Titan of Titijaya
Titijaya Land Berhad’s Tan Sri Dato Lim Soon Peng changes the course of his destiny from rags to riches, poverty to overwhelming prosperity – and lives to tell his tale – while continuing to give back to society
Success agrees with Tan Sri Dato Lim Soon Peng, Founder and Group Managing Director of Titijaya Land Berhad. In fact, it agrees with him so much that one would well be hard-pressed to think that he came from truly humble beginnings – so much so, that describing himself as “poor as a lump of iron ore” as a youth then, he used to pray, “I want to become a rich man!” every night to the heavens through the hole of his roof.
Such was his childhood epitomising the tale of rags to riches and poverty to overwhelming prosperity that a young Lim had to endure life filled with ongoing and recurring hardships. This included him quitting school at 11 years old to grow bean sprouts on a 10 ft by 15 ft plot of land with his sister. Every week, he would fill some 50 katies of fresh bean sprouts into a large bamboo basket attached to his bicycle to sell at the market to keep the family afloat.
A slender boy with a small frame, he nevertheless had the strong capacity to endure hard work. Lim didn’t shun toil but took everything in his stride and worked his way, literally from the bottom up.
Today, he stands tall on the shoulders of giants, represented by kinsmen from the Tong An clan where his grandfather hails from in Fujian, China. In fact, his early years were spent doing charity work guided by those whom he considered his worthy seniors. From them, the seeds of good works were planted with Lim being inspired by his mentors’ saying, “A Well That is Often Drawn, Is Always Full”.
This meaningful phrase that he inherited from his seniors when he started his philanthropy works in the Chinese community has had a profound impact on his life till today.
Likening the act of charity to that of opening a well to supply water, he says if water is never drawn from the well, it will become stale. This has formed his tenet for charity work as reflected in the analogy of drawing water from a well to share. He rationalises that the more water is drawn, the more water the well will continuing supplying and the clearer the water will get – benefitting everyone. Therefore, the motivation to continue giving only refreshes the giver further – stemming from this belief.
This saying became the title of his self-produced biography outlining the story of his life in his recently printed second edition book which he says was produced to motivate and encourage people in society who may find themselves faced with unfortunate circumstances.
“Some people always think that they can’t be successful in life as they lack money or knowledge. However, I want to tell them that I was poor and uneducated but am what I am today because I stay eager and am ready to try new things. I train myself (to be diligent) and dare to step out of my comfort zone,” says Lim.
“Don’t be discouraged because of your background, poor status or lack of wealth. If you are brave, willing to try and hardworking.
- you can motivate yourself to be confident that one day you will be on par with other successful people,” attests the charismatic property magnat
“I want to prove to people by showing them that though I only had primary level education and come from a poor background, I was able to give a talk at the University in Beijing, China. I hope to set an example to others by my actions and ‘rags to riches’ story,” relates Lim earnestly.
Success from Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Lim’s success is derived from standing on the shoulders of giants – his predecessors, extended family, relatives and senior members of the clan associations he is attached to. He spends 30% of his time focusing on public welfare besides benefitting social groups stemming from clan associations formed as far back as during the Ming and Qing Dynasty in the hopes of maintaining ties of kinship and birthplace.
In those days, Chinese emigrants who journeyed on the perilous seas to Southeast Asia were heavily reliant on clans of kinship for reciprocal assistance and protection. From Lim’s youth spent helping out at the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Tong An Association which is a subsidiary of The Hokkein Association Klang, he witnessed how his seniors compassionately helped other kinsmen in difficult situations – a practice that he has taken upon himself to continue to this day.
Standing on the shoulders of giants who were benevolent examples exemplifying generosity of spirit in lending a helping hand to other members, Lim has not taken the seeds sown by his predecessors for granted. Leveraging on the understanding gained by major thinkers of his time who paved the way for him to harness a sense of social and moral obligation to his community and country, Lim, having achieved his dreams, has been honouring his dedication to contribute to the welfare of the community at large right to this day, and has no intention to stop.
Fortune Favours the Kind
“The happiness of helping others cannot be measured in money.” “As long as you do good deeds, fortune will enter your life without notice.” While these sayings that he picked up, stemming from the wisdom of his gracious seniors at the clan associations may just be wonderful sayings to others, Lim’s accountability is seen from how he walks his talk and views his responsibilities to his fellow kinsmen in his actions – taking seriously the lessons passed on to him by senior clan members.
