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Checks and balances help Centurion's board stay accountable and effective

Mr Kong Chee Min explains the philosophy that won his organisation two gold awards at the Singapore Corporate Awards (SCA) 2018

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Centurion Corporation’s dwell Cathedral Campus in the UK.

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CEO Mr Kong Chee Min believes clear disclosure of information and robust checks and balances contribute to excellent corporate governance.

How does one ensure a well-managed board in a company? Chief executive officer of Centurion Corporation Kong Chee Min believes that it boils down to clear disclosure of information and robust checks and balances, which contribute to excellent corporate governance that keep the company accountable and effective.

At SCA 2018, Centurion has been recognised for good corporate governance, winning two gold awards for Best Managed Board and Best Investor Relations in the mid-cap category for listed companies with a market capitalisation of between $300 million and $1 billion.

Centurion is an Asian, home-grown global specialized accommodation provider that owns, develops and manages purpose-built student and worker accommodation assets. Listed both in Hong Kong and Singapore, it has 27 operational assets worldwide, offering about 55,000 beds.

Mr Kong talks about the business and its best practices:

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Q: Could you provide an overview of Centurion’s business?

A: Centurion owns and manages niche alternative assets catering to students and workers in five countries. The Group entered the workers accommodation segment in 2011 and has built an established presence in Singapore and Malaysia, offering almost 50,000 beds across 10 accommodation assets. In 2014, the Group saw an untapped opportunity to meet the demand for accommodation driven by the staggering growth in students worldwide and has since amassed a portfolio of 17 properties in key tertiary education markets of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore.

Recently, Centurion opened a new chapter by providing investment and property management services, as part of its asset light strategy. The Group manages a private US Student Housing Fund and has two dedicated accommodation brands in operation ­– Westlite for the workers segment and Dwell Student Living for the student segment.

Q: You have won Gold awards for Best Investor Relations and Best Managed Board. What are some best practices you can share?

A: When it comes to investor relations, we practice active and timely voluntary disclosure beyond mere compliance. There need to be effective systems of stakeholder communications in place, such as open dialogue channels, to ensure transparency and accountability.

In building a competent and effective board, regular dialogue and updates with the senior management team, aside from the regulated mandatory occasions, is important.  This brings about effective discussions and contributions to closely guide the Group’s strategic decisions and growth directions.   

There has also been much talk about gender diversity. But for us, diversity extends beyond gender; we include considerations such as age, skill sets and experience to encourage fresh perspectives and constructive, healthy debate.

Students from Cathedral Campus having a year-end barbecue and games. PHOTO: CENTURION CORPORATION

Q: What is different about Centurion’s approach to corporate governance and shareholder communications?

A: We strive for full accountability and responsibility to both internal and external stakeholders. Centurion ensures that all necessary information is provided in a clear, concise and timely manner, for investors to make a well-informed decision.

Beyond our duties as a listed entity, we also regularly engage with residents of our properties and the wider community, by adopting and supporting meaningful causes that align with Centurion’s core values of “management with a heart”. It is our philosophy that the long-term success of Centurion’s business is closely intertwined with the health and prosperity of the communities we operate in.

National Day celebration at ASPRI-Westlite Papan. PHOTO: CENTURION CORPORATION

Q: How has the Group’s compliance efforts changed over the last year?

A: We keep our finger on the pulse and continually adapt to changing regulations and best practices across multiple aspects of our business. But most notably for shareholders, you would have seen that we published a comprehensive sustainability study as part of our Annual Report, in line with SGX’s new requirements. This included an in-depth review of our community outreach and resident engagement programmes, an environmental assessment of how we operate our business and an update on our internal controls.

Westlite residents on an excursion to Gardens by the Bay. PHOTO: CENTURION CORPORATION

In addition, with our dual primary listing in Hong Kong, we now produce dual-language communication collaterals such as press releases, annual reports, corporate websites and announcements.

Q: Within the organisation, what are you doing to promote integrity and corporate stewardship?

A: We have robust checks and balances in place, such as whistleblowing and anti-corruption policies, to ensure that our employees act responsibly and ethically. These values, along with a culture of integrity, are also inculcated through regular training sessions to set the right tone throughout the organisation. We are also extremely mindful that managers have balanced scorecards and key performance indicators such that sound decisions for the long-term success of the company are made.

To promote corporate stewardship and inculcate a spirit of giving within the organisation, Centurion partners with charities, NGOs and welfare groups to host community outreach events and also provides donations and scholarships to the less fortunate.

Q: What metrics are used to monitor execution and accountability internally?

A: Our business generates stable recurring income streams, which experiences healthy, resilient demand through economic cycles. Our main objectives are to ensure that the business is run prudently and grows sustainably. Besides internal financial and operational targets, our KPIs include longer-term measures – such as key staff retention, tenant satisfaction, and our compliance with industry environmental, social and governance (ESG) Standards. By monitoring and evaluating our ESG efforts, the Group acts responsibly in the best interest of all stakeholders and gains competitive advantage in the long term.