City & Country: Emotional connection

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Even early in his career, Joseph Chong Wan Ping was not your regular contractor. After clinching his first big project building 1-storey houses in Penang in 1983, Chong did something unconventional — he approached the developer of the project for access to the homebuyers. The developer was initially reluctant but finally relented.

“I wanted to ensure their needs were met. I believe a home is a lifelong investment and homebuyers should not spend more than required, so as the contractor, I looked into the necessary details such as additional plug points and finishings for the homes,” Chong recalls with pride.

That was the start of Chong’s journey to what he calls connecting “emotionally” with property buyers. From construction, the 54-year-old went on to property development, both locally and abroad, before being appointed managing director of Malton Bhd in February.Like Chong, Malton is an interesting company, one that has become more visible with its involvement in the construction of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. The Pearl @ KLCC and Sepang Aircraft Engineering Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) Complex located at Kuala Lumpur International Airport are also among its significant projects. Pavilion Kuala Lumpur was awarded the prestigious Fiabci Prix d’Excellence Award 2009 in the retail category.

People driving past Phileo Damansara in Section 16, Petaling Jaya, would probably have noticed Malton’s recently completed Pearl Villas, 42 units of 3-storey semi-detached freehold units, with built-ups of 4,725 sq ft. Malton’s property division contributes some 90% to its revenue, while the remaining 10% comes from construction.

A recent news report quoted sources as saying Malton or its major shareholder Datuk Desmond Lim could be participating in a consortium set up by 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) to develop the Sungai Besi RMAF land. On this, Chong says:

“Neither Malton nor our subsidiaries are involved in the consortium with 1MDB to develop the Sungai Besi land. However, should the opportunity present itself and we are invited to participate, we, like other developers, would of course consider.”

What is immediately clear is that Chong is working to take Malton to the next level. For a start, the group has set a sales target of RM2 billion for the next three years — RM550 million in 2011, RM650 million in 2012 and RM800 million in 2013. The RM2 billion does not include the upcoming launches of Amaya Maluri in Cheras and Saujana Soho in Saujana Subang in August and next January respectively. It comes from the developer’s landbank in the Klang Valley, Seremban and Penang (see table on Page 14).

The developer plans to launch 10 projects, utilising a total of 177 acres, over the next 18 months. This will keep it busy for at least three to five years but to keep the pace going, Malton is actively looking for more land, says Chong.
Debut projectThe Malton group comprises Khuan Choo Group,  Bukit Rimau Development Sdn Bhd and Domain Group (Domain Resources Sdn Bhd is the holding company). It went into the property and construction sector in 1980 through Khuan Choo Realty Sdn Bhd.

In 2002, the Malton group was injected into Gadek Capital Bhd, which was listed on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia that same year. Bukit Rimau Development is the developer of the integrated self-contained Bukit Rimau township, with over 380 acres in Shah Alam and currently 94% completed, while Domain Group carries out construction and project management activities.

Recently, Malton has become known for such projects as Amaya Saujana @ Saujana Subang, The Grove at Taman SEA in Petaling Jaya and Pearl Villas @ Section 16.  Amaya Saujana, comprising three blocks of 13-storey condos, has a total of 374 units and is 95% sold. Pearl Villas @ Section 16, on the other hand, consists of 42 units of semidees which were sold for RM2.2 million at their launch in December 2007. Completed in January this year, these are said to be now changing hands at about RM3 million.

“Malton has been rather quiet the last three to four years. Now, the whole company is stepping on the accelerator as we believe the market is vibrant again and we plan to work on all our landbank.

“We will continue to focus on building properties that are affordable to our target market. That way, whether in good times or bad, we will always have something to sell,” Chong informs City & Country.      His experience as a contractor surely stands him in good stead. His construction company Teknik Cekap Sdn Bhd was involved in the building of Goldhill Plaza, The Renaissance and New World Hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle; Beverly Court in Kenny Hills; Desa Kiara condominium in Taman Tun Dr Ismail; and the ECM-Libra building in Damansara Heights.

Chong recalls how his medium-sized outfit managed to win the contract for Goldhill Plaza in 1990/91, outshining many bigger and more established contractors. And although he was given six months to build the 37-storey building, it was up in 4½ months.  Teknik Cekap was injected into Actacorp in 1992 and Chong left the company in 1996.

“I believe we can overcome any challenge. In construction, it is all about techniques and looking at various methods of construction. I plan to apply this out-of-the-box strategy to Malton, which is already an established developer with its own fundamentals,” he says.

Moving forward, the strategy is to demonstrate that Malton is a developer who “connects emotionally with its buyers, building projects that meet their expectations and intrinsic needs”.

“Eventually, we want to hand over a property where its owners need not spend time and money on renovations but just soft furnishings and landscaping. For most people, buying a property is a lifetime investment and Malton wants to give people value for money as well as peace of mind,” Chong explains.  To do this, the developer will have go the extra mile at the design stage. “Maybe we won’t make much money from this extra service today, but it will be worth it in the future. We will have loyal customers who will promote our projects,” he says.

What are Chong’s goals? “Five years down the road, when someone is making a decision to buy a house or property, we want that person to automatically look up Malton’s portfolio of projects. Also in five years, we want to be ranked among the top 15 developers [in The Edge Top Property Developers Awards] in the country.”

It will not be a straight road, Chong concedes. “We all know the complaints against the industry, such as poor workmanship, late delivery, low quality building materials, bad design and so on. As a developer with more than a decade’s experience developing a wide range of properties, Malton has had its fair share of complaints,” he admits.

“But we are working hard with our contractors to resolve these problems for our buyers and we have made significant progress. Malton will continue to build on its experience, track record and reputation as a successful niche developer.

“To do this, the right team must be in place and indeed it is,” Chong says, adding that this goes for all business partners, from sub-contractors and suppliers to consultants.

The company will continue to replenish its landbank in strategic growth areas. “While replenishing landbank, it is important to build and enhance human capital, and establish a good and robust system. With these components in place, the business will grow and be sustainable,” Chong says, adding that Malton plans to expand its landbank in Penang, the Klang Valley and Johor Baru.

He spent five years in the Middle East and India where he led the development of several mega infrastructure, civil and building projects, including mixed high-rise commercial and residential developments, and power and desalination plants before returning to Malaysia at the end of 2009.

“I was picked by the Zelan board to spearhead the group’s expansion into the Middle East and India after the successful and early completion of the Tanjung Bin mega-power plant project in Johor. Zelan is recognised internationally by the power and desalinisation industry, and is often invited by major international equipment suppliers to jointly bid projects.

“I saw the posting as an opportunity to export Malaysian engineering capabilities to other parts of the world. At the same time, the prosperity of the region offered opportunities for the group to explore the building and property sectors there, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“The posting widened my horizon on the property development and construction sector, and this has helped me develop my leadership and management skills,” he tells City & Country.

Chong says when he was overseas, he faced many types of challenges, which not only included managing mega-projects involving a wide range of corporate cultures, but also a workforce that comprised about 30 nationalities. “I would like Malton to be regarded as an innovative and functionally practical developer, whose products are always preferred. This is the legacy that I would like to create for the company,” he adds.
 
 
This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 817, Aug 2-8, 2010.