He believes property remains the best and safest form of investment

PROPERTY developer Tan Sri Lim Kim Hong can count himself among one of the few in corporate Malaysia who has seen plenty of the highs and lows of what the country has had to offer through his five-decade entrepreneurial journey, the transformative 70s, the recessionary 80s, the Asian collapse in the late 90s and the near-global collapse in the late 2000s, interspersed with the stock market and economic booms.

“I have gone through periods when the country’s political and economic situations were badly hit, even worse than it is now. Yes, Malaysia may be going through a tough patch now because of various factors not so much within our control, among which is the unfortunate collapse in crude oil prices, but what remains certain is that almost all institutions remain intact.

“What goes up must come down. Similarly, a falling ball will invariably bounce back up unless the land on which it bounces off is not solid. While different people may proffer thoughts on the state of our land, we can all surely agree that conditions are not altogether hapless that would warrant such dire pessimism on the state of the country? Hence, I believe conditions will turn around soon enough, underpinned by a steady recovery in global conditions and supported by various growth-led initiatives by the central bank and Government. Recovery may be anaemic, but we do see improving macro conditions nonetheless,” Lim says.

“In the case of the property market, there is no shying away from the obvious. Conditions are undoubtedly soft, but this is not just confined to Malaysia. We see the same in Hong Kong and Singapore, both also victims of the general economic slowdown globally. But always remember though – land is a finite commodity and does not grow on trees, hence is a scarce resource particularly with premier locations. Yes, you can reclaim land in certain places, but there are environmental prohibitions and cost limits to doing so. In essence, cycles are temporal, values are permanent!

“Property remains the best and safest form of investment. It all boils down to location, of course, and if chosen wisely, especially now, it is only a matter of time before you see the returns on your investments,” he adds.

“Yes, we are aware of difficulties some buyers face in securing housing loans. Bank Negara remains accommodative of business conditions, which we see eventually translating to a restoration of waning consumer confidence, aided by the federal and respective state governments’ on-going efforts to assist first-time home buyers.”

Lim is certainly one to have walked the talk, starting his own furniture business in the mid 60s, successfully creating a strong track record in brand-building through the years before eventually making a foray into the property development industry.

The 66-year-old business veteran was responsible for the successful listing of Sumurwang Sdn Bhd’s manufacturing arm, Dreamland Holdings Bhd, on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (now known as Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd) in 1987.

In 1993, Lim subsequently divested Sumurwang’s interest in the company, renamed Kanzen Bhd, upon its diversification into the steel industry, to reorganise Sumurwang’s corporate structure to focus on three business areas – property development, manufacturing and financial services.

In 1999, Lim acquired I-Bhd through Sumurwang and steered the group to transform a 72-acre freehold plantation land in the capital city of Selangor into an Ultrapolis development called “i-City”. The RM9bil project recently unveiled its industry-leading intelligent home incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT) concept for a new launch located above the DoubleTree Hilton @ i-City development.

Lim devotes his time with great fervour towards the group’s property development activities, currently focused on the development of i-City and 8Kia Peng@ KLCC, a luxurious serviced residence located in the heart of Golden Triangle, with the aim of raising the bar higher and delivering beyond expectations.

Asked on how property developers can reach buyers who are seemingly getting younger, Lim has this to say: “When i-City was first conceived, it was to be a place for the young. The facilities, infrastructure and designs were planned with this in mind. This is something different as many townships are designed either for growing and/or mature families rather than for the single executive or newly-married couples. Furthermore, with i-City’s excellent location, connectivity and facilities, the company believes the project will continue to attract buyers who appreciate urban living lifestyles.

“In the older days, housing development was very much focused on the hardware (i.e. the physical building and the infrastructure). This has eventually evolved to a broader focus on the softer side, with many developers now talking about building communities rather than just a roof over your head. In planning for i-City, I-Bhd’s aim was for an integrated development where all the facilities, services and conveniences for knowledge workers, residents and visitors are integral components of the Ultrapolis.”

Although master-planned more than a decade ago, i-City was always envisioned of an “international business hub by day and lifestyle haven by night.”

“i-City is unique in the sense that we are one of the few developments in the region that has always looked at ways to incorporate the latest advances in digital technology into our projects. Sticking to this core principle, i-City will continue to place particular emphasis on technology going forward, with an integrated connectivity infrastructure that we believe would appeal to urban professionals,” Lim says.

“i-City was the first development in Malaysia to provide fibre-to-home connectivity. Today, we are already looking well ahead in building on i-City’s infrastructure to support enablers of the latest intelligent home concepts. We believe given the constant technological advances, we will see even greater levels of digitalisation being incorporated into the building and selling of homes in the future, and we stand ready to deliver on that.

“You can take the man out of the city, but you can never take the city out of the man! Plant me anywhere else in the world, but such is my affinity to i-City, it will forever hold dear to me. Why? Simply because it is turning out the way I envisaged it to be amid the initial scepticism and painstaking early-years.

“The journey has been arduous but well worth it. We have certainly come a long way, with i-City now garnering some governmental support as a catalyst for the development of Shah Alam, the capital city of Selangor, and making this part of Greater KL as one of the most liveable cities in the world in line with the Government’s vision,” he says.

The number of highways currently and eventually connecting i-City to the rest of Kuala Lumpur attests to its strategic location. Getting anywhere by car from i-City is not only extremely convenient, but comes with plenty of options to the different parts of Kuala Lumpur. By the end of this decade, this will include bus and rail links. It does not matter if the destination is in the east, west, north or south, or if you follow the proverbial yellow brick road or chase the end of the rainbow, i-City has access to all channels that will bring you right up to its doorstep.

“Given my background, my approach to this Ultrapolis development was and still is simple – from a brand-building perspective. We spend considerable time and effort in understanding the market segment to envisage the project from the buyer’s viewpoint. To us, it was and is more than building communities; it is about catering to the evolving demands of buyers and cross-generational differences and/or expectations,” Lim says.

“For me, i-City is not just a property development per se, rather an investment location of choice for global companies. In this respect, our strategic alliances with groups such as ServCorp of Australia, Al-Rajhi Banking Group of Saudi Arabia and the Central Pattana Group of Thailand are testament to this.

“For purchasers – you get an integration of work, play and life in a vibrant 24-hour lifestyle hub cradled between the bustling royal town of Klang and stately capital city of Shah Alam and a mere half-hour from Kuala Lumpur.

“When completed, the entire i-City landscape will be a fully integrated intelligent (and international) city comprising a shopping mall, corporate office towers, cyber office suites, serviced residences, hotels, apartments, leisure attractions, as well as a data centre and innovation centre, a landmark and the ultrapolis it envisioned itself to be. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!”

The results of i-City speaks for itself. Location, location, location! – ANN