One year ago in my first New Year message to you, I urged you to 'never settle', to continue to work hard, do well, and never settle for mediocrity. I shared how 'never settling' will be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary part of a truly transformative process. In the blink of an eye, 2020 is upon us and it has been almost 500 days since I was entrusted with the responsibility to serve as your Group CEO. There is no better time than now to look back at what we achieved in 2019.
"I shared how 'never settling' will be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary part of a truly transformative process."
2019 has been a year full of action, activities and amazing announcements. We made important decisions in partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, staff movements, deals and new products. The CapitaLand-Ascendas Singbridge merger was a major highlight, receiving more than 90% of ‘yes’ votes from CapitaLand shareholders for the transformational transaction. Funan mall, Jewel Changi Airport and Raffles City Chongqing were unveiled amidst much public interest and excitement. We made good progress with Phase 2 of Guangzhou Knowledge City. We did well with the launches of One Pearl Bank and Sengkang Grand Residences.
Ascott launched its entirely new category of lyf coliving serviced residences in Singapore, setting the stage for the opening of nine other lyf properties in various cities over the next two to three years. We launched two new discretionary funds. We also celebrated together as a CapitaLand family. 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of us doing business in China, India and Vietnam. This is a remarkable track record for a foreign company like CapitaLand to operate in these countries because these are relatively ‘local’ markets with their own unique ways of doing business.
If we look back at 2019, we can say, with confidence and some pride, that we have achieved quite a lot. I am very proud of the work that everyone has done this year. Our CapitaLand brand today is growing stronger, and it is relevant and robust. Our long term commitment to building a strong, bold company is on track. Investors, our competitors and other companies are watching us, which is a good thing. The question on top of everyone’s mind now is: “What’s next for CapitaLand in 2020?”
My answer is: everything we have done so far was just the beginning. But it was quite a deliberate beginning, where it was important to lay critical rock solid foundations to build the company we want. That’s what we have been doing this past year.
What is this company that we want? More importantly, what will we do to get there? For me, the answer lies in 3 key priorities in terms of what I want to focus on for CapitaLand in 2020.
Today, we are proud that CapitaLand is one of the largest listed real estate companies in Asia and we are delivering good returns quite consistently. But we need to take it upon ourselves to safeguard CapitaLand against the challenges of an increasingly uncertain business environment, fast paced technological disruptions, and risks pertaining to climate change. We need to better position ourselves for the future. After extensive deliberation and discussion with the Board, we have agreed that CapitaLand’s ambition must be to be one of the leading real estate companies not just in Asia, but in the world.
CapitaLand has always been more known as a developer with some fund management capabilities. Our exposure has primarily been in Singapore and China. All this has to change. We will continue to grow our core markets in Singapore, China, Vietnam and India, but going forward, CapitaLand will now channel additional energy and resources into developed markets like the US, Japan, Europe and Australia. Apart from real estate development, fund management and the lodging/ hospitality businesses will be the two other key engines driving our global ambition. The merger with Ascendas-Singbridge has already significantly expanded CapitaLand’s capability to build a global platform. That’s our first big step. The next step is to translate our global ambition into solid plans that can be executed well, and be executed by the right people.
"CapitaLand's ambition must be to be one of the leading real estate companies not just in Asia, but in the world."
Going global means we will enter a whole new playing field. The global business world is brutally competitive and we definitely need to up our game. We will face the best of the best in the world and we need to fight harder, fight better and fight faster to establish ourselves. And once we have chosen a product or a geography, we must have the conviction to go deep and build scale - so we can compete effectively. We are CapitaLand - we have the resources to go big, and we will.
On the people side, we will continue to strengthen and deepen the talent pool for CapitaLand. I have said many times that an organisation is only as good as the people we have: 盖有非常之功，必待非常之人. I do not think we face a shortage of people and abilities. What we face is a shortage of the right people and the right skills to take us forward. As we ramp up our global business, we will make sure our people continue to have opportunities to learn, train and upgrade their skills so they can stay relevant in a rapidly changing work environment. This is our responsibility to our people.
"Fight harder, fight better and fight faster."
We value Values.
In October, we announced CapitaLand’s four core values: Winning Mindset, Integrity, Respect, and Enterprising. I expect these values to define how we do business and interact with our colleagues, partners and customers in different parts of the world. They will guide us in the way we choose our leaders, and they will be the yardstick we evaluate our people against. This moral compass will be even more important as we become more global and expand into new markets, recruit new talent and face new challenges. We may compete in different markets, but we must all be guided by the same set of core values.
Likewise, all leaders and aspiring leaders in the company must live by CapitaLand’s core values. Besides aptitude, we also look for the right attitude. For those who demonstrate the potential to be the future leaders of CapitaLand, we want to focus on attracting and developing them. I have emphasised to the leadership team to be on the constant lookout for talent. Groom them, stretch them, energise them, give them more opportunities to ‘test-drive’ their leadership capabilities and capacities. CapitaLand must build a sustainable leadership pipeline. On our part, all leaders throughout the company must have the moral courage to make the call and recognise when it’s time to make alternative plans or part ways with a person who does not measure up, based on what is best for the business. Our company’s future success is too important to leave it to chance and we need to get this done right. Remember that one day, it will be this next generation of leaders making decisions that could affect all areas of our business.
My point is this: you may have the competence, knowledge, skills and experience to be good at your job. This will help you cross the finish line once, but it will not help you keep crossing that finish line again and again. I am always willing to take one more shot at a situation where I think someone is falling short in terms of his or her ability to get a piece of work done. We will give direct feedback, coaching, and help this person. However, if that person falls short on work ethics, values and integrity, nothing else matters. Our CapitaLand family must always uphold the highest standards of behaviour and values towards everyone we work with and the communities we impact.
Build an organisation that lasts.
It is important that CapitaLand continues to deliver returns above the cost of equity to our investors and shareholders. But that in itself is not sufficient. The reality is, at the end of the day, the long term success of an organisation is not governed by size, age, breakthrough products, or high valuations alone.
"We have a responsibility to ensure we deliver a future that does not divide society but helps humanity in all respects."
In order to build a CapitaLand that truly lasts, we must make CapitaLand a force for doing good. We want to be a company that has a soul. The strains on today’s environment and societies around the world are intensifying: from climate change to inequality, from growing disparities in wealth and opportunities, to human health. Last year, I emphasised that we must run a great business so that we can do even more good for others. The CapitaLand Hope Foundation has made progress in this area.
As we move into 2020 and get busy with the work challenges that lie ahead, we must take our responsibility to the environment and society even more seriously. Our business practices, business operations, products and services must always be guided by a sense of responsibility, purpose and sustainable development. The Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) principle states, “with great power comes great responsibility". As one of the leading real estate companies in Asia, we have a responsibility to ensure we deliver a future that does not divide society but helps humanity in all respects – our people and our planet.
These three key priorities that I want to focus on in 2020 will bring many challenges, but I see these as an opportunity to learn and to take action, to align and organise ourselves right so we can move forward together. It will take time but we will get there. Staying status quo will only disrupt us out of existence. I am intent on CapitaLand shaping the future, rather than be shaped by it.
2020 will be a significant year for us, as it marks our 20th anniversary as a listed entity. I could not be more excited about what’s in store in the new year, and for the opportunity to work with all of you to make things happen. I can assure you that I and the leadership team commit to continue making you and your families proud of CapitaLand and all we stand for. May we always remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to work hard for and earn, every day.
On this note, allow me to wish you much happiness and good health in 2020!