: TAN SRI DATO’ SRI LEONG HOY KUM

The Red Which Took The Market By Storm

By: Jotham Lim

INTRODUCTION

Since being incorporated in 1994, MahSing has garnered a reputation as one of the market leaders in the property development sector here in Malaysia. MahSing has always been recognised for its prominent visibility, value for money products and fantastic customer service. Its properties can be seen across the entirety of Malaysia, and when in search of new properties with great value, it is hard not to consider MahSing properties.

However, a company’s success can only be as great as its leadership. We reached out to MahSing in an attempt to pull back the curtains and take a sneak peek at the man behind the corporate giant – Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Leong Hoy Kum.

MILESTONES

It is hard to imagine the current MahSing coming from humble beginnings as a plastics trading firm in 1965. Number plates back then used to be made out of metal, but MahSing was able to corner the market once there was a switch to using plastic instead. Before venturing into the property sector, MahSing was considered the largest number plate manufacturer in Malaysia, owning and operating one the most massive arsenals of plastic molding machinery in ASEAN.

Digging deeper, we were curious as to know why there was a switch to developing property instead. Following their success in the plastics industry, Tan Sri Leong had decided to venture heavily into property investment. However, they have faced difficulties acquiring great deals as they were few and far between, and golden deals were often snatched up fairly quickly, most of them even before announcing their official launchings.

While most would shake their heads in dismay, but Tan Sri Leong instead found an opportunity worth capitalizing upon. He was given a chance to buy a lot in Selangor at a great price and he didn’t hesitate to acquire it. Tan Sri then placed the plastic company in the hands of the then executive director and became the first and only employee of the property arm of MahSing Group.

For five years, there wasn’t much growth, but then came the big break in Johor with the launching of MahSing’s maiden township in 2000 – Sri Pulai Perdana. Tan Sri did something never seen before in Malaysia and established the first ever gated community comprising of linked homes, as opposed to thetraditional semi-detached homes. It even features an exotic Roman courtyard and a 12-acre neo-classical Central Park, the first of its kind in Johor Bahru.

From there came a period of rapid expansion, from The Icon commercial space in Jalan Tun Razak to the development of industrial space with the i-Parc series. Their reach has expanded into Eastern Malaysia with Sutera Avenue in Sabah, and now, they have strengthened their foothold in Klang Valley with multiple developments, from Rawang all the way to down south into Bangi.

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Right before meeting Tan Sri in person, I had the pleasure of chatting with a few close associates of his to get a different perspective of the man in question. It was great being able to meet with Datuk Ho

Hon Sang, the Chief Executive Officer of MahSing, and he had this to say:

“Tan Sri is first and foremost, a very dear friend of mine. He will often surprise us with pleasant comments and kind remarks out of nowhere, which will catch us all off guard. It is very nice and motivating to know that your hard work is appreciated and understood.

Tan Sri is also someone that upholds his promises. He remembers what he says and will act upon it without fail. In fact, his memory can go as far back as to the history of all the pieces of land he has bought, the names of the previous owners and the number of times the land has exchanged hands. It still amazes me every time

I enjoy the working relationship I have with Tan Sri Leong. Tan Sri will always want to take a step further and add value for MahSing’s customers; hence the high expectations he has for his employees. Even then, these expectations are reasonable and achievable within the guidelines and frameworks set. The staff has to be very well prepared as they wouldn’t want to be caught off guard.”

Lyanna Tew, Senior General Manager of Strategic Communications, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, also pitched in.

“I have been working with Tan Sri for 13 years, and if I were to summarise him into a single sentence, I would say that he is very committed and he doesn’t take no for an answer. It’s not far fetched to say that he is one of the most diligent people that I’ve seen, and he expects his staff to be at the same level as well.

Despite his cool outward experience, he likes to take huge calculated risks, and he has always been this way. Back during the plastic industry days, he would borrow large amounts of money and buy 10 to 20 units of machinery at a time. People would think he was mad! Even now, he will buy large pieces of land from the land bank, but things would turn out okay. He certainly has a knack of finding certainties amongst a sea of ambiguity.

In 2005, we took on five projects simultaneously, which we thought was impossible to do so. Yet, Tan Sri was able to grow the company up to 47 projects currently, while still maintaining a healthy balance sheet. Imagine the level of discipline needed to maintain such a high level of performance.

For growth at this breakneck speed, regular companies would generally need to gear up and worry about taking on massive debt. However, Tan Sri is exceptionally particular about not overgearing; thus we will always have a healthy pool of resources in order to take advantage of all the opportunities that come our way.”

Q&A WITH TAN SRI LEONG

After a brief exchange of pleasantries between Tan Sri and the editorial team, we proceeded with the interview. Meeting Tan Sri Leong for the very first time is a pleasant surprise as he is fairly approachable, friendly and humorous despite being a prominent member of the industry. He is openly honest with his views on matters, and he is willing to share whatever he knows.

