Resilience in Volatility: Chris Chong
The pandemic brought about a wave of change in the way we work and live, and Chris Chong, CapitaLand Investment’s CEO of Retail and Workspace (Singapore and Malaysia), remains fearless.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who fear and avoid change, and those who embrace it. In the face of uncertainty, Chris Chong, CapitaLand Investment’s CEO of Retail and Workspace (Singapore and Malaysia), is someone who believes that there lies an opportunity waiting to be seized in the midst of every adverse situation.
An alumnus of Raffles Institution and fluent in French, Chris scored an Economic Development Board (EDB) scholarship and moved to France to study computer engineering and computer networking. There, he would also serve out his five-year bond at EDB’s Paris-based office, before diving head-first into a world completely foreign to him at that time—luxury goods and retail at LVMH. Thus marked the start of his career in the retail sector—Chris became the CEO of ION Orchard in 2013, and then headed the CapitaLand Retail team in 2019.
Most recently, the newest addition to Chris’ portfolio is workspaces. We were curious to find out more about the link he sees between the two, and asked how he intends to bridge his experience from one realm to the other. In response, Chris tells us that the functions of the two asset classes are getting more intertwined.
Traditionally seen as a standalone asset class, retail now plays a greater role in the various environments it operates in, from commercial office spaces to business parks. Similarly, the future of work lies not only within the workspace, but also in homes, communities, and shared experiences and spaces, which, according to Chris, are “the new cornerstones of business”.
In other words, it seems like a change is coming in the way we live, shop, and work. In this pivotal moment in time, Chris lets us in on some of the exciting plans he has up his sleeve.
The Importance of Flexibility
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many things about the way we work. Common workspaces have been supplemented with home offices, and virtual meetings are now the norm. This rapid shift has been a big one for many of us, especially so for someone like Chris, who enjoys being hands-on for the job.
“It’s important to stay connected to the communities where we live, work and play in, and to each other, be it through physical interactions or virtual sessions,” says Chris. But as we know, it’s a lot harder to form bonds online than it is in person, which is something Chris now values even more. “The travel restrictions in place have given me a deeper appreciation of having vacations with my family, as well as meeting overseas business partners in-person to foster stronger ties,” he shares.
With the fluidity of the pandemic, it’s safe to say that hybrid and flexible working arrangements will continue to be a part of the new way of working moving forward. However, Chris believes that physical workspaces remains relevant, with its role evolving from being a place to work at, to a purpose-built environment that serves the need to build culture, shared visions, and interpersonal bonds.
Having anticipated the demand for flexible work arrangements amidst the ever-evolving business landscape, CapitaLand has been a pioneer in this aspect with its Core-Flex strategy, established in 2018. Aimed at helping tenants integrate conventional office spaces and flexible spaces, such as co-working spaces, and meeting facilities into scalable workplace solutions, this Core-Flex strategy has allowed CapitaLand to meet tenants’ changing requirements. 79 Robinson Road and the upcoming CapitaSpring are two such examples of developments with Core-Flex workplace solutions.
“We saw how Covid-19 caused companies to shift their real estate needs, and it’s important that we continue to support our tenants by providing them flexibility through a suite of space solutions, from conventional offices spaces or enterprise suites to fully flexible solutions as they enter into a new normal,” Chris explains.
Though shared spaces like these have been around since pre-pandemic days, what sets this specific strategy apart is the integration of an entire suite of services and amenities for tenants’ wellbeing, which Chris is a huge advocate of.
Working Towards Balance
In a previous interview, Chris mentioned that travelling and spending time with his family is one of the ways in which he decompresses from work. A father of two, Chris chose to leave his expatriate life behind, over a decade ago to return to Singapore to be closer to his family.
The importance of maintaining a good work-life harmony can also be seen in Chris’ work at CapitaLand. He shares his plans to focus more on sustainability and staff wellbeing by incorporating more recreational services within CapitaLand’s workspaces.
