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Question 1: What inspired you to make a career shift from being an engineer to a property

Growing up in Australia, property investment is a popular topic with 1 in 3 Australians holding one or more investment properties. This can be attributed to the fact that Australia has a high personal income tax rate, and negative gearing (offset paper loss associated with property investment from personal taxable income) is commonly used to minimise personal income tax.

I started property investment at the age of 23, and the first thing I did was to come up with a personal financial and investment plan – where I detailed my financial goals and investment strategy. This document proved to be instrumental in providing a roadmap to establish my financial foundation through property investment and eventually resigning from my position in an MNC to start my own property company in 2009 (aged 28).

Moreover my training in project management (I was eventually accredited by PMI as a certified Project Management Professional PMP®) and problem solving skills as an engineer made it a natural transition to property development.

Question 2: Growing up in Malaysia to establish a company of your own in Perth, Australia, share with us your motivation in re-entering Malaysia’s property development industry.

I started property development in Perth, Australia because the barrier to entry is much lower compared to Malaysia. Information relating to property development is freely available, market data is freely available online and the capital requirement is also relatively lower. Having completed a few small scale developments over a 3 year period, I met my now partner Dr Bay Yeo and set up EXAL in 2016. We built the company over a 5 year period, with a development GDV of over RM 1 billion, before deciding to diversify into the Malaysian market in 2020. The timing was in line with our “counter cyclical” investment principle, acquiring (or structuring) a deal in the 3 to 6 o’clock phase of the Property clock. The decision to diversify was a natural progression to de-risk from over-exposure to a particular market, but importantly I saw an opportunity to contribute to my hometown Kuching, Sarawak. The project enabled me to return to Kuching after being away for 27 years.

Question 3: Share with us your inspiration/story behind the SOL Estate Concept

We were inspired by the rise of the Millenials in terms of population and consumption behaviour. Traditional products and services that catered to Baby Boomers may no longer appeal to the Millenials. This is true across the different industries such as automotive, food & beverage, travel, etc where millennial consumers demand more than just functional requirements, but also experience, aesthetics, wellbeing and connectedness. We decided on the concept of aspirational living for SOL Estate, starting with the manifesto of “Centred Around You”. The big data report that we obtained enabled us to clearly define our target demographics including their values and priorities. Guided by the manifesto, the international award winning team of consultants came up with the “Dusk to Dawn” concept (inspired by SOL, lation for “Sun”) with the overall estate designed for the residents’ lifestyle across the different times of the day.

Question 4: What values form the driving force of SOL and what makes it different from the other estate developments in the market?

The 2 major driving forces are Intrinsic – our DNA as a company, and extrinsic – market forces. Intrinsically, we are relentless in our pursuit of “Better ways of living, beyond buildings”. This vision, together with our core values, drive how we conduct ourselves in day to day business as well as the projects that we do, including SOL Estate. It is our firm belief that we are as much indoor beings as well as outdoor beings, and our lifestyle should not be confined within the building – as it is traditionally. SOL Estate blurs the boundary between indoor and outdoor, embracing nature to suit the lifestyle of our residents.

Extrinsic forces including the needs of our target demographics, market supply and demand and industry constraints and challenges. SOL Estate was designed from the ground up, with input from big data and focus groups to enable us to curate a bespoke development for the residents. Our award winning team drew their expertise and experience from around the ASEAN region to deliver a product that has since received overwhelming sales response (80% bookings in a few months) and two Asia Pacific Property Awards (Best Residential Development, Best Architecture Multiple Dwellings).

Question 5: What inspired your decision-making in choosing Sarawak, specifically Batu Kata, as the launching point of SOL Estate?

I was born and raised in Kuching until I was 13, before migrating to Australia in 1993. It was a nostalgic moment when I returned to Kuching after 27 years, and despite having most of my family members still residing in Australia, the sentimental affiliation with the place I grew up in was strong. It was an easy decision to return and to re-establish my network of business associates and social circles.

Question 6: What are the aspects that you truly feel are unique to Sarawak that you would like to showcase to society, and how do you intend to corporate the named aspects into SOL Estate’s future development?

What I truly treasure about Sarawak is the harmonious society and mutual respect for one another. Having spent time in different parts of the world, this is what is truly unique to Sarawak, especially given its diversed race and culture. We believe in cultivating a harmonious and connected community in SOL Estate and our future developments, where there is celebration of life and of one another – no matter what name we call our future projects.

Question 7: Do you have any future plans for EXAL that you can share with us briefly?

We are in the process of securing another project in Kuching, with the intention of developing a mixed development with the concept of Live, Work, Play. We hope to secure this in time for announcement by Q3 2023.

Question 8: Being a property developer and a Sarawakian, what do you hope for Sarawak in the coming future, in terms of development?

Sarawak has been viewed as lagging behind our West Malaysian in terms of property development. We don’t see why we can’t join our West Malaysian counterparts delivering best in class progressive developments with best practices in project delivery and community management. We are committed to our company values of striving for win win, with all stakeholders in the industry, including being community-centric and not always profit-centric.

We will continue to challenge the status quo (standard industry practice) in our quest for best practices, and we hope to work with government agencies as our partners, in helping them help us and the industry as a whole. We see Sarawak as a land of boundless opportunities and we hope that through Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s), the state can experience exponential growth in the coming years.

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