Two seniors whom Lim looked up to have since passed on but they have left an indelible impression on him – with their ideals forming the bedrock of his belief on how to be a “fortunate person”. The lessons learnt highlight the fact that it doesn’t require a lot of money in order to accumulate fortune as good deeds can constitute extending one’s time and effort in helping the elderly or assisting the needy as these acts will unlock the storehouses of fortune. Through these bonds of old – akin to that of a father and son relationship – fashioned in the furnace of adversity and formed in the trenches of comradeship – an impressionable Lim soaked in good values which he holds dear to today. This has formed his solid foundation that has honed his interpersonal and business skills besides shaping his endearing quality of spirit in never looking down on the unfortunate – but instead, to lend a helping hand whenever necessary.
A man of action, demonstrating his care concerning his kin relationship has seen him having no qualms in travelling by boat to the remote Sungai Lima fishing village at Pulau Ketam in 1995 upon learning of the 95% Tongan descendants’ plight of its local Tang Ua social club needing an overhaul. An enterprising Lim then quickly enlisted help to source RM400,000 in terms of funding for the project for what is considered as possibly the only Tongan village outside China.
Three years after the new social club was formed, Lim stepped in once more upon learning that regular expenses became a problem for the Board Members, and arranged for a telecommunications company to rent the space on a 10-year lease, with derived rental at RM30,000 per year. The practicality of this solution now allows residents to communicate with the outside world via utilising modern technology while providing regular income to the social club – demonstrating Lim’s ingenuity in solving problems and adding value to the community.
Serving as President of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Tong An Association from 1996 to 2001, he also brought these residents overseas to participate in the International Conference of the Tongan Clan in China. In 1998, he rendered assistance to the Melaka Tong An and Kim Hah Association in organising its third International Conference which culminated in a grand function attended by around 4,000 people. This event then toured across the states – setting a new precedence and benchmark for the Tong An Association.
Acquiring the First Pot of Gold
A man of few words even when young, (so much so that he earned himself the nickname “Ah Bu”, meaning ‘the rich boy’ in the Hokkein dialect given to him by his grandfather to tease and coax him into speaking more and also with the hope he would strike it rich in life), Lim prefers to let his works and actions speak volumes for him.
Dealt with the death of his father, Lim worked even more diligently since he had promised the patriarch that he would take care of his mother and younger siblings. However, it was only in the 1990s that his business took off in a big way after a decade of toil. A hiccup in his success was also marked by the closure of the three-star Mutiara Hotel in Klang in 2002 that Lim started in 1997. However, this did not deter him.
Eventually, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a villa project in Fraser’s Hill – something which other contractors weren’t interested in – given the long and arduous winding roads and time restrictions to reach the project site at that time but he insisted on transporting the building materials up the hill every day while dealing in land transactions at the same time. In true unwavering form, Lim won the bidding for the project and completed it on time, earning for himself his first bucket of gold in life which unlocked many other new opportunities for him.
“It was a difficult task as during the construction period, I myself had to drive the lorry to the site. That time, the road was narrow, so it demanded many small lorry trips to transport the building materials,” recalls Lim. Among the other sacrifices were driving the lorry across three states within a single day including to Fraser’s Hill, when the lorry driver couldn’t take on the assignment at the last minute. The difficulty in constructing was amplified by the lack of electricity and water at times.
At the height of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, when many businessmen backed off from the market, Lim started boldly acquiring several strategic plots of land in the Klang Valley which provided him with new avenues to expand his business. Looking back, the Financial Crisis was a blessing in disguise
- being the ultimate unexpected platform which launched him a series of opportunities to accumulate prized land banks at strategic plots of land in the Klang Valley at favourable pric And, once the economy recovered, Lim was in a stronger position than ever – having laid a strong foundation – to build his real estate empire.
Being an astute visionary, he foresaw demand in the affordable housing segment of the market which he focused on after the crisis. True to his acute vision, the single-storey terraced houses he introduced in 1997 was an instant hit among house buyers. In 2001, Titijaya launched its series of competitively priced semi-detached houses in Klang.
Three years later, Titijaya launched its first high-rise development, E-Tiara Serviced Apartments in Subang Jaya. In 2007, it also launched its Small offices Home offices (SoHo) project with its First Subang office development launched at Subang Jaya. This is directly in response to what he perceived to be a growing market demand as many opted to start their own businesses then. Lim’s approach to ascertaining market demand and requirements is also unique as he himself would go to the grassroots to ascertain what they want.
The sensitivity to market sentiments is derived from his own acute observations whereby it is not uncommon for Lim to conduct the survey himself – spending time engaging in chats at the coffee shops with residents there.
