A time to remember the past, reflect on the present and think of the future
S Malaysia looks to its 62nd anniversary from the day the Federation of Malaya became independent from the British Empire on Aug 31, 1957, Best@ Malaysia takes a nostalgic glimpse into the property sector of days gone by, culminating to what it is today.
While the nation saw a handful of property developers in the pre-Merdeka days, their numbers have grown tremendously with development spreading to all corners of Malaysia.
One of the prominent builders pre-merdeka was the late Low Yat Group founder Tan Sri Low Yat, who rushed to complete the nation’s first international class hotel – Federal Hotel – in time to house foreign dignitaries coming to witness the historic celebration.
Other projects rushed by other developers for the 1957 deadline included the Stadium Merdeka, designed by architect Stanley Edward Jewkes, and was constructed in a space of one year.
Operated by Perbadanan Stadium Merdeka, it was the site that the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, the nation’s first prime minister, proclaimed independence there.
Kuala Lumpur was made the Federal capital in 1896 but the city was not considered as the major commercial centre of the Malay Peninsula. Back then, there were not many qualified contractors or builders in the market.
Of the few property construction companies that were at the start of the nation’s growth, only a handful has withstood the passage of time, and with the rare privilege of sustaining their reputation to this day.
Among the few are Low Yat Group, Selangor Properties Bhd, SBC Corporation Bhd and See Hoy Chan Group. Most of the founders have passed on and their legacies live on in the property corporations that are now in the hands of their descendants.
Not all companies started off as developers. Many were initially trading companies that later expanded into property development post Merdeka as their businesses and the nation grew in tandem. But some of these companies remain strong contenders even in today’s dynamic property sector.
The ‘old money’ lay in “kings” like Tan Sri Robert Kuok, who has a string of property developments under companies linked to the former ‘Sugar King’. Another was See Hoy Chan Group’s late Datuk Teo Hang Sam, fondly known then as the ‘Rice King of Malaya.'
Both developers began in different industries but foresaw the potential in property development. As legacy builders, the companies that were founded these tycoons are still powerhouses in their own right.
But the few property companies that has been around pre-Merdeka and have survived the years, riding the ups-and-downs of the property market over three major financial and economic crises, are no longer the market leaders.
Most underwent hardships and had to make difficult decisions during those times. For example, Low Yat Group, under the tenure ship of Tan Sri Low Yow Chuan, sold off the family’s interest in Southern Bank Bhd, Pan Malayan Cement Bhd and Bridgestone Tyre, affording the company to concentrate on the construction and hotel industry which he understood well at the time.
However, this allowed the company to redevelop and innovate its business units, particularly in tourism industry. In between the early years of Merdeka and the present, many property developers emerged to become big names like Sunway Group (Sunway), IOI Properties Group Bhd (IOI Properties), Mah Sing Group Bhd (Mah Sing) and IJM Land Bhd – all of which also began in different sectors.
Sunway Group was initially a tin mining company and IOI Properties began Industrial Oxygen Incorporated Sdn Bhd, from which it derived its name. Mah Sing started out as a plastic manufacturer and IJM's undertaking as a property developer began as a natural progression from its experience in the construction business.
With nearly half a century of town-building experience behind Sunway Group, the conglomerate is the only developer to focus on the unique business model of “Build, Own and Operate” in Malaysia.
Sunway Group isn’t the only conglomerate to show its mettle. IOI Corp Bhd was one of the nation’s biggest companies in the 1980s and it branched out into properties in 1984 and oil palm plantations and refineries the following year.
Prior to its listing on Bursa Malaysia in 2014, the property arm of the group was contributing 33% of the group’s net earnings. OSK Holdings Bhd, which started as a small stockbroking partnership in 1963, evolved into the conglomeration with five core businesses.
Its property arm OSK Property first came into fruition in 1997 when the parent diversified its portfolio into real estate. Since then, OSK Property provided homes for more than 10,000 families and its presence spans across Peninsular Malaysia. UOA’s biggest slice of fame to date is the turning of their 60 acres of land in Kampung Kerinchi into a branded enclave, now famously known as Bangsar South.
UOA is still nurturing Bangsar South, which currently has an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM10bil.
But not all developers have their eye on the high-end market. LBS Bina Group Bhd (LBS), well regarded for its people-focused development philosophy, seeks to address the real needs and aspirations of Malaysians by providing quality, affordable homes that are conducive to community living.
Today, LBS has built and delivered more than 34,000 homes, with more to come.
Later came the new players like EcoWorld Development Group Bhd and SkyWorld Development Group who are injecting ‘new money’ into the sector. SKyWorld boomed into the property industry with its projects well taken by the market. Its first master development, SkyArena - an integrated development in Setapak, saw a 100% take up for its phase 1 project, while its subsequent projects saw equally positive responses.
Not all the development has been taking place in the Klang Valley. Just outside of KL, Matrix Concepts Holdings Bhd can be traced back to 1996 with its maiden project Taman Bahau in Negeri Sembilan, a mixed residential and commercial development.
But it was in 2008 that cemented Matrix as a major developer in Seremban, Negri Sembilan with their flagship project Bandar Sri Sendayan. Living up to its tagline of “Nurturing Environments, Enriching Lives”, Matrix Concepts has built and delivered over 9,000 residential and commercial units in Bandar Seri Sendayan to date.
In Melaka, Hatten Land, the property development arm of the Hatten Group, is among the most prominent developer in the state. It specialises in integrated residential, hotel and commercial developments.
Hatten has three integrated mixed-use development projects in Melaka – Hatten City, Harbour City as well as Satori, the city’s first wellness sanctuary but it has plans for three upcoming integrated development projects planned for the state. Finally, there are the big government-linked companies like Sime Darby Bhd, SP Setia Bhd and UEM Sunrise Bhd, all powerhouses in property development.
Over the last five years, Malaysia also saw a number of big players from overseas particularly from China such as Country Garden with their billion ringgit projects like Forest City and Country Garden Danga Bay, both in Johor, making an impact on the industry. With such prominent property players in the market, the people of this proud nation can rest assured that the property sector will undergo an evolution.