Conversations With Chih Ching

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The Executive Chairman and Executive Director at KOP Limited shares about working in a man’s world, home-ownership for millennials and embracing grey areas in business.

By ShuQi Liu

A chauffeured black van pulls up the long driveway at Ritz-Carlton Residences, the eponymous label’s first freehold property in Asia. A woman with fortitude arrives at the very building she conceptualised. Ong Chih Ching now calls this home.

Speaking in warm, steady tones, Chih Ching says that software keeps KOP Limited’s longevity alive. The brand has business interests in real estate, hospitality and entertainment. “With luxury properties, it is not simply about building bigger and better. Service comes first. When people are friendly, you want to go back. This becomes a wonderful place to live where people constantly make you happy.”

Chih Ching projects a no holds barred personality. She says it as it is – direct, straightforward, and plain speaking. A millennial would not have expected this to come from an accomplished entrepreneur who made her mark in the cut-throat luxury property arena, which counts a private car porch in the sky at Singapore’s Hamilton Scotts and prime hospitality experience at London’s iconic Ten Trinity Square as sold out projects.

“Many can’t imagine a rich, luxurious lifestyle. But I had the opportunity to do so, which creates a high barrier to entry,” Chih Ching explains. “By virtue of my clientele in property law, I could submerge myself in this segment. I was constantly visiting them, hence I realised what’s lacking.”

Chih Ching: Being a lawyer was really to gain respect. After that, I’ve always wanted to do business. When I realised I’m good at real estate concepts, my transition into luxury properties became natural. I was already decorating my own home when I could afford it. My cousin was an interior designer and trained my eye. Taste is quite difficult to acquire.

I also love buildings and hotels. With my clientele from property law, I went into luxury real estate. I wanted to create a nice project to showcase and live in, which was lacking in Singapore.

“I urge women to adopt an amicable approach to gender equality. Be more open-minded towards men, not adversarial.”

CC: Men currently dominate the world. We can’t say we only want to work with women. The majority of the working force in the higher ranks are men, so we do need their support. What I admire about them is their decisiveness. They don’t think as much as us. They decide, then see how to solve the problem as it comes.

I urge women to adopt an amicable approach to gender equality. Be more open-minded towards men, not adversarial. Due to our nature, it is difficult to have that camaraderie among men. If we are less calculative and detailed, men welcome us. They are actually not squeezing us out.

As I age, I think I am gender neutral and easily accepted by men. We should ask for equal opportunities, not blindly championing for the sake of it. It has to be the best person wins.

“Millennials will not be interested to buy real estate. They are into shared services, unwilling to pay high rents, uninterested in traditional goods.”

CC: I am into concept creation as I am a dreamer. I look at what millennials like, as you are the next target audience. I am concerned about how much disposable income millennials have. Do you really need real estate?  

Millennials shop online and prefer experiential entertainment. You are very willing to dish out 200 dollars for a concert ticket, rather than designer jeans. And you don’t need many pairs of jeans.

Millennials will not be interested to buy real estate. They are into shared services, unwilling to pay high rents, uninterested in traditional things. That’s my main concern, because real estate is always brick and mortar, how much we can yield per square foot. Gone are the days where you can make a quick buck trading real estate.

We need to come up with a sports entertainment concept that challenge millennials to keep doing better. They are a prideful bunch who tend to think they are very smart because of information overload.

While technology takes away brick and mortar, I now want to pry millennials away from their phones. Whatever you pay and play online becomes real in front of you. We are now going to build this into real estate.

CC: I don’t know. It is part of me.

CC: I like to constantly challenge myself. I don’t like to repeat projects. I try to make ourselves do better. The key is to really explore different markets for new inspiration and opportunities.

CC: The problem with real estate is the herd instinct: when nobody buys, nobody buys. When the market turns so fast, nobody can catch it. That’s something to bear in mind. For Singapore, only a few very good properties are considered high-end. The semi high-ends have good locations, but are not built to luxury specifications.

There is a Chinese saying that it costs a thousand to buy a house, and 10,000 to buy your neighbours. Location is very important. For a bit of price premium, go for better properties to surround yourself with good neighbours in the long run. If you can afford, this is the best time to buy ultra high-end property, as prices have gone down 40%.

“It is a woman’s thing, we need to have an answer – yes or no. We lose out on so much time just trying to find out yes or no. Sometimes, this is really not necessary.”

CC: (turning pensive) This is a difficult question. It is easier for my 60 year old self to look back at me now. This 25 year old will say to me, you are 47 now. Don’t be so hung up!

As a lawyer brought up in Singapore, everything is black and white. Many countries have grey. And grey is not so bad, it requires relationship. A lot of things can be done differently.

It is a woman’s thing, we need to have an answer – yes or no. We lose out on so much time just trying to find out yes or no. Sometimes, this is really not necessary. Most guys say I don’t know, I don’t care. Certain things are not important anymore.

CC: I wanted to be a bus conductor. Thank God not, otherwise I might become obsolete! I also wanted to be a hawker, deboning chicken. I’m a curious person, I constantly want to learn new things.

Images by Esther Yeo

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