In Chinese culture, water is an important element. It is believed to maintain balance and harmony, and help prosperity and good fortune flow into a person’s life. If all this is true, then Mr Chan Boon Seng is a very lucky man. As the CEO of Raffles City Chongqing; as well as Deputy CEO and CDO (Chief Development Officer), CapitaLand China, Mr Chan lives in the city of Chongqing which is served by two major waterways: Yangtze River and Jialing River. He is also the man in charge of Raffles City Chongqing which sits at the confluence of the two rivers. The mixed development is CapitaLand’s biggest single investment in China to date and the largest ever made by any Singapore company in the country, totalling an estimated RMB 21.1 billion (S$4.2 billion).
The iconic project has been designed to look like a powerful sail cleaving through strong winds and waves (扬帆起航), drawing inspiration from its riverfront location and the city’s culture of being a waterway transportation hub.
Managing the Mighty Masts of Raffles City Chongqing
Mr Chan has been stationed in China since 1996, mostly in Shanghai. But he recently moved to Chongqing to oversee the Group’s biggest project in China yet. When completed in 2018, Raffles City Chongqing will boast a mall, luxury residences, Grade A offices, serviced residences and a hotel spread over 1.13 million square metres. It will also incorporate a metro station, bus interchange, and a ferry terminal.
“It is going to be very prominent. Raffles City Chongqing is poised to serve the city’s 30 million people and this city has great potential for growth,” said Mr Chan.
Asked about the biggest challenge managing this mammoth property, he said, “The Chinese are not as mobile. It is difficult to get people to go to Chongqing to work, particularly since the city is an emerging one and not as modern yet.”
But Mr Chan is the sort of man that sees the balance in everything.
“The local government has been very supportive. They have paved the way for us to work with the various local authorities because this project has so many elements¸ from flood control because of its proximity to the rivers, to building lines because it is situated in a densely populated area,” he noted.
“Chongqing is also a very hilly place and the roads are also congested. So, we have to consider other ways of transporting the material to the construction site,” said Mr Chan.
“There are plans to build a jetty to transport the materials via water, taking advantage of the location.”
As a trained civil engineer, Mr Chan is eminently suited to handle all these.
Making A Mark In the World
A graduate of Dunman Government Chinese Middle School and National Junior College, Mr Chan went to Lycee du Parc (Lyon) and Ecole Nationale Des Travaux Publics de l’Etat, France to earn his degree after he was awarded a scholarship.
“I came from humble beginnings. I am number five in a family of eight children. My father worked in a printing company and was the sole bread winner,” he confided. “In those days, only France and Germany were giving out scholarships for Engineering.”
Thanks to his sojourn there, Mr Chan is fluent in French. His stay in France also gave him a taste of the international life that he would soon be leading.
“When I was a student in Lyon, I would go to my friend’s father’s vineyard to help pluck grapes during summer. It was hard work. We worked non-stop from the morning, combing the hills from the bottom up. By the end of the day, our backs were so bent we even slept curled up!” he recalled.
In 1979, he returned to complete his national service, and work with the Public Works Department, armed with a degree and accompanied by his life partner – his Singaporean wife whom he had met in France.
In his next job with a French company, Mr Chan was sent to Hong Kong for seven years to oversee the building of homes and commercial building. But his days abroad were far from over.
“After I joined L&M;, I travelled to several places - Pakistan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand – because I was in-charge of L&M; International. I was the international man,” he joked.
Marvelling at Life in China
That was why when DBS Land (before it became part of CapitaLand) was looking for a man for their foray into China, Mr Chan was a natural choice.
“I have been in China for close to 18 years now. You have to be very hands-on because we do not have the luxury of experienced contractors and consultants. But I Iearnt a lot as a result – construction details, negotiation skills, handling people, getting them to deliver results,” said Mr Chan.
“You cannot be too idealistic. And don’t jump to conclusions. Particularly in my earlier days in China, it was quite frustrating because you could never get a firm [delivery] date from them. I learnt to keep checking on things and not to make assumptions.”
Moulding A Family Together
One of the reasons why Mr Chan took the opportunity to go to China all those years ago was because of his family.
“I was travelling so much to different places. It was difficult on the family because the children were so young then. Being posted to China, I could have my family with me,” explained Mr Chan.
His three children – two daughters and a son in their twenties – grew up in China. They are now living away from home: two are working in Singapore and one in London. So, weekends are devoted to being with his wife.
“I golf, then we go for a massage or watch videos together. We go out for meals or explore the city. It’s a simple life. We intend to take a ferry to see the Three Gorges soon,” Mr Chan shared.
Going with the flow has taken Mr Chan around the world and given him vast experiences in his career. It has also given him the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of the massive, ground-breaking project that is Raffles City Chongqing.
From the looks of it, this captain is ready to set sail for new horizons.