The “Utama” in Bandar Utama Development
Tan Sri Dato’ Teo Chiang Hong – A Remarkable Man With Surprisingly Simple Values
Usually, when the editorial team here at Property Insight books an interview, especially with a luminary as respected as Tan Sri Dato’ Teo Chiang Hong, we spend hours researching the subject to make sure we bring you the best interview possible. But what do you do when your subject is famously media-shy, to the point of not even having his own Wikipedia entry? You go to the man himself to get your answers.
Tan Sri Dato’ Teo Chiang Hong is one of the proud owners and the director of One World Hotel, and also a director of Bandar Utama Development Sdn Bhd and Bandar Utama City Corporation Sdn Bhd. These companies are part of See Hoy Chan Holdings Group, a significant contributor to Malaysia’s residential and commercial property development sector.
“Bandar Utama started with just a small estate called Effingham Estate. We bought over the estate, started planning the development and kickstarted the project in 1990,” Tan Sri shares. He explained that Bandar Utama is heavily inspired by the precinct system, later implemented by the government – a relatively innovative concept at the time.
“We have precincts for linked house development that hold about 500 residential units per precinct, which we now know as Bandar Utama. We have precincts specifically catered for condominiums and high rise developments as well, such as 1 Bukit Utama and 9 Bukit Utama. Of course, we have a commercial and office district which you may be familiar with. It holds 1 Utama Shopping Mall, One World Hotel, KPMG Tower, Plaza IBM etc.,” says Tan Sri with a certain pride.
“Down the road, we have also established Centrepoint, several office spaces, petrol stations, “makan” and DIY areas, etc. We even have light industrial and high-tech parks as well. Now, we are in the midst of setting up a hospital project in tandem with our retirement village project. Looking back, it is amazing how far we have come.”
Collecting payment from homebuyers by phases throughout the construction period is a general industry practice in the property sector. However, Bandar Utama is the pioneer in implementing the “build then sell” concept in Malaysia.
“It all started in 1997 during the worldwide financial crisis. We were about to launch the next development phase of Bandar Utama, but economic environment was challenging. The company was faced with a serious dilemma, and an emergency meeting was called. We sat down together with my father to discuss the direction and how we should proceed and cope with the crisis,” Tan Sri shares.
“In reality, we had the option to delay launching our projects at the time, because every other developer was struggling as well and had already done so. However, we had made promises to our stakeholders, and we believe in delivering on those promises regardless of how bad the market performance is. The market response was surprisingly positive, and we managed to pull through. It seems that we made the right call in that situation. We used the same strategy for several other projects as well, and other developers caught on soon after.”
“1997 would be considered the lowest point in Bandar Utama’s history during the market crash. There will always be highs and lows in every industry. It is unavoidable. But how you react to the sudden market changes is what matters the most. The crisis got us sitting down and racking our brains. How can we survive? How can we help those whose jobs and family is depended on us? That was a big challenge, and after some considerations, we came up with the build-and-sell concept, and started using it to market our properties.”
“There are no secrets nor shortcuts that got us through the crisis. We optimised and re-optimized our spending, while still maintaining our quality of workmanship. Our employees were very understanding and willing to work with us through dark times. Thankfully, we were vigilant with our savings in the past, and we had set aside an amount of money just for situations like this. But what I learnt the most is, we must keep our values and identity intact no matter what. We still need to set out and achieve what we believe in, even if it takes us down a longer, tougher path,” shares Tan Sri.
Listening to Tan Sri’s inspiring story, the reason why the staff have such a high level of respect and care for him becomes clear. We started a conversation about his management style, and he suddenly got very excited.
“Employees are the best investment a company could make! We have never once missed out on a salary increment or yearly bonus over the years. Never once in the company’s history did we neglect paying the staff on time,” said Tan Sri with pride.
“Stability is important to us, to our employees, to our customers and stakeholders as well. Stability is what builds people’s confidence in us and kept this business running. We are quite old-school and traditional. We take care of our own people. We give them employment until they decide they cannot work anymore. We have employees that have worked with us for 50 years, and we really value their services and loyalty very much.”
Bandar Utama Development
This people-centric approach is easily explained in an office environment, but values don’t always translate into the work. Out of curiosity, we asked Tan Sri about how his values are reflected in the physical houses that make up Bandar Utama.
“I come from a very traditional Chinese background, so family is of the utmost importance to me. Our properties and development projects are built with family and stability in mind. All our homes, built and sold, have plenty of space for children to play in, and easy for the elderly to walk around. My personal design philosophy is in maximising as much space as possible, including as many rooms as possible.
“Nowadays, people are more centred towards buying smaller units, because affordability is a huge factor. Newly-wed couples and young families have started living on their own away from their parents. We are taking note of this, and our future developments will be a mixture of small, medium and large units.”
“However, we will never lose sight of our family values. When couples marry and expand their families, they will eventually run out of space. For now, we will focus on building units that cater to a family of about four or five. But at the end of the day, Bandar Utama sets out to be a township that takes care of its residents for their whole lives. There is no need for us to change our values and goals because they are already good values in the first place.”
“We are currently working on establishing a retirement village, which is a concept we took from Australia after a recent trip there. It is much more than a simple retirement home, specifically made for people who are able to afford a more luxurious lifestyle. Imagine having nurses and doctors nearby, downstairs or next door at all times. Your health and comfort are well protected, and help is always within reach in case of emergencies.”
“I am no longer a young man. It is my dream to have whole families buying multiple units in the same area, staying nearby each other so that they can look after their parents and children. It is pleasant to see families grow, becoming loyal to the community because they are comfortable and happy with the place they live in.”
Before heading out for his next appointment, we asked Tan Sri for any last comments or advice for home buyers. He happily responded:
“From a young couple to a mature family, each person is driven by different needs, so be wise when picking a home and purchase properties that fit your circumstances. To the young people out there, the most important thing is to work hard and be good at what you are doing. Do it properly, do it well, and always save some money, because you will never know what is going to happen to you. For people my age, we can afford what we want, but we have to be smart with our money, and be very vigilant.”
“Touching on 2019, our country will go through some tough times, but we have been in this situation before. It will take some time for Malaysia to recover and relive its glory days. In the meanwhile, there will be rising loan interest rates, high supply and low demand. Look for good bargains, and look for good locations. And if you are looking for a good location, why not give Bandar Utama a try?”
And with a hearty laugh, Tan Sri took his leave, no doubt considering his next big move.
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