After meeting Mr Colin Wong, it quickly becomes clear that he is truly an evergreen veteran in Singapore’s residential property industry. From the days of DBS Land to its merger with Pidemco and the formation of CapitaLand, Mr Wong has journeyed with the company for 18 years and counting.
As Head of Sales and Marketing (Residential), Mr Wong has lost count of the number of developments that he has helped plan and launch but he doesn’t pause to rattle off development names, unit sizes and even the economic context in which each was introduced to the market.
In his three decades in the industry, he has weathered numerous property cycles, tackling the bear market and riding the bull market with equal ease. It is little wonder that people who meet him are keen to glean an expert tip or two on choosing the right property.
“Buying a home is a very personal decision. If you ask 10 people, you’ll just end up with 10 opinions. The best advice I can give anyone is to go with your gut. It has to feel right,” he said. Personally, he prefers to leave property decisions to his wife, blaming himself for “knowing too much”.
With a bit of prompting, Mr Wong adds: “I would say the facing of the unit matters. For me, it’s less about fengshui but more about the environment. A west-facing unit, for example, would get the afternoon sun while a north-south-facing unit tends to be breezier.”
He also places more emphasis on ambience than facilities: “I think a home should put you at ease. The built environment of the development and its landscape adds to that ambience.”
This train of thought leads Mr Wong back in time, to when he was working on Glentrees.
From the get-go, he envisioned the low-rise condominium in Mount Sinai Lane to be a valley sanctuary. The units were placed along the edges of the site, graduating towards a centre of lush greenery.
“I asked for external glass lifts for each block, so when you sit by the pool at night, there is a beautiful, almost magical, play of light as the lifts traverse the floors,” he said. “As marketing strategists, we need to be creative and innovative. Look at how Steve Jobs invented the iPad and sold it to us like it’s something that we need. Understanding buyer psychology is important. When we know what appeals to people and how they see things, we can market to them more effectively.”
Leaving a legacy
Like in the case of Glentrees, Mr Wong has had a hand in shaping and naming countless developments. Back in 2001, when the Urban Redevelopment Authority unveiled a list of 27 landmark sites in Singapore, CapitaLand was planning RiverGate, a freehold condominium situated at Robertson Quay. After reading the news, Mr Wong proposed to management to submit RiverGate as a potential landmark site — and succeeded.
“Since RiverGate’s location by the Singapore River is historically significant, we designed the development so that its lush green vista flows seamlessly to the waterfront promenade,” explained Mr Wong, who believes the architectural approach played a part in convincing the authorities.
More recently, Mr Wong can also lay claim to being the man who named CapitaLand’s latest integrated development in Orchard Road — Cairnhill Nine.
“It’s a trend to incorporate the development’s address into its name. I don’t follow trends blindly but, in this case, it works because of our target buyer segment. We want to attract young professionals and a Cairnhill address is something that they aspire to,” he shared. This strategy seems to be working. The development, which was launched in February this year, was already 80% sold by the end of July.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky to have been given the latitude to do what I think is right because my bosses believe in me,” said Mr Wong. “I take great satisfaction in knowing that, sometime in the future, I can walk down the street with my grandkids, point out a condominium and tell them that I had a part to play in creating that.”
The road to leaving this legacy hasn’t always been a smooth one, though.
“I operate on instinct and courage but these are best honed by experience. I have made my fair share of mistakes so, as a leader now, I want to share my experience with my team. They may not always enjoy listening to my stories - not that they have a choice! - but I do hope that they will learn from it and find an easier path to success,” he said.
Looking back, Mr Wong remembers how he entered the industry just as the Asian Financial Crisis hit the region.
“Those were tough times. Singaporeans were beginning to realise that property could be a negative asset. As a young man in the early days of my career, I told myself that I had to work very hard for my family,” he shared. But throwing himself into work meant that Mr Wong had limited time to spend with his three little girls, aside from driving them to school in the morning and sharing a rather interesting weekend activity.
“I would take my girls to showrooms with me every weekend. They spent so much of their childhood in showrooms that they could read architectural models from a young age,” he said laughingly. “I’m surprised they didn’t grow up to be architects!”
Today, Mr Wong is glad to have found better work-life balance. The doting father now enjoys doing little things for his daughters, from installing blackout curtains in their rooms to volunteering to help with their travel arrangements. The highlight of his week is when his married daughter comes home for dinner.
“My wife and I also share weekly date nights. I even plan the date! We usually watch a movie and have dinner,” he revealed. While he’s not a foodie, preferring good ambience over good food, Mr Wong turns out to be quite the movie buff.
“A well-told story has a lot of relevance to everyday life. One of the more meaningful movies that I watched was Eye in the Sky. It’s a political thriller about the war on terrorism but the issues it raised are similar to those we face working in a large organisation. The movie reminded me of the distance between management and the operational guys on the ground and how this can impact execution,” he said.
With such an insightful mind, it is no wonder that Mr Wong has built a successful career in selling homes where people and their hopes for the future can flourish.