From a family-run company to a publicly listed construction and property group, Chip Eng Seng has evolved tremendously – but it has only just begun.
It is one of Singapore’s leading construction and property groups with businesses spanning construction, property development, hospitality and property investment. Some of the country’s most iconic housing developments – such as The Pinnacle@Duxton and Bishan Loft – were built by its construction division.
Its property development division, on the other hand, boasts an impressive portfolio that spans residential buildings in Australia and Vietnam, to even a hotel in Singapore.
This is the Chip Eng Seng (CES) empire and it started in the 1960s with just one man. Lim Tian Seng was a subcontractor building conventional houses but his work stood out for its quality. Business grew and the company started taking on projects as the main contractor.
CES was established in 1975 and, by 1982, the company was taking on residential projects for the Housing and Development Board (HDB) – a testimony to its skill and ability to handle large construction projects.
In 1995, the company made its first foray into property investment and development, with industrial building 69 Ubi Crescent. Since then, it has diversified into hospitality, completing its first hotel project – Park Hotel Alexandra – in 2015.
CES has also set its sights beyond the shores of Singapore. Apart from midmarket and high-end prime properties in Australia, the group has also trained its focus on emerging regional economies. It is currently involved in a residential project in Ho Chi Minh City, and is actively seeking property development opportunities within South-east Asia.
Quality is at the heart of this ISO 901-certified company, which has won multiple excellence awards from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority. However, the success of the company is also the product of gumption.
WILL TO POWER
When Raymond Chia joined his wife’s family business in 1994, CES was a medium-sized construction group. He was then a project manager. But he was not about to let any of that limit his ambitions.
“My belief is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I always think something can be achieved if we dare to dream big, and work smart and hard for it,” says Chia, who was appointed group CEO in 2007 and has taken over the role of executive chairman of the group from his father-in-law, Lim Tiam Seng.
One of his first initiatives was to restructure the company and list it on the Singapore Exchange mainboard. Thereafter, he aggressively orchestrated the company’s expansion. “The breakthrough moments in the company’s development are the growing of its property development skills and its capability to undertake large development projects,” he recalls.
“I was made the managing director for the property development arm of CES and was responsible for identifying land parcels which had development potential. As property development required larger capital than construction, I brought in financially strong and reputable partners, while fostering close relationships with banks.” To build the CES brand in the market, Chia appointed an experienced team to ensure the quality and timeliness of the products that CES rolled out.
However, even the most meticulously thought-out plans have to weather unforeseen setbacks. “During the Lehman crisis, we faced an enormous liquidity crunch. Our projects were delayed, payments from buyers were late and banks tightened credit,” he recounts. “Apart from the liquidity crunch, during the intensive construction phase for The Pinnacle@ Duxton, we experienced acute shortage of manpower as our subcontractors were pulled away from our construction site to work on the integrated resorts.”
Chia sailed through the challenges with resourcefulness and a steely appetite for risk. To tide over the liquidity crunch, he took out high-interest bridging loans. To overcome the manpower shortage, he hired his own construction workers, instead of relying on subcontractors. “My golden rules in business centre on risk management. We need to prepare for the worst and ensure that when it hits, we can pull through,” he says.
Preparation is also about being ready to seize opportunity when it comes. He observes: “We are living in a dynamic and modern world where information is readily available and travels instantly. As a result, the window of opportunity is smaller.
“Our strategy is to be ready at all times, so that we can seize the opportunities when they arise.”
A ‘FAMILY’ IN BUSINESS
Though widely credited for the reinvention of CES, Chia maintains that the company’s success is a result of teamwork, the effort put in by every person in the company.
“I believe in empowering line managers and developing their potential to the fullest. This means that the CEO and top senior management should be involved in wealth creation, instead of being tied up with day-to-day operation issues. The line managers should manage these, deploy resources efficiently and optimise returns from the resources over which they have control,” says Chia.
“I am very fortunate to have been supported by a good team. CES will not be where it is today without everyone playing his or her part to achieve a common goal.”
And the goal he is working towards: “To strengthen our position as one of Singapore’s leading construction and property groups, while creating sizeable revenue bases outside of the country to make up for limitations of the domestic markets.”
A local company that has seen phenomenal transformation and steady expansion in the past two decades propelled by visionary leadership, Chip Eng Seng is poised to soar.