CCT manager's CEO builds on a woman's strengths

Ms Lynette Leong, chief executive officer of CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management, believes women possess many advantages that allow them to complement their male colleagues in the boardroom.
Ms Lynette Leong, chief executive officer of CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management, believes women possess many advantages that allow them to complement their male colleagues in the boardroom.PHOTO: SINGAPORE EXCHANGE

Ms Lynette Leong, the chief executive officer of CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management - which manages the first and largest commercial real estate investment trust (Reit) listed on the Singapore Exchange - believes women possess many advantages that allow them to complement their male colleagues in the boardroom.

"We have plenty of qualities that can complement and provide a good balance to the male attributes - we need not act masculine or try to compete with men," she said.

Instead, women should always play to their strengths, she noted. A feminine touch, an eye for detail and a flash of intuition could go far in establishing rapport, defusing tension, or even closing a deal.

These traits played a critical role when Ms Leong, then a senior executive with a US real estate investment management firm, tried to complete the purchase of distressed assets from a South Korean chaebol. Tensions skyrocketed after the deal stalled, and it fell upon her - the only woman in a room full of table-pounding, chain-smoking men - to resolve the situation.

"I was able to remain calm, even though it was totally nerve-racking, and I was quaking inside. The atmosphere in the room was very tense, but I had to smile, speak calmly and politely, be objective and not show any emotion," she recalled.

Ms Leong's ability to think on her feet and turn the situation around culminated in a transaction that generated huge returns and became a model deal. "In this case, I believe a woman's touch provided me with the edge," she added.

THINKING ON HER FEET

I was able to remain calm, even though it was totally nerve-racking, and I was quaking inside. The atmosphere in the room was very tense, but I had to smile, speak calmly and politely, be objective and not show any emotion.

MS LYNETTE LEONG, CEO of CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management, on keeping her cool at a meeting as the only woman in the room when a deal stalled.

A National University of Singapore graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Estate Management and a Master of Science in Real Estate, Ms Leong cut her professional teeth as a banker with two international banks between 1988 and 1993, and at Jones Lang Wootton between 1993 and 1995.

She held various senior roles at LaSalle Investment Management from 1996 to 2003, was based in London, New York and Chicago at different times, and was one of the founding directors of its Asia office. She also founded and helmed Ascendas Group's South Korea office between 2003 and 2007, before being appointed CEO of CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management, the manager of CapitaLand Commercial Trust (CCT), in October 2007.

Been there, done that, Ms Leong has the proverbial scars to prove it.

"I trained myself in London and Korea to hold my liquor. Sometimes my day started with a pint in the pub, or I would have to drink three to four rounds in a night, and even sing and dance in the karaoke," she recalled with a laugh.

She also learnt to push boundaries and navigate obstacles.

"I always tell my team - never take no for an answer, and challenge the status quo. You need to be creative and resourceful, and find new ways of doing things, especially in more opaque markets."

Under Ms Leong's leadership, CCT is well-positioned for the next stage of growth.

THINKING OF SOLUTIONS

I always tell my team - never take no for an answer, and challenge the status quo. You need to be creative and resourceful, and find new ways of doing things, especially in more opaque markets.

MS LEONG, on learning to push boundaries and navigate obstacles. She also notes that the future of work is about to change.

Listed on the Singapore Exchange in May 2004, CCT was created through a distribution in specie by CapitaLand - one of Asia's biggest real estate developers - to its shareholders. The Reit was included as a constituent in the benchmark Straits Times Index on March 21, 2016.

CCT, which aims to own and invest in income-producing commercial real estate and real estate-related assets, has a market capitalisation of more than $4 billion.

Over the past five years, its distribution per unit (DPU) has grown more than 20 per cent - from 7.52 cents in 2011 to 9.08 cents in 2016.

The total value of CCT's deposited properties stood at $8.8 billion at end-2016, comprising a portfolio of 10 prime commercial properties in Singapore, including one joint venture. This compares with a portfolio value of $6.7 billion at end-2011.

Yet it is the development of CapitaGreen, an iconic 40-storey premium Grade-A office tower that was redeveloped from Market Street Car Park, where Ms Leong derives her greatest satisfaction.

Designed by internationally acclaimed, award-winning Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the energy-efficient building is jointly developed by CapitaLand, CCT and Mitsubishi Estate Asia. It has a double-skin facade comprising a primary wall of glass and a secondary layer - of more than 50 per cent - of living plants, which enables the building to reduce solar heat gain.

Atop the skyscraper is a lush tropical forest garden, and a red-and- white sculptural petalled funnel that draws in fresh, cooler air, which is circulated within the building after passing through the air- handling units. The development has garnered a slew of local and international awards, including Best Tall Building in Asia and Australasia, conferred by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Ms Leong's next project is more ambitious, involving the redevelopment of the 10-storey Golden Shoe Car Park - also strategically located in the Central Business District (CBD) - into a higher-value commercial development that includes an office tower.

The project could potentially create a commercial gross floor area of approximately one million sq ft and with an office tower of up to 280m above ground, on a par with the tallest buildings in the CBD.

The project could cement CCT's position as the largest office landlord in the CBD, and provide an opportunity to design an ultra-modern building of the future.

With globalisation, an increasingly mobile workforce and the rise of digital technology, the future of work sits on the cusp of change, Ms Leong noted.

"Millennials, who are tomorrow's leaders, will not want to sit in an office all day - they prefer to move around with their tablets and laptops, and work in all sorts of places. They also want to engage more, collaborate more, and have work-life balance," she added. "So when we consider the design for this redevelopment, we want to create something that epitomises the office of the future."

• This interview is an excerpt from the Singapore Exchange's "kopi-C: the Company brew" column that features C-level executives of firms listed on SGX. A longer version can be found on SGX's My Gateway website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'CCT manager's CEO builds on a woman's strengths'. Print Edition | Subscribe