Congratulations on Mah Sing’s 25th Anniversary! What can be expected out of this special occasion?
First and foremost, I would like to thank our customers and stakeholders that have made MahSing what it is today. For our 25th anniversary, we have launched an “RM500,000 in your bank” campaign as a way to give thanks to our customers that have supported us thus far.

There will be plenty of incentives and benefits totalling up to RM500,000 that we can offer to homebuyers. And this is on top of the already hefty benefits provided by our local government, such as the stamp duty waivers given through the Home Ownership Campaign (HOC).

We have also launched a referral program called the Refer & Rewards + (R&R+) which offers up to RM60,000 for every friend or family member that has signed up to buy our properties. In actuality, this program was only meant to last throughout the HOC2019 exhibition, but we decided to extend this program until the 30th of June due to popular demand.

How did the name MahSing come to be?

During the early years of the company, back when we focused on manufactured plastics, our dreams and aspirations were small. To be able to tackle both the Malaysian and Singaporean market was a huge hurdle to overcome, and it took us many attempts, but we managed to succeed in capturing both markets. The term MahSing is derived from the word Malaysia and Singapore, to serve as a constant reminder of our humble origins, and to serve as a compass to where we are heading towards.

Is it tough, transitioning from the plastics industry to the property sector?
Not particularly. The plastic manufacturing arm of MahSing has always been self-sustaining, and I have a fantastic team of people managing the company to thank for that. People have always assumed that moving to an entirely different industry is an arduous process to go through, but I personally believe that finding opportunities, and the ability and willingness to adapt to market changes is part and parcel of being a businessman.

Sometimes, fate can surprise you in many ways. Did you know that the piece of land Icon City is built upon was once owned by Panasonic? Panasonic was also one of our first major clienteles during our plastic manufacturing days. It is essential to meet and mix with the correct people, and to provide excellent service to your existing clients, because you will never know what will happen in the future.

How does MahSing stand out amongst other developers?
If I were to list all of our unique selling points, this interview would last forever! *laughs* But I can summarise it down to a few major key points.

First of all, we are very practical in our operations and design. In terms of layout, we design it in such a way that requires little to no major renovations. It is common for homebuyers to break down out-of-place columns and pillars to make space due to bad design. It is ironic that developers have to pay to build a wall, just to have the buyers spend money to hack it down. We adopt an open space design, whereby the homeowners can customise the space however they want.

We are also one of the very few developers that have a healthy balance sheet and plenty of immediate cash on hand, giving us the ability to hold and acquire lands at a reasonable price at any moment’s notice. Our vendors also know that we have the ability to pay on time, so if the terms and pricing are right, we can close a deal very quickly.

Finally, we are very visible. MahSing’s projects can be seen throughout Malaysia, with 47 projects in total. We also heavily invest in prime locations and established neighbourhoods. For individual projects, you can take a look at M Vertica, which is just 500m away from MRT Maluri and LRT exchange. For our Southville City township, it is located at the midway point between Seremban and Kuala Lumpur, which many people actually travel to and  from for work purposes.

We heavily invest in infrastructure as well, developing plenty of ramps and highways to reduce travel time and congestions. Our research shows that the new interchange for Southville City is able to cut off the travel distance by a total of 6km. Not only are we selling the property, but the facilities and benefits that go along with it as well.

Some of our readers are dying to know if there plans to further venture into the landed property market. Any thoughts?

This is a very tricky question to answer because it really depends on our customer needs and wants. Yes, we do have the land and resources to embark on such projects, but our surveys point towards a greater demand for high-rise properties in convenient locations, preferably within walking distance to public transport.

We do not go into a business for the sake of doing so, as we have a “customer first” philosophy. For example, we opened our first hotel, Ramada Meridin Johor Bahru, in anticipation of the many crowds that will be visiting the nearby Legoland.

Our business model also warrants a high-turnaround rate. “Professionally managed but entrepreneur run,” as I like to call it. For all our projects, we set a goal for ourselves to launch the project within 6 to 9 months after the land acquisition. Doing an early launch lets us determine if we are offering the right product for the market. If our project is not what the consumers want, we can always change to suit their needs. We need to be flexible, fast and quick to adapt, and that’s how you gain an edge over the market.

But to those readers in question – Yes, we do have several landed properties inside and outside of Klang Valley. I welcome the readers to take a look at a few projects we have in Penang, Rawang, Johor and Southville City.

What are the challenges you are currently facing in the market?
As many of you have heard time and time again, we are currently facing a glut in the property market. However, I believe that this is only a “perceived glut” as the demand for quality, affordable homes has never truly been diminished, as evident from the property overhang statistics. From what I can see, there isn’t a lack of demand for homes. Instead, there is a lack of the right product for the right customers. Home affordability is definitely one of the key issues here in the market. However, for MahSing specifically, I would say that we are performing quite well despite the market response.

