Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stalwart of real estate walks path with purpose

Edmund Tie tells how he built his business and saw Singapore evolve

ABOUT 40 years ago, when Edmund Tie was just starting out in his property consultancy career as an apprentice, one of his daily morning duties was to walk around the ‘dungeons’ or underground vault of the old Chartered Bank Chambers building at Battery Road.

‘There was a double wall surrounding the vault and I was given that special privilege to look at the cracks, and check whether there was water seepage,’ he recalls.

Mr Tie was then an apprentice at Wicks & Partners, one of a handful of chartered surveying firms in Singapore and which was at the time appointed property manager for Chartered Bank.

Today, as executive chairman of DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA), the 62-year-old is well placed to describe how the property consultancy business in Singapore has evolved over the past four decades.

Back then, the business was serviced by a handful of established local auction firms and a few small chartered surveying firms affiliated to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in London.

Today, the business of property consulting covers a gamut of advisory services from marketing to property and facilities management, asset management and even financial real estate advisory services. The operations of property consulting groups span the globe to service their clients.

‘The property consultancy business has to respond to clients becoming more sophisticated and demanding as the economy matures and grows into a regional financial centre.’

A major challenge facing the real estate profession today is how to nurture a dedicated pool of talented professionals who are prepared to look beyond immediate financial rewards by rolling up their sleeves and acquiring practical in-depth experience, says Mr Tie. ‘That is something you cannot buy, something you develop and accumulate over the years.’

Mr Tie cites his own experience.

After he completed his GCE A Level studies at St Joseph’s Institution here in 1965, he enrolled for a diploma course in architecture at Singapore Polytechnic. After a two-year stint, he decided to switch to the four-year part-time Diploma Course in Valuation Surveying. When he enrolled for this course in 1968, there were 40 students in the class. Only four made it to the final year and graduated in 1972.

‘I apprenticed at Wicks & Partners from 9am to 5pm each day and then took classes at the Poly from 6pm to 10pm.’

After graduation, Mr Tie continued to work at Wicks & Partners for a year before joining DBS Bank as a property valuer. A year later, he left to join Sime Darby as property executive and subsequently projects manager. There, while negotiating the lease terms for Sime Darby’s new headquarters at the old Sin Chew Jit Poh Building at Keppel Road, he met a senior partner of Jones Lang Wootton (JLW) who was marketing the building. Six months later, Mr Tie received an invitation to join JLW. ‘I agreed to start with them on July 1, 1976. The rest is history.’


Mr Tie started as a senior executive and was posted to Jakarta for half a year to undertake a major market research and feasibility study for the first mixed-use project at the time, Ratu Plaza in Senayan. ‘When I came back, within six months, I was promoted to be the first local associate director at JLW in Singapore.’

In 1986, he became the first Asian to head JLW’s Singapore office as managing director. In 1989, he was appointed regional director at JLW Asia Pacific Division.

In November 1994, after nine years as managing director, he made a shocking exit from JLW to forge his own destiny. Many of the other Singaporean directors followed suit and together they set up Edmund Tie and Company in May 1995 in a loose strategic alliance with CY Leung in North Asia, DTZ Debenham Thorpe in UK and CB Commercial in the US.

In January 2000, the alliance was formalised with CY Leung in North Asia and DTZ Holdings in London to form DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, with the Singapore-based entity having territorial control of South-east Asia.

As part of that process, DTZ Holdings International acquired a 5 per cent stake in the South-east Asia outfit and a 20 per cent stake in CY Leung & Co. In November 2005, as part of longer-range plans and to spearhead further regional expansion, DTZ bought a further 46 per cent interest in the South-east Asia company, taking its interest to a majority 51 per cent stake.

‘More significantly is the further initiative for the globalisation of our South-east Asian operations. This is subject to successful negotiations with DTZ International for the ongoing divestment of our shares in the medium term to support strategic longer term business growth and succession plans for the region,’ says Mr Tie.

Already, DTZ Debenham Tie Leung SEA has operations in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta with a total full-time staff strength of nearly 500. In May, it will open an office in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr Tie lists the firm as his biggest professional achievement – building up a property consultancy from scratch with his fellow directors and then taking it to a global platform through the merger with CY Leung and DTZ Holdings International to compete with the other international property consultancies.

On a personal front, what has given him great satisfaction is the realisation of a long-term dream, finally completing the construction of his dream home, a Good Class Bungalow in the Holland Road area. He moved into it about five months ago.