Lim would go the extra mile to understand the unique local conditions and development potential before purchasing land and devising the property market positioning and pricing including what types of properties would flourish besides determining the built-up sizes of the units
From its operations in Klang, Titijaya shifted to its headquarters in Subang Jaya when it ventured into the property markets there as well as at Ara Damansara, etc.
To date, Titijaya has ongoing projects with a total Gross Development Value (GDV) of RM2.3 billion. In 2017, Titijaya launched Phase 1 of its 3rdNvenue @ Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur development with a GDV of RM580 million. Titijaya also launched its H20 development in Ara Damansara comprising four blocks with a GDV of RM916 million and The Shore @ KK in Kota Kinabalu with a GDV of RM575 million. In terms of its long term plans, Titijaya has projects valued at around RM13 billion GDV that is expected to be launched in the next few years which will keep it busy until 2027.
Till today, the mass market remains very much part of the developer’s core target market which augurs well for its projects – given the fact that the purchasing power of this niche market has been on the rise. Lim says the market here is big enough, with Malaysia undergoing what he terms as a golden era of doing business although he doesn’t discount the prospect of going international in the future.
Poverty Will Not Last 3 Generations
The spectacular tale of Tan Sri Dato Lim Soon Peng’s rise from a one-man show business of yesteryears all the way to Titijaya Land Berhad going public on November 27, 2013, has all but inspired Lim to take the company to even greater heights to better its own achievements.
Although a primary school drop-out who poverty forced to take on part of the breadwinner role for his family, Lim has never complained – as he took on everything from selling bean sprouts to welding and building his construction business from scratch. Today, Lim has certainly defied all odds and proven that poverty will not last three generations, testament to his uncle’s hopes and profession of faith for the family.
Forming the World Lin Chamber of Commerce to foster cooperation and in forging an international business network, he was also responsible for establishing the Malaysian Chinese Women Entrepreneurs Foundation. Lim also champions the Love and Care Programme committed to ending hunger. He shares that his future plan is to join the World Chinese Chamber of Commerce when the time is right.
Expressing regret in being unable to finish his primary school education and beyond, this filial gentleman has not forgotten the humble education he received until Standard Five by presenting RM200,000 besides other regular contributions to his alma mater to promote Chinese education. Understanding that education is a luxury for children from poor families and tool for breaking from the shackles of poverty, he launched the tuition lunch aid programme forking out RM20,000 annually for the fourth year now, having known hunger during his school days. Last year, Lim personally handed out RM1,000 to each of the 12 students who had attained at least 3% progress academically. He also donated RM500,000 to his alma mater for the construction of new class rooms, an administrative block and canteen named after his parents.
Being in the presence of such an accomplished Entrepreneur, Property Magnate and Tycoon rolled into one was an experience in itself, as a wealth of information descended upon us who were privileged to take in what he divulged on his life’s journey – progressing steadfastly from his primary school education to astounding prosperity in a two-hour long interview translated by his external Public Relations team. One can only look on with respect at the towering achievements of this remarkable man – who has risen in stature against all odds and defied the opposition stacked against him since young to emerge victorious.
Reading his biography was an eye opener, as so beautifully exemplified by this Titan of Titjaya who is not only a giant in terms of achievements derived from his sheer efforts and perseverance – but whose care and heart for others, is overflowing with benevolence. Despite the many achievements and accolades bestowed upon him, nothing makes him happier than contributing to the underprivileged as he himself was once in their shoes. Never one to waste food, he takes delight in indulging his employees, security guards and friends with what he partakes of himself and his thoughtful gestures speak of a heart filled with gratitude and sincerity.
From the towering success of his public-listed Titijaya today, Lim has certainly overcome the odds and proven to his uncle and relatives that “Poverty Will Not Last Three Generations”. Hailing from an impoverished family, his parents made a humble living by rearing pigs and growing vegetables with Lim being the eldest son in a family of 11 children.
And, given his good deeds and heart for the community, it is without a doubt that when he least expects it, fortune and goodwill will flow in abundance to reward in full, this man of humility and integrity, imbued with a different philosophy of giving back to society in his capacity as property developer extraordinaire. Living proof that the impossible is within reach, if only one would stop weighing in on whatever negative circumstances one finds oneself in, his message is – harness the will to succeed and take steadfast action, throwing in persistence and hard work to achieve the impossible dream.
Lim rationalises that if he can do it, so can anyone else, given their more favourable life circumstances.