We are currently still hitting our salestargets, and the HOC 2019 campaign has reported good bookings. I believe that this can be attributed to our research team that took the time and effort to understand the market needs and wants, and for us to deliver the correct product to the market.

On top of that, we have sufficient resources to prepare for any unexpected problems that may arise, or tackle any opportunities that come our way. I believe that this is good news to our shareholders who have placed their faith in this company.

You did mention about home affordability. Care to share more insights?

When they speak of affordability, they are only thinking in terms of price and quantity. A RM350,000 condominium in Klang Valley is “affordable” in terms of price alone, but it may be located in an undesired location without proper access to public transportation.

The frequently less mentioned aspect is the value for money you get out of the property. Affordable homes do not have to be featureless. They can be well designed, have excellent facilities, with the tradeoff being needing to put up with a certain level of density, a tradeoff many buyers are willing to make. This is the basics of economics of scale.

We can easily duplicate design themes, pricing and structures of our projects, which we pay very close attention to. We are also careful to pay contractors on time accordingly and adequately, so they can focus on delivering great workmanship. I am proud to say that we have been given a four-star rating on the CIDB (Construction Industry Development Board), which are only given to developers which comply to the best industry practices and a display of proficiency in terms of project management and technicalities. At the end of the day, our main contractors and subcontractors are in the same boat as us as well. It is important to take good care of them, as they are the central pillar of all property development projects.

What do you foresee happening in the market in the near future, and how will you prepare for it?

I believe that the perceived glut in the property market will continue for some time. Do note that NAPIC (National Property Information Centre) will only show you the general numbers, and unsold properties in rural locations without proper access will inflate the statistics. The market is in demand for affordable housing with easy access to public transport systems. As for MahSing, I have no plans for significantly changing our corporate directives and direction. We are not launching units by the thousands, like the year 2011, where we launched 3000 units in Bangi, and all of them got snapped up in short order. Nowadays, we are launching units in the hundreds at a time, and we have strict internal guidelines to regulate the sales launchings as well. For high rise properties, we will only release a few floors at a time to gauge the market

What would you say is MahSing’s most interesting and creative project?

For the record, I would like to state that I pay close attention to every project under our wing, so I wouldn’t say that any project is my “favourite” per se. However, for the most interesting project we have done so far, I would no doubt select Icon Residence, located in Mont Kiara.

The inspiration behind Icon Residence is actually from the city layout planning of Santorini in Greece. If you can see from the photos, these houses look like little boxes placed on the hill, and the way they design it, it is as if every unit is a corner unit. I believed that we could emulate this design concept and bring it here to Malaysia.

It was no doubt a challenging task to replicate such a concept on a high-rise property, but we did deliver. Every unit of the Icon Residence has a different layout, and everything is highly customizable. So customizable to the point where it is better to have a checklist of requirements and present it to the salesperson, and he or she will pick out the most suitable unit for you. It is a considerable risk at the time to embark on such a project, but with Mont Kiara being such a high-class neighbourhood, everything turned out surprisingly well.

However, we did not forget our core customer base from the B40 and M40 group. That is why we have released reasonably affordable two-or-three bedroom projects such as M Centura in Sentul, M Vertica in Cheras, Sensory@ Southville City in KL South and M Aruna in Rawang.

Recently, we have started releasing a large number of mixed development projects. According to our research, improving and enhancing the lifestyle of regular white-collared employees is essential in this day and age. If people do not have the desired luxurious lifestyle and convenience in terms of location and accessibility, it will negatively impact their work productivity.

Hence, we have developed Icon City with 20 acres of land. It is just beside the LDP and Federal Highway, two of the busiest highways in the Klang Valley. For the upcoming launch of Onyx@Icon City, we have incorporated wellness features to help boost employee productivity, catering to both multinational corporations and small businesses as well.

In the end, it all really depends on the market needs. It pays to be observant, patient and careful, especially on the minute details. Whenever there is a callto-action, MahSing will definitely deliver.

 

CONCLUSIONS

It is evident from Tan Sri Leong’s words and mannerisms that he has extensive knowledge of the property sector and the demands of the market. Even from this brief encounter, we can understand why the staff members sing such high praises of him, a man’s whose vision, creative drive, and strategic risk-taking has created one of Malaysia’s foremost property development companies. But alas, due to time constraints the interview was cut short, and any further insights would be a story for another time.

The editorial team is very much looking forward to what MahSing has in store. They are indeed a force to be reckoned with, and we believe that they, as a property developer, will make huge waves in the industry. Now it is up to us to decide if we are to ride the tides.

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