kopi-C with OUE Commercial REIT’s CEO: 'Diversity is our strength'

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By Feng Zengkun • 23 Aug 2023 • 0 min read

OUE Commercial REIT’s CEO Han Khim Siew believes that team diversity is essential to delivering on the REIT’s targets.

OUE CT Han Khim Siew

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In real estate, adversity can be an opportunity. When Han Khim Siew joined OUE Commercial REIT (OUE C-REIT) in February 2022 as its Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the board of the manager, it was a trial by fire.

Soon after his appointment, Russia invaded Ukraine. “Around the world, central banks were talking about or already raising interest rates, and the market was very volatile,” he recalls.

“Adding to that, we also experienced a reshuffle of the team post COVID-19, where some senior management members chose to explore other opportunities. Likewise, catalysed by the Great Resignation, several employees from different levels decided to embark on new journeys.”

Undeterred, he took the chance to revitalise the REIT, bringing in more diverse employees to support his vision to grow the firm, improving its capital structure and attracting higher-yielding corporate guests to its refurbished Hilton Singapore Orchard hotel.

Formerly the Mandarin Orchard Singapore, the hotel reopened in stages from February 2022 after a $150 million renovation and rebranding to the Hilton Singapore Orchard. Part of the project involved adding more meeting facilities and offerings for global MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events. 

Han explains: “When corporate travellers come, they eat their meals and have their meetings in our restaurants. When they have calls at night with Europe or the United States, they order room service. So on a per guest basis, they bring in more revenue.”

More recently, OUE C-REIT commenced a S$22 million asset enhancement at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, revitalising its hospitality offerings at the landmark asset which has been crowned the World’s Best Airport Hotel for eight consecutive years by Skytrax. 

At the same time, he focused on increasing the occupancy of the REIT’s Singapore office portfolio. OUE C-REIT has three Grade A office properties in Singapore as well as one in China, in addition to its two hotels and one retail property in Singapore. 

Many businesses, including family offices, were being set up in Singapore due to its safe haven status. “We worked on boosting our occupancy and raised it from 91% to 96%,” Han shares. 

crowne plaza changi airport ouect
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has been crowned the World’s Best Airport Hotel for eight consecutive years by Skytrax. Image Source: OUE C-REIT

 

Staying the course       

Throughout this unprecedented journey, Han is committed to delivering on his vision and promises, a principle he learned early on from his grandmother. 

After growing up and schooling in Brunei, his birthplace, and Britain, where his father worked for years, he won a scholarship from the Brunei government for his undergraduate studies in the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

When he graduated, he received a job offer from a bank in London, and considered accepting it despite his bond to the Brunei government. “All my friends were in London, so I asked my grandmother if we could pay back the government for the bond. She told me that I knew what I signed up for when I took the scholarship, so I should stick to my word.”

“That was when I absorbed the lesson that, whatever you say you will do, you have to commit to doing it. Sticking to your word, trust and commitment – these are critical,” he says. 

After seven years as a finance officer in the Brunei Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister’s Office, he switched to the private sector. He specialised in real estate in the WIG Group, then became director and head of investment in Jones Lang LaSalle Indonesia, and subsequently managing director and co-head of BNP Paribas Real Estate Asia Pacific. 

As a real estate veteran, the move to OUE C-REIT, his first post in a listed firm, still required some adjustment on his part. He explains: “There’s a lot more public scrutiny. It took me a while to get used to the fact that whatever I say to the media, investors and analysts will be published.”

The responsibilities of building a better OUE C-REIT caused many sleepless nights, but he remembered a chat with an older golf buddy which changed his outlook. “He told me that there is no point in losing sleep over something. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, set it aside, get a good night’s sleep and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.”

“I’ve adopted that philosophy as much as I can. As I get older, I sleep earlier and earlier and find myself performing better.”

Hilton-Singapore-Orchard-ouect
The Hilton Singapore Orchard reopened in stages from February 2022 after a $150 million renovation and rebranding. Image source: OUE C-REIT

 

Stronger through diversity

Moving forward, he aims to further diversify OUE C-REIT’s ranks. He says: “I value passion in employees because you must be a determined person to get through the ups and downs. But we also need diversity, not in just in terms of gender but experience, in different markets, skill sets and more, so that we can have robust discussions.”

He gave the example of OUE C-REIT’s completion of a $978 million unsecured sustainability-linked loan in August 2022 to refinance its existing secured borrowings. It was the largest sustainability-linked loan extended to a Singapore REIT.

“There was robust discussion on our capital structure. $978 million was a really big target, and there was a lot of discussion about what would happen if we pushed for it and didn’t get there as we only needed to refinance $163 million for 2022 and $272 million for 2023 with the balance due in 2024,” Han says. 

“In the end, we decided that we needed to try. If we could move from secured to unsecured even during the volatile market period, it would signal to the market that we have the banks’ support. It would send the right message to other banks and our investors.”

He is also proud of the REIT manager’s pro-women workforce. Over 70% of its staff, including the property managers, are women. It has also pledged that women will make up at least 25% of its board by 2030, up from 14% currently. 

Moreover, in an era of growing eco-consciousness, 96% of the REIT’s portfolio by asset value is green-rated. Its properties in Singapore are certified Green Mark Gold by the Building and Construction Authority, and its Lippo Plaza in Shanghai is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified. 

In the next two to three years, he plans to increase the REIT’s net property income, among other goals. “Ideally, we would have demonstrated to the market that we are growing in the right direction, via accretive acquisitions and proper repositioning of the assets through asset enhancement initiatives.”

Han concludes: “We want to get everyone on board and show that when we say we will do something, we will do it and deliver on it.”

oue bayfront ouect
OUE Bayfront is one of OUE C-REIT's three Grade A office properties in Singapore. Image Source: OUE C-REIT

 

About OUE Commercial REIT 

OUE C-REIT is one of the largest diversified Singapore REITs with total assets of S$6.0 billion as at 31 December 2022. With seven properties across the commercial and hospitality segments in Singapore and Shanghai, OUE C-REIT’s portfolio comprises approximately 2.2 million sq ft of prime office and retail space, and 1,643 upper upscale hotel rooms. OUE C-REIT invests in income-producing real estate used primarily for commercial purposes (including real estate used primarily for office and/or retail purposes) in financial and business hubs, and/or hospitality and/or hospitality-related purposes, as well as real estate-related assets. 

The company’s website is https://www.ouect.com/

About kopi-C: the Company brew

kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout, a MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

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