With a clear goal in mind and a big ambition in heart, Lucas Loh, 30, strode out of his comfort zone as a civil servant in Singapore to pursue his career in the business which he believed would definitely take him to the global arena of business.
Lucas Loh believes people's demands for real estate derive from their daily needs: offices for working, malls for shopping and houses for living. In this sense, understanding what the market needs and then working to fulfill those needs are the keys to success in this industry.
Loh is the Deputy CEO of CapitaLand China, a subsidiary company of the Singaporean real estate giant CapitaLand Group. This philosophy not only works in business, but has become a way of life for the 47-year-old Singaporean.
In 1996, when Loh realized that globalization was the trend, he decided to work toward the goal to "get out of Singapore". His first step was giving up the "iron bowl" as a civil servant in the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. A job that, "certainly wouldn't give me any chance to pursue my career overseas," he comments.
He took up a position at Temasek Holdings, a well-known investment company owned by the Government of Singapore. By working as an Associate Director for private equity investment, Loh was exposed to all kinds of industries: from real estate and hotel management, to manufacturing and technology. "It gave me the foundation I needed to do what I do today," he concludes.
But after five years of "assessing other people's companies" as he put it, Loh felt the need to learn to manage a group of people and operate a business on his own. So in 2001, he went to the Ascott Group, also a son company of CapitaLand, a move that finally got him "out of Singapore". In 2004, he was promoted to Managing Director in Ascott China.
After his six-year tenure at Ascott, Loh continued his career in CapitaLand by taking his current post at CapitaLand China, taking charge of the company's real estate development business in South China.
Loh understands the needs of his company's headquarters in Guangzhou as clearly as he understands himself. And as a person grows in one's understanding of self, he continues to learn more about the South China Headquarters under his care.
He says the first thing is integrated development. "Development of an area should be a combination of both ‘hardware' and ‘software'," Loh suggests. While "hardware" refers to new buildings, "software" refers to the launch of a community-based management system, for which Loh's homeland is famous.
That's what CapitaLand China is trying to introduce to Guangzhou in the renovation of Datansha Island, the largest island on the front waterway of the Pearl River.
Located in the west of Liwan District, the 3.55-square-kilometer island is expected to be turned into an international garden-style community that is attractive to both residents and investors. As a partner of the local government on the project, CapitaLand China will introduce Singapore's experiences in traffic management, estate management, waste management, vocational training, public housing development and community building to the island. When completed, Datansha Island will serve as a new model of community development and a milestone of Sino-Singapore cooperation.
The city's second need is shopping malls, which are described as a sector of "organized retail" by Loh. In his observation, there are not enough malls in Guangzhou. "Guangzhou has twice the population and far more land than Singapore," he says. "But we've already got 19 malls in Singapore; imagine how much market potential Guangzhou embraces."
Moreover, Loh points out that most of the shopping centers in Guangzhou are not well-managed enough, as most stores housed inside them have different owners.
"When the whole mall is owned by one group, distribution of different kinds of commerce can be better planned; furthermore, whenever there is a festival, all the stores can hold a promotion together to bring up the whole business." Loh envisions. "Right now, even holding a meeting among the owners can be tough."
To build a mixed development like TaiKoo Hui, a multi-function complex featuring a high-end shopping mall, two Grade-A office towers, a cultural center and a five-star hotel, is Loh's ambition. But his bigger ambition is to introduce Guangzhou to Raffles City, a knockout product of CapitaLand which has made its presence in seven Chinese cities, namely, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Ningbo, Hangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen.
"Raffles is even one step further than malls," comments Loh, who thinks Guangzhou is ready for it. "But we're still looking for the appropriate land," he laments. "Lands that we think are ideal are not in our hands." That's one of the major challenges Loh and his team face in the city. There are a number of real estate giants in Guangzhou.
Although CapitaLand made its entry into the Chinese market nearly 20 years ago, its office in Guangzhou was only set up in 2006. "Compared to the local, senior competitors, we are somewhat like a small bludger" jokes the Deputy CEO of CapitaLand China, the parent company of which is listed among the largest real estate companies in Asia.
Despite such disadvantage in nationality and time, Loh has every confidence in CapitaLand's business here.
One positive sign is the city's welcoming climate for companies from Singapore, which has maintained a close economic cooperation with Guangdong. As local government now puts more focus on well-balanced socio-economic growth, a lot more collaboration is expected between the province and Loh's country.
There are also some advantages exclusive to CapitaLand. "Besides real estate development, we're also linked to the capital market," reminds Loh, referring to the company's management of six Real Estate Investment Trusts and 18 private equity funds.
But above all, it's the city itself that gives Loh the greatest confidence in CapitaLand's future here. When asked to describe Guangzhou in a few words, Loh answered, "Great potential." He continues, "CapitaLand China's land storage in Guangzhou is the biggest compared to other Chinese cities."
However, with all these good career prospects in this hub-center of South China, Loh says he will go back to Singapore to take care of his parents when in need.
"Deep inside, I've inherited some Chinese characteristics," says Loh, who has been taught to "respect the elderly" since childhood by his Guangdong-born grandfather.
All in all, he is a man who always knows what he needs.