Emerging from the pandemic, Chris sees an increasing demand for naturally ventilated workspaces surrounded by lush greenery, as tenants are now more conscious of their physical and mental wellbeing. Chris shares that he plans to introduce more of such outdoor spaces, equipped with plug-and-play infrastructure (including high speed WiFi and power sockets) to supplement tenants’ increasing demand to work comfortably in alternative spaces.
This mindset of letting loose every once in a while is actually something that Chris picked up in his time in France. In another interview, Chris said that if there’s one thing Singaporeans can learn from the French, it is to not take life so seriously. “I know from the outside, (the French way of working) looks like a big mess all the time, and nothing works. There’s order in chaos, and how do you work in chaos? People need a balance between being structured and prescriptive, versus laissez-faire, and somehow get the results too. That’s why the French will have that one-up in design. They challenge rules and are open-minded about what works and what doesn’t. They are more daring.”
Reinventing Retail Online and Offline
One way in which Chris exemplifies this spirit of challenging the status quo is by pushing for CapitaLand’s tenants to go digital. For example, in October 2020, CapitaLand and Shopee collaborated on the iconic 11.11 campaign, and the IMM outlet mall made its online debut in February 2021 as Singapore's first virtual mall on Shopee.
When it comes to consumers though, Chris counts convenience, health, and safety as some of his top concerns. In a pandemic, physical window shopping might pose health risks, which is why Chris is continually working to develop CapitaLand’s digital platforms, including eCapitaMall and online food ordering platform Capita3Eats. These platforms complement sales at CapitaLand's shopping malls by providing shoppers the convenience and flexibility to browse and purchase products online, or pick them up in-store.
This hybrid shopping experience was modelled after Chris’ belief that the future of retail does not reside solely offline or online, but in a seamless combination of both. Referred to as an “omnichannel” approach, Chris speaks excitedly about the acceleration of such digital platforms across asset classes—from shopfronts to office and logistic spaces—to unlock new business synergies through CapitaLand’s suite of B2B, B2C and B2B2C solutions. He also shares how heartened he is seeing more retailers jump onboard these digital platforms with the evolution of the pandemic.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought about, Chris believes that retail is all about being creative, and will continue to be a relevant industry as long as players are adaptable to changes.
One thing that contributes to the resilience of CapitaLand's malls in Singapore is the attractiveness of their locations. Most of these malls serve large population catchments, and are in close proximity to public transportation options. This running theme of resilience and adaptability is key in Chris’ outlook on retail, which allows him to shape CapitaLand’s role as a holistic ecosystem provider, and weather any future challenges alongside partners, tenants, and stakeholders.
On the topic of adapting to change, Chris talked about how cutthroat the world is, and how, in this fast-moving society, we either lead or be led. "In the past, Europe was referred to as the Old World. But look at it today. It’s certainly not lagging. China was known as the sleeping giant, but it’s now a leader in so many ways. We risk being the sleeping dwarf if we don’t catch up.”
But apart from paving the way for CapitaLand, Chris also takes time to support the people who often get left behind in Singapore—the underprivileged. Having been a Community Chest committee member for the past few years, Chris continually seeks to raise awareness of children with disabilities and their families and caregivers, who, Chris shares, often suffer unspoken heartaches and struggle in silence.
Chris’ support for these vulnerable groups has translated into festive art installations in CapitaLand malls, featuring works by children and youths from organisations like Rainbow Centre, as well as mass volunteering sessions by Chris and his employees.
The many hats that Chris wears and his long list of experiences speak strongly of the person that he is—one who leads by example, one who is unafraid to take risks, and one who gives whatever he can, whenever he can. This is exactly why we can’t wait to see more of Chris and the things he’ll do.
Subscribe to our e-newsletter your Workplace Community to receive content around
- Hacks and ideas to enrich your work-life experience and well-being
- Community stories and features
- Upcoming events and promotions for the CapitaLand Workspace community and more!
You might also like...