Frasers Centrepoint (FCL) made a key appointment yesterday, a signal that Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi is preparing the way for the second generation to take over the reins of the firm.
Mr Charoen's son Panote, 39, has been appointed group chief executive-designate of the listed property firm, which is focused on residential, commercial and industrial properties, as well as hospitality.
Mr Panote will take over from property veteran Lim Ee Seng, who is retiring.
The appointment of Mr Panote, who was previously FCL's non- executive and non-independent director, is a clear sign not just of the company transitioning the business to the next generation, but also of the Sirivadhanabhakdi family tightening its control.
The move came after Mr Charoen took over conglomerate Fraser & Neave in 2013. Its property arm FCL was listed in 2014.
Mr Charoen's TCC Group continues to be the majority shareholder of both F&N and FCL.
"It is a loss for FCL, given Mr Lim's experience. But through the latest strategic changes, Mr Charoen and his son seem to be putting their best men to good use," said an analyst, who declined to be named.
The changes announced yesterday also include the formation of a Singapore strategic business unit from July 1.
This will bring together the Singapore residential and commercial property development and operations.
Mr Christopher Tang, FCL's chief executive for commercial and Greater China, will head the unit.
On other fronts, Mr Rod Fehring and Mr Choe Peng Sum continue as chief executives for Australia and hospitality units respectively, while chief financial officer Chia Khong Shoong has been appointed to the newly created role of chief corporate officer.
Mr Lim, who will retire on Sept 30, has been chief executive since 2004 and oversaw the establishment of FCL's three real estate investment trust platforms, with a fourth on the way.
He also directed the group's expansion in Australia, with the acquisition of Australand as well as the rapidly growing hospitality arm which is now in 80 cities.
Mr Lim, who turned 65 yesterday, told a media briefing that he had informed the FCL board three years ago of his intention to retire.
"However, it was then a very transformational period for FCL and, at that point in time, a stable management structure or management team was very important," he said.
Mr Lim said he saw his 12 years with FCL as the culmination of his 40 years in real estate and he looks forward to his new role as senior adviser to the TCC Group, a diverse firm involved in businesses ranging from food and beverage to trading, agriculture and real estate .
This will mainly involve advising Mr Charoen on all the group's real estate-related investments.
Mr Lim is also looking forward to spending more time with his family.
He added that he has worked closely with Mr Panote - who most recently spent nine years as chief executive of Thai-listed property firm Univentures Public Company - on many of FCL's strategic initiatives, including the purchase of Australand and the Malmaison Hotel du Vin group.
FCL's board had considered external and internal candidates for the top post since Mr Lim indicated his wish to retire, said Mr Charles Mak, FCL's lead independent director, before it settled on Mr Panote.
Said Mr Panote: "The new organisational structure will enhance our group-level strategic planning and capital allocation discipline.
"As group chief executive, one of my key roles will be to access and develop opportunities in international business."