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Monday, November 5, 2007

Liew pays tribute to mentor

Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin was slightly overcome by emotion when he publicly thanked his mentor for showing him the ropes in the property business. Accepting the award for Property Man of the Year at the International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci) Malaysia Property Award 2007 last week, the group managing director and CEO of S P Setia Bhd says he was very lucky to have known Wong Chee Kooi because without his guidance, he would have been nowhere.

Liew and his mentor, Wong (right)

"I was a young man then and wanted things to happen quickly. Wong told me to slow down," Liew says in his acceptance speech.

Attributing his award to Wong and his dedicated staff at S P Setia, Liew tells City & Country that he got to know Wong through a mutual friend. At that time, Wong was heading his own construction company called Syarikat Pembinaan Setia Sdn Bhd, which was involved in a couple of development projects.

"The company was not listed back then and we immediately hit it off as our different backgrounds meant we had a lot to share with each other," Liew recalls.

Wong harboured hopes of modernising his business and was also looking at going public, while Liew was a young banker with ideas about property development. He frequently visited Wong to exchange ideas and also shared with Wong his ambition to go into property development.

"While I advised Wong on corporate and financial matters, he in turn shared with me his knowledge and experience in the property development and construction industry.

"When I decided to start my own development company called Syarikat Kemajuan Jerai Sdn Bhd in 1989, Wong's wise words served as a guidance for me over the years," says Liew.

He found Wong to be a man of values, who often reminded him of the importance of loyalty, honesty and integrity. "I built the company based on these strong foundation and values.

"I must say the most valuable lesson in the business that I've learnt from Wong is upholding our integrity and keeping to our promises made to our purchasers," he says.

In 1993, Syarikat Pembinaan Setia was successfully listed on the then KLSE's Second Board. Three years later, it bought over Liew's company in a reverse takeover and Liew became the CEO of the new company called S P Setia Bhd. While Liew initiated the company's transfer to the Main Board, Wong decided to call it a day in 1998 to spend more time with his family.

"I am forever indebted to Wong for giving me a headstart in realising my ambition. Without being a listed vehicle, the company would not have been able to grow at such an exponential pace," says Liew. Today, Liew still keeps in close contact with Wong, not so much to seek business advice, but to exchange ideas on the latest development in the property industry and to catch up on life and family.

At the award ceremony which Wong attended, Liew says the past decade had been a challenging but rewarding journey for him at S P Setia since assuming the post of CEO in 1996. "My vision was simple ­— to be the best in all we do. I demanded the best service and product quality from my team and I am deeply gratified that our commitment in these areas has propelled us to the forefront of the industry."

The award-winning developer has been ranked No 1 in The Edge Malaysia Top Property Developers Awards in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Introduced in 2003 to benchmark Malaysian developers, winners are adjudged on both their quantitative and qualitative attributes.

Last year, S P Setia's Setia Eco Park won Fiabci's Malaysia Property Award for best Masterplan Development. The 800-acre project within the developer's township development of Bandar Setia Alam in Shah Alam went on to win the international Fiabci Prix d'Excellence Award. Interestingly, it was this international recognition that sparked the interest of Vietnam's top state-owned conglomerate Becamex IDC Corp to seek out S P Setia as a partner and this led to a joint venture in Ho Chi Minh City. Called EcoLakes at MyPhuoc, the RM2.1 billion project, located in Binh Duong province, 40km north of Ho Chi Minh City, marks S P Setia's first foray overseas.

The Malaysia Property Award is organised by Fiabci Malaysian Chapter. This is the 15th year of the awards. Nine awards were presented that night (see box). The event was graced by the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

By The EDGE MALAYSIA (By Diana Chin)

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