General Manager of Raffles City China Fund, Mr Gan Chong Min, is quite the man of adventure. This electrical engineer with a Master Degree from the College of Engineering, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has not only lived in parts of the world, he has ventured well beyond his original of expertise in his nearly 20-year career.
Based in Shanghai, China for the last five years, he has worked in places as far-flung as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Israel and India.
While in Israel, Mr Gan’s sense of adventure prompted him to seek out places not often frequented by tourists.
“One place was Hebron in Southern West Bank, about 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem. Another was Jericho, near River Jordan. Both cities are very old and of great archaeological significance. But no tour operator wanted to take me there. Finally, I found a man who was willing to drive me. The security was very tight and there were a lot of Israeli soldiers patrolling the place. Seeing them so heavily armed drove home the reality of the violence for me. It was quite an adrenaline rush,” admitted Mr Gan.
He has also gone from being an engineer in defence science to a business development director in charge of mergers and acquisition, and is now in real estate.
“I have a thirst for new knowledge and experiences that make me want to do things I have never done before,” explained Mr Gan.
That spirit of adventure would lead Mr Gan to several feats among the most exciting and challenging of which were his early days in China with CapitaLand.
Birth of a New Lifestyle Experience
Mr Gan joined CapitaLand in April 2008 and was stationed in Chengdu, China. Within a month, the newly minted Project General Manager, Residential Property Development would experience his first real earthquake in Chengdu, China – the deadly Great Sichuan Earthquake measuring 8.0 that killed nearly 70,000 people and left more than 18,000 missing. At that time, Raffles City Chengdu was about to begin construction.
“The Raffles City Chengdu site office became a safe haven. After the earthquake, people were afraid to return to their homes because they were afraid the frequent and powerful aftershocks would cause the buildings to collapse. So, we all became refugees and we spent many nights in the office eating instant noodles and sharing stories of how we escaped the earthquake,” he shared.
The earthquake did more than rattle the nerves of those involved in the Raffles City project. It also created a major setback for the uniquely designed development by international star architect Steven Holl.
“The whole city stopped all its projects. Because of the complexity of the iconic design of Raffles City Chengdu, the city authorities made us review our entire structure for safety reasons,” said Mr Gan.
Even though the original design fulfilled all the safety measures and building codes, the whole team went back to the drawing board and revisited the structural reinforcements before re-submitting their plans. Only after months of deliberation was the project given the go ahead by the authorities, thanks to the professionalism and perseverance of the team.
“The project had a very difficult birth. Luckily the baby is out!” he laughed.
Today, the mixed used development is a major landmark in Chengdu with lots of fans following on China’s social media.
“For our first anniversary, we have something very special planned to celebrate the long journey and also to express our appreciation to our partners, tenants and customers. But it is a secret for now,” he said with a smile.
Raffles City Ningbo, which will also be celebrating its first anniversary this month also had a difficult start.
“Culturally, the city was not as exposed to retail mall shopping experience. We needed time to introduce the Raffles City concept of a “City Within a City”. We also had to convince international retail brands that this second tier city was worth coming to. But by the time we opened, we had about 50 per cent international brands in the mall,” said Mr Gan.
“We even had real estate developers who are supposed to be our competitors rent space in our Raffles City office building because they like our location, hardware specification and services.”
Beginnings of the Man of Adventure
The man of adventure grew up as the only boy of four children in a rather traditional family.
His parents, both teachers, placed a lot of emphasis on his studies.
“I felt quite stifled because there were many things I could not do. I felt rebellious although I didn’t show it.”
Mr Gan had his chance to give in to his natural curiosity when he went abroad to study.
“I made many friends. I travelled extensively in the United States and Canada, often going off the beaten track,” he remembered with relish. “These trips showed me that sometimes, you have to take risks to achieve something you wouldn’t if you had followed the masses. They opened me up to different possibilities in life.”
Bringing Out the Adventurer in Others
He has since sought to help others discover the various possibilities in their life. For three years, between 2000 and 2003 after he earned his Master of Business Administration (Financial Management) at the University of Western Australia’s Graduate School of Management, he became a part-time lecturer and tutor on the Singapore campus.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching. [The love of] sharing is pretty much in me. If I know something good, I must share it. Lecturing isn’t just about lecturing from the book, it is also about sharing your own work and professional experiences as well,” explained Mr Gan.
This willingness to share is also apparent in the way Mr Gan deals with his staff. He likens his management style to kite-flying: he gives them the guiding principles and the direction and lets them fly.
“If I feel they are going in the wrong direction or not flying high enough, I give the string a tug to steer them back,” he philosophised.
“I believe that all my staff has the full potential to be leaders given the right direction and tools. So I give them space to explore instead of holding their hand every step of the way. You’ll be surprised what innovative ideas come back and what they can achieve.”
Mr Gan is exactly that way himself. He is not afraid to test his boundaries and explore his potential.
“I am quite thick-skinned. If I don’t know something, I will ask till I figure everything out. Many of my staff, colleagues and contractors were my teachers when I was managing the residential project in Chengdu.”
This has helped him develop close working relations all around. “When you spend that so much time trying to work with them and understand what is important to them, you begin to really know them. Some of the best friends I have made in the years working in China are these friends I made at work,” said Mr Gan about the best thing about working in China.
Anchoring the Man of Adventure
But none of it would be possible were it not for his family.
“If my family were not with me in China, I would not have been able to put my full energy and attention on the work I am doing. I am very thankful for being blessed with a wonderful family and very grateful to my wife and my two girls,” he said in a touching tribute to Mrs Gan.
The doting father says that the best birthday present he has ever had was the one his younger daughter gave to him last year.
She had made several coupons for him, spending the whole day drawing and colouring them and then cutting them to size so they would look exactly like real coupons. On it she had written: “Free Birthday Coupon. Daddy can ask me to do anything; Never Expires”.
“I am keeping the coupons very safe. I plan to use it when she is older, maybe when she is married with kids. It will come in really useful then,” he laughed.
Asked if he has anything significant birthdays to date, it was family that he spoke of again.
“With each birthday that my parents celebrate, I get more thankful to see them healthy and active. It is a rare blessing. It is because of their good health that I can work away from Singapore,” he said of his 82-year-old father and 79-year-old mother.
Mr Gan’s adventurous streak has taken him from home to China, from engineering to real estate and helped him to help others explore their potential. But while this adventurer may have wandered far and wide, his heart is still firmly planted at home.