‘I had the satisfaction of conceptualising the architectural design brief, interiors, etc and personally selecting the overall finishes, fittings and furnishings down to every tile and fabric. It was a labour of love and is hence named ‘Te Koha Aroha’ ,which in New Zealand Maori translates to (my) ‘Gift of Love’ to the family.’

He lives in the house with his 91-year old mother; his two sisters – who live in New Zealand and Canada – and their families also drop in from time to time.

He also lets on that he owns a home in the eastern suburbs of St Heliers in Auckland, New Zealand, perched on a 20-metre clifftop site with stunning 180-degree waterfront views of Auckland Harbour and Rangitoto Island.

‘With much regret I am considering disposing of this property, which I have owned for about a decade, by international tender being handled by Bayleys in the light of my mother’s reduced capacity to go on long-haul flights to visit.’ The two-level property has a land area of about 9,500 sq ft and comprises four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

‘My love for residential (property market) was acquired as a result of my architectural studies stint. That’s how I developed my expertise on planning, design and layout issues as well as acquired a flair for interior design and finishes.’

Witnessing history

This streak has given Mr Tie an advantage over the competition in clinching residential project marketing, leasing or management jobs. His other forte is the office leasing market. ‘Over a span of about 20 years, from 1976 to 1995, I was involved in leasing about 80-90 per cent of the office buildings in the CBD.’

His office on the 35th floor of Shaw Towers at Beach Road affords a panoramic view of the CBD skyline. Mr Tie points out where the former Chartered Bank Chambers used to be located at Battery Road, where he used to work at Wicks & Partners. ‘From the fourth floor of Chartered Bank Chambers, I witnessed the burning and later demolition of the Robinsons department store at Raffles Place in 1972.’

‘Robinsons was where OUB Centre now stands,’ he says as he points to the location on an oil painting at his office depicting the Singapore River/Boat Quay area. The painting is one he did 45 years ago, during his break after the GCE A Level exams in 1965.

When OCBC Centre was built in 1976, it was the first modern high-rise sky scraper in the CBD at 52 storeys. Mr Tie, at JLW, was actively involved with leasing the building.

‘We succeeded in filling it up after we brought in the first bank, Deustche Bank, followed by Banco do Brasil.’ OCBC Centre was soon home to many foreign banks and MNCs entering Singapore at the time. ‘We were leasing the building at gross monthly rents of $1.80 to $2.40 per square foot a month,’ Mr Tie recalls.

Singapore’s political stability, efficient infrastructure (including the MRT system) and sustainable economic growth are the three most important factors that have laid the foundation for Singapore’s property market, Mr Tie says.

What were the major ’strokes of the pen’ that have shaped the island’s real estate market in the past 45 years?

‘First, Singapore’s long-range plans for urban renewal. Second, the en bloc sales initiative which has fast-tracked the redevelopment of older residential properties and enabled the extraction of enhanced asset values. Third, the introduction of integrated resorts incorporating previously forbidden casino gaming facilities.’

One of his biggest concerns about the Singapore property market is how to optimise scarce land resources to achieve a balance amongst many essential competing uses.

‘The intensity of growing competition for Singapore’s limited land in the longer term may result in price escalation which may make real estate values no longer attractive/feasible for buyers/investors and undermine Singapore’s competitiveness as a global business and financial hub,’ he says.

Mr Tie is a passionate fund raiser as vice-chairman of Community Chest. He counts collecting art and attending musicals and theatre as his hobbies.

Five years ago, he underwent major surgery. ‘The experience has reinforced and strengthened my Christian faith with the realisation that life is short, and to be grateful for the blessings and joys of each passing day, despite the trials and tribulations of life.’

Ask him if he would have done anything differently in his career given another chance, and he replies: ‘Not really, I think it’s all fate, it’s left to Providence. I think one’s life is cast in stone by Him,’ he says, looking up.

What is the role of a human being then? ‘I philosophically believe that God has a role for each individual to play in life, whoever you are. And even with the ups and downs when you are confronted with problems and issues, I believe that there is a purpose in that. Sometimes it could be a wake-up call. Sometimes it could be a blessing in disguise. And when you look back, you realise ‘Oh, that turned out to be eventually a good thing for me.’ ‘

Mr Tie lists going on occasional overseas holidays and travels with his mother and other family members as his happiest moments.

He ends the interview quoting a scroll which has followed him from his previous home to his new one:

Having a place to go is HOME

Having someone to love is FAMILY

Having both is a BLESSING

Source: Business Times, 13 Apr 2010

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