Above all, the strength of his character is also proven in how he treats not only his business associates but also other people, his staff and workers with sincerity – a lesson he has imparted to two of his children – Lim Poh Yit and Charmaine Lim Puay Fung who worked their way from the bottom up. As those who know Lim will attest, he continues to treat those around him in the same manner – dealing with them fairly regardless of their wealth or social status, since he himself came from humble beginnings though he now has his title and a thriving business.
Up, Close & Personal with Tan Sri Dato Lim Soon Peng of Titijaya Land Berhad
At 63, Tan Sri Dato Lim Soon Peng, who is born in the year of the Goat says that many Entrepreneurs in Malaysia that he is acquainted with also coincidentally are born under the same sign. “In my era, INTI Education Holdings Sdn Bhd Founder and Chairman Tan Yew Sin, Country Heights Holdings Berhad Founder and Executive Chairman Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew and Tropicana Corp Berhad Founder Tan Sri Danny Tan Chee Sing are all born under the sign of the goat,” he shares with a smile. The following is an excerpt of the no-holds barred interview with Lim.
Why did you venture into property development?
My life started as contractor. When I started to do business, I started as contractor and subsequently, I realised that a contractor and property developer is actually from the same industry so I ventured into property development. The first construction project that I did was the project in Frasers Hill. That time, no one is willing to take up the job. During that time they didn’t have the current roads, and there were a lot of difficulties and hassles in doing construction there. I feel that being a property developer is very meaningful, besides making the profits. Many famous and renowned entrepreneurs get rich and successful from being a property developer. The meaningful part of being a property developer is the ability to provide a shelter for people. It is a “good deeds business”. There is a saying, “Birds need nests to provide a safe place for eggs and young birds to develop, and humans need houses.” This show how important it is to have a house.
What is your secret in success?
Whatever we do in life will have its difficulties and challenges but how we deal with these issues will determine whether we are successful or not. I strongly believe in not doing something that is bad for people. As long as you stay with this belief, you will be able to solve problems. I strongly hold on the principal of integrity in that there should be no conflict of interest in the things you do, as once you have interest in the dealings, you won’t be so neutral in making the right decisions. This includes the morality in dealing with things. My secret of success is – “Stay true to yourself”. This all depends on how one faces and solves problems. Do the things that people say cannot be done, and always push yourself.
What is needed to be successful in this industry?
I believe that property developers must take into consideration the importance of a house to the buyers. Some purchasers might use all their savings to buy a house thus, as a responsible developer, it is our duty to ensure the project will continue to develop until completion without the risk of abandoning the project. The quality of the property is also very important.
Advice to young Entrepreneurs?
The younger generation can elevate the entire nation as this is the era of the high technology generation. The opportunity to be Entrepreneurs arise from information and technology. The current generation is very different from our previous era. Technologies are shaping society today. Thus, the main principal for Entrepreneurship for the current generation is to embrace the technology in pursuing opportunities.
Your thoughts on “Poverty will not last for three generations?” I strongly believe in this. When we were poor, we tended to question why people can be successful and rich. With this, we will be motivated to do more and go all out to be successful. We have to always ensure that poverty will not exist in our family after three generations. This is the key to motivate ourselves. I came from a really poor family. Everyone was poor by that time, and I told myself I cannot be poor anymore, and so I used any available approach to earn money.
What else do you intend to accomplish?
There are three things I want to do and achieve in my life:- Firstly, adopt orphans: I thought of the times when I was young, and had no money for education and food. So, I want orphans to receive good care and education. I hope to make a change to their lives. I have adopted over 100 children from my old school.
Secondly, I want to provide micro loans to Malaysia Chinese women as many countryside women face the problem of getting loans for doing business and end up borrowing money from loan sharks. This reminds me of the times when I faced the same issue in first starting my business. Without a track record, banks would not lend money. Thus, I set up the Malaysian Chinese Women Entrepreneurs Foundation in order to support them.
Thirdly, I want to help the seniors as it reminds me of my grandparents. I lost both of them before I became successful and had no chance to take care of them. But, I have a chance to make a difference in other elderly people’s lives. So, I thought the best way to repay my grandparents is to bring love and nurture over 200 elderly people whom I have adopted. I believe that in treating people well, one will get blessings.
What about your next phase of business plans?
The next phase of my business plan is to provide business opportunities to the people who live in rural areas that are having a hard time selling their produce and maintaining their quality because of issues of transportation, etc. I want to provide a platform that would link the providers and also buyers because I believe that through improving the life of these people, it will indirectly increase their income and improve the economy. Since logistics is a problem for villagers, what I envisioned is a concept like Uber/Grab, matching the providers with the people who need them.
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