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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Syed Yusof builds a niche

Businessman Tan Sri Syed Yusof Tun Syed Nasir is returning to property development and building niche properties for high net worth people.

Syed Yusof, or JoJo as he is fondly known, the third child of the late Tun Dr Syed Nasir Ismail, Malaysia's first Parliamentary Speaker, is in the midst of evaluating several pieces of land to buy.

"My partners and I have been approached by landowners. We are looking at it," Syed Yusof told Business Times in a rare interview.

Syed Yusof's maiden property venture was Pandan Cahaya, an abandoned low-cost housing project in Pandan Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, which he took over just after the Asian financial crisis in the early 1980s.

"The project was a challenge, but I found property development an interesting field," he said.

The 62-year-old businessman, who is married with three children, loves expensive cars, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and all things beautiful that captivate the rich and famous.

But his real passion is to own and operate a string of boutique hotels, resorts and themed cafes, and develop niche housing.

For this, he has partnered Malaysian-born tycoon Ong Beng Seng, 64, who was last year voted as Malaysia's 14th wealthiest businessman with a net worth of US$470 million (RM1.6 billion). The minimum net worth to make the list is US$90 million (RM317 million) and Syed Yusof was also voted in after cashing out of Southern Bank Bhd in 2006 and making new investments.

Today, the flamboyant tycoon with his striking pair of spectacles partly owns 10 hotels and resorts in Malaysia, Bali, Pataya and the Maldives.

They include Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Concorde Shah Alam, Concorde Inn Sepang, Concorde Singapore, Hard Rock Hotels in Bali and Pataya, The LakeHouse in Cameron Highlands, Rihiveli Beach Resort in Maldives and Casa Del Mar, Langkawi.

The properties are parked under HPL Hotels & Resorts, a unit of Hotel Property Ltd Group (HPL Group) controlled by Ong.

New developments include a boutique hotel known as Casa Del Rio in Malacca, and Malaysia's first Hard Rock Hotel in Penang.

Syed Yusof, who was not exactly born with a silver spoon, graduated with an economics degree from the University of Tasmania in Australia in 1975.

He joined Petroliam Nasional Bhd in 1976, handling various management positions before calling it quits in 1983 to become an entrepreneur.

Syed Yusof was toying to build houses when he came across the Pandan Cahaya development.

Following that, he formed Prima Damansara Sdn Bhd to build shoplots, medium-cost apartments and 800 low-cost houses in Sungai Buloh, Selangor.

He was awarded a Datukship in 2002 by the Selangor ruler, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, and Tan Sri in 2007 by His Majesty Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin.

Syed Yusof helmed Southern Bank in 2004 and in the same year made a move to go up a notch and set up Sierra Damansara Sdn Bhd to construct exclusive gated bungalows and semi-detached houses in the sought-after Kota Damansara enclave.

He is now planning the RM2 billion six-star Four Seasons Hotel, serviced apartment and mall project next to the Petronas Twin Towers, via ISY Holdings Sdn Bhd, a firm he set up with the Sultan.

Syed Yusof is a long-time childhood friend of the Sultan. Their fathers were also friends.

In Australia, Syed Yusof said he owns seven Dome Cafes and has property development activities.

"I'm always on my toes but I manage my time well. I start my day at the gymnasium and when I'm at work, I am full fledged. I love the islands and yachting and that is what I do when I need a break. Otherwise, I would travel between Malaysia, Australia and Singapore," Syed Yusof said.

Syed Yusof is currently the chairman of pipemaker YLI Holdings Bhd and he has a stake in investment bank K&N Kenanga Bhd.

He owns Saloma Theatre Restaurant on Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur and has interest in the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood restaurants, where he is looking to expand.

Syed Yusof also runs Jo-Jo Entertainment, which has brought in international stars like Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Kenny G and Sting to Malaysia.

By Business Times (by Sharen Kaur)

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