News from a Batu Pahat boy who have done very well. Enjoy.
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Saturday February 28, 2009
Having an eye for country living
By THEAN LEE CHENG
Insight into Country Heights founder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew’s success and philosophy.
There is something about rags-to-riches stories. To those who aspire to be rich, they can be a source of inspiration. To those who have made it, they remind them of their past challenges.
It is a life story that Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, Country Heights Holdings Bhd (CHHB) vice-chairman, likes to relate to friends. “There is a difference between being rich and wealthy. I like to be wealthy. Being rich means just having a lot of money. Being wealthy means having character and values like filial piety.
“I value my family and I enjoy going around my organic garden. I spend three to four hours in the garden every morning and I come home to dinner every night and have vegetables from my own garden. I consider this true wealth,” says Lee as he sips his tea and picks on his fruit platter in his sprawling five-acre garden in Country Heights Kajang.
For an out-of-town boy who entered the job market with only Form 5 education and a love for languages, Lee has come a long way.
Lee completed his schooling at Batu Pahat Chinese High School and came to Kuala Lumpur to seek his fortune. He found it in land and property development. Although he did not know it then, he was following a time-tested and proven formula that have made many rich. Other than Bill Gates who made his billions with Microsoft, a large percentage of the world’s rich made it through real estate.
Lee is best known for Country Heights Kajang and The Mines Resort City in Seri Kembangan, Selangor. He was among the first to initiate country living because of his love for nature. Several years ago, he tried to replicate his success in Kajang with Country Heights Damansara, Kuala Lumpur.
Lee seems to have a knack for packaging and marketing locations which ordinarily would not have caused so much as a flutter. Being a sales person was his teenage dream.
As a 17-year-old, Lee worked as a translator in a text book printing company in the city in 1973. His starting salary was RM120, or RM4 a day. He then landed a job selling wrapping paper to a Chinese medicine shop, being the first Chinese boy to do so.
“It was ironic. I was the first Chinese boy to sell that paper. It was generally done by Indian boys.”
As he enjoyed sales and being entrepreneurial, he decided to do his own printing. He bought raw materials and sourced for someone who was able to print the Chinese seal on the wrapping paper. Before long, Lee was trading in antiques, selling cakes and bread, remote-controlled gates and ovens.
Lee married at 28 and became a father a year later. “When I turned 30, I asked myself what I wanted to do and what I was best at. I began to re-examine my life and told myself to concentrate on one business.”
Lee went into property development in 1985 against the wishes of his family. With the money he had made earlier, he negotiated a deal with Tan Sri Azman Hashim, the founder of AmBank Group, and partner who owned the land in Sg Ramah. That location eventually became Country Heights Kajang. He agreed to pay Azman and partner double the land value on a deferred basis and a percentage of the profits.
The recession arrived in 1986 but Malaysia only felt its effects about a year later in 1987. He sold Country Heights Kajang at RM6 per sq ft. Then the Asian financial crisis came in 1997/98. Soon after, he launched Country Heights Damansara at between RM110 and RM130 per sq ft.
“Today, we have this global crisis. But I am undeterred because the real assets, to me, will always be land and property development. Much of the world’s problem today is due to too much paper wealth. Property is true wealth. Everything begins with a piece of property.”
Having ventured into country living, industrial and commercial developments, Lee is now bullish about golf courses. In December last year, he introduced The Mines Golf City project near Bukit Beruntung, Rawang.
He will be building the country’s largest golf course with 63 holes. The project will have a gross development value (GDV) of RM3bil.
“My interest today is developing golf courses. Last year, I relinquished my position as CHHB group MD to focus on this personal venture. In 2011, the first 18 holes will be ready. There will be low density bungalows around the golf course. Why now, you may ask, and of all things, golf?
“I see the opportunity. We have a global economic crisis but we will get out of it, and when we do, there will be people who will want to own a property with lots of green and water features. Golf is also a sport that most will aspire to be a part of. It is a sport that denotes progress,” says Lee, who plays golf four times a week.
Lee attributes his success to his spirit of adventure in the corporate world and what he calls in Cantonese kuai yen.
“A kuai yen is someone who comes alongside you to support, mentor and teach; a person who provides that much-needed initial push or inspiration to give you a head start. My kuai yen were Azman, who owned that Sg Ramah land which I eventually turned into Country Heights Kajang, and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“I consider Dr Mahathir my mentor. He has visited me in my house before and also knows all my five children. He helped by opening up the country’s policies, which aided not only me but bumiputras and other businessmen. He helped me by gracing some of my events. But I never applied for any jobs from the Economic Planning Unit. All my businesses were my own.”
Lee met Dr Mahathir when he started the riding club.
“Dr Mahathir came for horse-riding. He thought I was very courageous in my various business ventures. That was how the friendship started. He suggested that I visit certain places in the US to see the housing developments there. So I went. At that time, I was planning Country Heights Kajang and he was always supportive of those who had new ideas. So I consider him my teacher. In life, all of us need someone like that and I was fortunate to have two very prominent Malaysians as mentors. I often met him when he was the prime minister. I was still active in CHHB then. Till today we still meet and the last time was during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
“I am now concentrating on my golf city, organic garden and qigong (a Chinese relaxation exercise) and my family.”
There are four generations living in his 15,000 sq ft home, a white eclectic design with colonial robusity on a five-acre garden. Located on a piece of the choicest land in that location, it occupies a high peak in that homestead development.
“My 93-year-old mother, children and grandchildren are with me. Every week, my mother still goes out to town to do her hair. I would ask my children – if all of you always fight among yourselves, will the family be able to progress? If you are poor, but there is harmony, will the family progress? And I tell them – If you are rich, but there is constant disharmony, what you have will be gone. The same principle applies to the country. Such is my philosophy.
“My wife always pushes the children to study hard. I value character building.
“I have a special piece about husband and wife relationship – the husband is the sky, the wife is the earth. She plays a nurturing role. The husband is a covering for the wife and the children they may have together. To me, it is not an equal relationship as far as we in the East are concerned. These are the values I want to hand down to my future generations.”