Every morning, Mr Qian Yiqi, Managing Director, CapitaLand China Development Fund and General Manager, Ningbo and Hangzhou, CapitaLand China, enjoys a cup of green tea. After lunch, he has another cuppa. In fact, he confesses that the gentle brew accompanies him pretty much throughout the day.
“Green tea is my favourite because it is the only tea that is not fermented. I like its simple, natural taste that does not require the addition of sugar or milk,” he explains.
But the sensuous, delicate practice of tea-making is not for this tea-drinker.
“It’s too slow for me. It takes too long to make such a small cup. I like things done fast,” he confesses.
Mr Qian’s choice of brew and aversion to slow, laborious processes are very much a reflection of his no-fuss, practical personality. With this 12-year veteran of the organization in charge of CapitaLand’s business in Hangzhou and Ningbo, what you see is what you get, and pragmatism has been his guiding principle at work and in life.
Pragmatic Choice, Capital Gains
He recalls being sent to Ningbo to kick-start CapitaLand’s business in second-tier cities in 2005, two years after joining the company. It would prove the most challenging and rewarding experience of his career. Having no precedence as a guide, his pragmatism led him to successfully localise the Ningbo office, something that was key to developing the business and CapitaLand's presence in the city.
“To make decision-making faster and more efficient, this was one of the first things I did (to localise the Ningbo office) so that it did not have to keep reporting to the headquarters in Shanghai.”
His what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality also made it easier for him to function by CapitaLand’s core values which include integrity.
“I refused to give in to requests for discounts based on guanxi (connections). So, sometimes the local authorities would find fault with the plans we submitted. We simply re-worked and re-submitted them. After a while, they realised that we had integrity and they came to accept the way we worked.”
Like him, his seven-year-old daughter prefers the practical to the froufrou.
“She doesn’t like princesses. She prefers Science and reading about things like planets and animals so she can learn more,” he laughs.
His wife and only child live in Shanghai and so Mr Qian travels among the three cities – Shanghai, Hangzhou and Ningbo – every week. Even in this, pragmatism rules the day.
“I prefer to drive rather than to take a coach or even high-speed trains because too much time is wasted in transit when you take public transport.”
Mr Qian admits that driving also gives him the chance to enjoy the landscape along the way. And his interest in land started at an early age.
“When I was about 15, my teacher introduced to me to a globe. I was fascinated. You can tell so many things about a place just by looking at its map.”
He would go on to earn a degree in Economic Geography and Regional Planning from Peking University. This was followed by a year at Fudan University where he did a Master in Demographic Economics, and eventually to Singapore to finish his Master in Economic Geography at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
With Mr Qian at the helm, CapitaLand acquired five plots of land in Ningbo in 2007. The projects in Ningbo became the seed investment for the CapitaLand China Development Fund in 2005. Divestment from one particular plot (the land is now where Raffles City Ningbo stands) earned a substantial profit three years later when it was injected into the Raffles City China Fund in 2008. The residential development, Summit Residences, also saw tremendous success, reaching a record-high selling price in 2009.
As a leader, Mr Qian manages his staff with the same clear-eyed practicality as he does with business opportunities.
“I tend to be straight forward. I speak my mind. If they are wrong, I will tell them so. If they are right, I will praise them, though I think I should be freer with my praises. I suppose that is my shortcoming,” he reflects thoughtfully.
An only child, he hails from Zhoushan, an island of Zhejiang Province that is slightly smaller than Singapore. His family traces its lineage to royalty – Qian Liu. He was the king of Wuyue Kingdom during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Qian Lu, too, was known for his pragmatism, building a system of irrigation for his people that allowed them to farm their lands more productively.
Like his ancestor, Mr Qian’s pragmatism has helped him to ride the challenging tides of work and life.
But in a life dictated by pragmatic considerations and clear-minded analyses, Mr Qian can, perhaps, still dream of things that are reserved for when all his practical responsibilities have been fulfilled.
“When I retire, I would like to travel for fun and see the world,” he beams.