“I must be foolhardy to do this again”, Mr Liew Mun Leong quipped as he opened his address to a full house of some 300 Singaporeans at the 50th instalment of the Distinguished Business Leaders (DBL) Series in London on 1 March 2013. Founding President and CEO of CapitaLand Group, Mr Liew was the speaker at the inaugural DBL Series held in Sydney in 2006. His opening remarks drew laughter from the packed crowd and there were douses of good jest and laughter throughout the night. It was evident that the Singaporean audience thoroughly enjoyed Mr Liew’s sharing.
Mr Liew Mun Leong (left) addressing an enthusiastic crowd of 300.
To any international crowd or amongst fellow Singaporeans, it is not difficult to recognise key icons of Singapore. In Mr Liew’s opinion, he listed Singapore Airlines, Singapore Changi Airport, the Raffles Hotel, former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and CapitaLand which symbolises the real estate in Singapore, as the endearing icons of Singapore.
The Changi Story
Mr Liew, who is also Chairman of Changi Airport Group, recounted Changi Airport’s beginnings which could be traced to as early as 1929. That year, Singapore’s first airport opened in Seletar and not long after, it moved to Kallang, then Paya Lebar, before settling at the Changi Airbase in 1981. The move to a new international airport was a strategic and important one, as aviation would be one of the key economic drivers in Singapore. Singapore was and is in the position of connectivity to the world, where one could catch a plane from Changi to reach 240 city-destinations. Today, the airport handles a capacity of some 21 million passengers per annum. It is probably not widely known that more than half of where the bustling airport sits is reclaimed land. The development of the airport saw the opening of Terminals 2 and 3, and the then Budget Terminal in 2006 to meet the growth of budget airlines.
On emerging competition in the aviation industry, Mr Liew was upbeat about it. With Asia as the general focus of economic growth, Mr Liew shared with the audience that Changi Airport would engage more airlines in Asia, on top of the popular Australia-European route, as part of its strategy to stay ahead of its game. Terminal 4, designed to serve 16 million passengers per annum and both low-cost and full service carriers, would also be built.
Mr Liew fielded questions from overseas Singaporeans during the session.
CapitaLand - Building and People
“With good people, I am not afraid of crisis,” Mr Liew commented as he began to walk the crowd through the tumultuous journey that CapitaLand weathered through since its formation in 2000, through the Pidemco Land and DBS Land. Today, he leads CapitaLand as an international real estate group, with global diversified presence. Sharing his management philosophy and how he managed his operations overseas with the crowd, he believed in sending his top talents for overseas postings. This includes people who are not simply bilingual, but bicultural as well. This also calls for commitment from them as it could take 5 to 10 years for one to appreciate the overseas environment.
On the retail scene, when asked if the prevalence of online shopping would impact CapitaLand and its retail malls, Mr Liew believed that shopping habits are unique from place to place, and the values tagged to physical shopping remain strong. To illustrate that, he cited how in China, parents would send their children for educational classes in malls, before adjourning downstairs for shopping. Integrated services found under one roof is a lifestyle that shoppers seek, and cannot be replaced by online services.
Mr Liew also talked about the residential market in Singapore and its prospects, as well as CapitaLand residential projects in Singapore. In all, it was, with no doubt, an informative and engaging session. But the evening did not just end there – fellow Singaporeans continued to network with Mr Liew and with one another during a dinner that served Asian delights.
By Linda Wee