Monday, November 26, 2007

‘Shareholders invest money in us, not emotions’.

So why did CapitaLand decide to sell the Raffles Hotel business despite its sentimental value? The answer, which chief executive Liew Mun Leong shared with his entire staff, was straightforward.

‘As a business, particularly as a public-listed company, we cannot make business investment or divestment decisions based on sentimental values or emotions,’ he said in an e-mail message in July 2005 titled ‘Shareholders invest money in us, not emotions’.

‘This transaction would make a profit of $605S million. We would indeed be irresponsible towards our shareholders if we had chosen to forgo this huge gain.’

For almost a decade, he has candidly been sharing his thoughts on various issues with his employees through a series of e-mail messages that he writes mostly on Sundays. These have now been compiled into a book, Building People: Sunday Emails from a CEO, which was launched by CapitaLand yesterday.

‘I did not set out to write a book,’ he said to laughter at the launch. ‘I have to vigorously dispel the wrong signal that the CEO of CapitaLand has a lot of time on his hands.’

The e-mail messages, he said, were written because they were the fastest and cheapest way to communicate with CapitaLand’s 9,000 employees scattered across 104 cities in more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Through e-mail, Mr Liew shared his insights and management philosophy, as well as observations from his business travels.

Some of the messages have caused a stir. ‘Who Stole Our Cheese?’, for example, was written after developer CapitaLand lost the Marina Bay integrated resort bid. In the brutally honest piece, Mr Liew says CapitaLand made the ‘killer mistake’ of not identifying the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions business as one the government was keen to grow.

In other messages, he is more philosophical. In one, he relates the story of a blind 75-year-old English man who still plays golf, urging his employees to not ‘give up easily on life, even when the most difficult times hit’.

Mr Liew also shares his experience as a young man on his first day on the job, when an envelope containing a large amount of money appeared mysteriously on his desk. He asked people around the office, offering to return the money to its rightful owner. Only later did he discover that the envelope had been planted by his boss to test his integrity!

Using this to illustrate CapitaLand’s approach in the property development industry where opportunities abound for kickbacks, he says: ‘If we have to bribe, we won’t do this business.’

The e-mail messages appear to be a tool to explain, reflect and impart the company’s values to the staff.

ln line with Mr Liew’s aim of people development, CapitaLand yesterday officially opened its own learning and development campus on Sentosa, called the CapitaLand Institute of Management & Business (Climb).

The institute, which was started in June 2006, has conducted more than 60 programmes for more than 1,450 participants. With the official opening, the institute is expected to train about 5,000 existing and future CapitaLand employees by 2010.

CapitaLand has spent at least $10 million to convert its Sentosa building, which used to house the former Rare Stone Museum.

‘Setting up Climb is the best investment for us,’ said Mr Liew. ‘It is investing in our people, our future.’

It was in this same spirit that he agreed to have his e-mail messages compiled into a book, he said. The book will be used as teaching tool at Climb and will be available to all staff.

Source : Business Times - 23 Nov 2007

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