Entrepreneur and real estate magnate Ching Chiat Kwong believes in harnessing the power of fear - in particular, that dread of failure - to break new ground.

ChingChiatKwong1 8.2016“I make it a point to use fear to my advantage, and have never restrained myself from venturing into unfamiliar territory because of anxiety or worry over failing,” said the Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SGX-listed property developer Oxley Holdings Ltd.

“This is why we endeavour to go into untapped markets and be the pioneer among Singapore developers to explore such places. We also make the best of our failures, and use the lessons we have learned to propel our future growth.”

Ching’s indomitable spirit was evident even in his early years - he kick-started his entrepreneurial journey at the tender age of nine by selling greeting cards. 

Reflecting a gung-ho and enterprising streak, his collective career experience bordered on the unconventional, spanning a gamut of roles that ranged from real estate marketer and travel agent to otah  seller, bar owner and policeman.

For the National University of Singapore graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Social Sciences with Honours degree, his foray into property began 25 years ago, with the construction of show flats for developers. 

Over a decade later, Ching took the risk of venturing into full-scale real estate development, with spectacular results - his 48-unit shoebox apartment project, Tyrwhitt 139, sold out in three hours flat. He went on to launch various other development projects before setting up Oxley Holdings in 2010.

“2010 was a milestone year when I started Oxley with my business partner, Eric Low,” he recalled. “That same year, the company was listed on Singapore Exchange with a market capitalisation of S$525 million, which surged to about S$2 billion at its peak.”

Today, Oxley, with a diversified portfolio comprising property development as well as property investment projects and hospitality assets, has come into its own. The Group has a presence across nine geographical markets, including Singapore, the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Vietnam and Australia. It specialises in the development of quality residential, commercial, industrial and hospitality projects.

Since 2010, Oxley has launched a portfolio of 48 projects across various countries, of which 36 have been completed. Its landmark developments in Singapore include Riverfront Residences and Sixteen 35 Residences.

The Group reported S$1.4 billion revenue for FY2021, up 33% from FY2020. This was mainly driven by higher revenue from projects in Cambodia, Singapore and Ireland, but partially offset by lower revenue from the project in the UK. Gross profit of S$296.5 million for FY2021 represented a growth of 32% over FY2020.

Taking into account a loss from discontinued operations of S$40.0 million, Oxley achieved net profit of S$49.5 million for FY2021. Excluding this loss, as well as other impairment and fair value losses, net profit would have been S$136.8 million.

Robust Alliances

“One of the key lessons we learnt over the past decade is to pick a strong partner,” Ching said. “Oxley has a strategy to enter joint ventures or strategic alliances with good partners for the pooling of financial resources and management expertise in project developments. This significantly reduces the risks undertaken by the Group.”

One example is Oxley’s partnership with UK construction firm Ballymore Group to develop Royal Wharf, a 40-acre site in London along the River Thames. Ballymore and Oxley shared a common vision and plans for a 394,000-square-metre-development. With 3,385 homes, a new school, shops, offices and riverside restaurants, the project caters to a population of about 10,000 when completed. 

“We remember that when we signed the agreement nine years ago, the world had just recovered from a global recession. Ballymore believed in our strategy and the rest is history. Royal Wharf is the largest London development project since 2012.”

Likewise, over the past four years, Oxley has been buying land bank in Singapore at breakneck speed. “And we planned, developed and built the developments very quickly too. Our partners supported our strategy and to-date, we have sold more than S$4 billion worth of houses over these four years,” he said. 

“Not many companies move at our pace and still make good profit.”

As at 8 August 2021, about 91% of the Group’s Singapore residential units have been sold, representing 87% of the total gross development value (GDV) or approximately S$4.3 billion. The Group’s effective stake of secured sales amount to about S$2.6 billion, while future progress billings from the sold units amount to approximately S$1.7 billion.

Even as it expands, Oxley continues to target sustainable earnings, particularly through long-term projects. “We remain very hungry for growth, but we want to achieve growth with calculated risks,” Ching said.

“We see ourselves working with the local municipal governments to identify sites for township developments. This is how we worked with the Irish government on the Masterplan for the Connolly Station project.”

Oxley plans to build a mixed-use development comprising residential units, office retail space and a hotel, which is part of an overall Masterplan for the Connolly Quarter. Upon completion, the Connolly Quarter will be home to many who will live and work in this revitalized part of Dublin.

“Township development with governments minimises our capital investment, and hence, lowers our risks,” he added. “It provides a stable recognition of earnings over a longer period of time, compared to plain vanilla property development projects. This will be our focus for the next few years.”

Speed and Agility

In today’s world, however, there is no free lunch, and competition lurks in the most unexpected places. “Property development is a business that evolves very quickly. You need to have a keen eye for observation, to see what the market is lacking, and be able to fulfil this need,” Ching pointed out.

Timing is also another crucial factor. “The market upturn only lasts a couple of years. You have to be nimble. You have to approach every market with a strategy, and every decision you make must be a calculated one. Doing your due diligence is also very important.”

As a result, there is much to keep him up till the wee hours. “I’m constantly exploring new and innovative ideas to motivate the Group, so we can embark on our next stage of growth,” he added. 

“For instance, the work-from-home trend arising from the COVID-19 pandemic presents another opportunity for property developers who know how to reposition themselves.”

Apart from the day-to-day operations, Ching is also focused on Oxley’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy, which revolves around its biggest asset - human capital.

“We're always looking out for good, talented people to join us and grow together,” he noted.

“However, there are numerous challenges in this area, especially with the Millennials, who are more interested in work-life balance, and are probably not acclimated to hardship environments in emerging markets. So, we have recruited talents from all walks of life and different nationalities.”

At the same time, Ching is always mindful of Warren Buffett’s timeless advice: “We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don't have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you're going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”

“That’s why I place a premium on integrity and honesty - those are my touchstones,” he added.

To this day, the 56-year-old remains inspired by the real estate developer’s role as an agent of change and progress. This is essentially what gets him out of bed every morning.

“What I love about development is its ability to shape communities,” he said with a smile.

“As we take on larger township projects, I feel that my biggest achievement is in changing the landscape of towns, building communities, and in turn, allowing people to build their dreams.”

Oxley Holdings Ltd

Oxley is a home-grown property developer with a diversified portfolio, including property development, property investment and project management. It is listed on SGX Mainboard and has a market capitalisation of approximately S$991 million as at 13 August 2021. The Group has a business presence across nine geographical markets, including Singapore, the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, Vietnam and Australia. The Group specialises in the development of quality residential, commercial, industrial and hospitality projects. Since its incorporation in March 2010, Oxley has launched a portfolio of 48 projects across various countries, of which 36 have been completed.

The company website is: www.oxley.com.sg

Click here for the company's StockFacts page.

For the full year ended 30 June 2021 financial results, click here.

About kopi-C: the Company brew

Text: Jennifer Tan-Stanisic
Photo: Company file

This article was originally published in kopi-C, a regular column on the SGX Research website that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on Singapore Exchange. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

For previous editions of kopi-C: the Company brew, please click here.  

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