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Sports and business are largely intertwined

This year's Best Mid-Cap CEO, Tuan Sing's William Liem, says sports has been a major influencing factor in his business and life.

Mr Liem says he encourages the organisation structure to be as flat as possible so that staff feel empowered.

PROJECTING a shy and down to earth demeanour while seated across the table at the showroom of one of his luxury residential developments, William Liem, chief executive officer of Tuan Sing Holdings, does not hesitate to display his passion for his work and life. His success, including sweeping the Best CEO award at the Singapore Corporate Awards 2016 in the mid-cap category, might have stemmed from his younger days as an avid and versatile sportsman.

Mr Liem, who has helmed projects in Singapore and overseas, said sports was closely intertwined with business. "If you want to get involved in business, playing sports is actually very relevant. If you are running a football club the rules are similar. You pick a team. You ensure that the team is passionate and dedicated and you prepare yourself for competition," he said. "Just like in business, we prepare ourselves for downturns and opportunities in the market. There are plenty of opportunities and when they come and you're prepared, you will outcompete your competitors."

Playing games also taught him to embrace failures, develop resilience and be creative, he added. "These are no different from business."

Hailing from a family full of entrepreneurs, Mr Liem is no stranger to the business world. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Business from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Since becoming Tuan Sing's CEO in 2008, he has focused on growing the property development and investment portfolio. It is currently in the process of redeveloping the Robinson Point Building into a single commercial development, he said. Under his watch, the firm acquired Grand Hotel Group's Perth and Melbourne portfolio from Morgan Stanley in 2014. It also entered into a joint venture with a local property developer for a township development in Indonesia.

For 2015, Tuan Sing recorded net profit of S$68.83 million, up from S$61.17 million the year before. Revenue for the 12 months ended Dec 31, 2015, was S$677.1 million, a 91 per cent surge from S$354.8 million in 2014.

Although the company is doing well, Mr Liem said challenges were aplenty. "For a family-held business, there is greater scrutiny especially in related-party transactions. However we have to be upfront, transparent and declare all our potential conflicts of interest or relationships, so that at the end of the day these transactions are in an open-book format for everybody to see."

One key difficulty as a CEO was finding a team with a common passion, set of values and the willingness to work hard for the organisation, he added. But he said such challenges could be avoided if the people and environment were aligned. "We need to create an environment where people can speak up without too many limits. We want people to be open with their thoughts and give ideas in a constructive way." To facilitate such an environment, he said he encourages the organisation structure to be as flat as possible so that staff feel empowered.

Many things could go wrong if someone is not doing their job because he or she is not able to contribute, he said. "I believe individuals and team culture play a significant role in the success of any organisation, and so it is very critical to find the right people, develop a healthy culture and recognise their contributions."

Looking ahead, Mr Liem said that in addition to growing the firm's recurring base, he is looking to widen assets in the region and explore opportunities to acquire prime assets.

Work aside, he spends a lot of time with his family, who he said are his support and inspiration. He also relishes meeting up with friends and classmates. "After all, work is only one facet of life. We should always remind ourselves that the relationships we develop are what matters most, and truly bring us joy and happiness," he said.