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6 August 2016

[StarBiz] Hii – businessman part two

By Thean Lee Cheng

Hii: ‘I am no Eco World or some other big property player, just an emerging one.’

Hii: ‘I am no Eco World or some other big property player, just an emerging one.’

Entrepreneur ventures into property in challenging times

AT a time when property developers are trying hard to increase sales in a weak property market, entrepreneur Tan Sri Clement Hii is getting ready for his next big move – in property development.

In an interview on the sixth floor of SEGi University, Kota Damansara in Petaling Jaya – he is also founder and group managing director of SEG International Bhd – Hii says he took over Golsta Synergy Bhd in 2014 and changed its name to HCK Capital Group Bhd in June 2014 for a reason.

“We changed the core business of Golsta from manufacturing to property (development) in November 2015 and have disposed of it (manufacturing portion),” he says, speaking in his capacity as executive chairman of HCK Capital Group, an investment holding company with businesses such as property development and trading services.

Hii says although this may not be the best of times, “in good times, every developer can sell.” He is prepared for the challenge.

He has to date accumulated about 300 acres, of which 230 acres are near Kuching, where he comes from. The rest are in Perak, the Klang Valley and Johor. He started accumulating land about four years ago before taking over Golsta.

“I am no Eco World (Development Group Bhd) or some other big property player. Just an emerging one,” he says.

All the property development projects will be parked under the listed vehicle.

Education flavoured: A Melbourne-based education outfit will have an offshore campus in Setia Alam, Shah Alam. It will be developed by Global Activate Sdn Bhd, part of Hii’s private vehicle under the HCK Group of Companies.
Education flavoured: A Melbourne-based education outfit will have an offshore campus in Setia Alam, Shah Alam. It will be developed by Global Activate Sdn Bhd, part of Hii’s private vehicle under the HCK Group of Companies.

Hii’s empire essentially is HCK Group, while the public-listed company (PLC) is HCK Capital Group. Although under HCK Group, he has his personal assets – some of the land was bought privately – all development projects will be parked under the PLC in due time.

Hii is planning to launch RM8bil worth of property projects within the next three years, starting as early as October this year. This gross development value figure excludes projects and joint-venture developments which are nearing completion.

He has already received development orders for some of the RM8bil worth of projects he is planning to launch.

All, or the bulk of these projects, will have some education element to it. And it is at this point that some misconceptions about the man need to be cleared up.

Although in various press reports, Hii has often been described as a journalist-turned-businessman, his ties with the media was in the form of a stint as chief editor at Sarawak’s Borneo Post when he was 20, and two years at Star Publications (M) Bhd (now Star Media Group Bhd) as its executive deputy chairman decades later.

So, the description of journalist-turned-businessman does not quite jive. Because he is the founder of SEGi and wears the face of education, that does not make him an educationist nor an academician, despite being conferred strings of honorary degrees.

He is just a shrewd and good businessman.

Moving up one level as Clement Hii, Businessman Part Two, he smells money by linking property with education and he is taking up that challenge.

“Business and education can thrive,” he quips.

Because he is also group MD of SEGi University and Colleges and now that he is creating his own education-property branding under the HCK Capital Group, there will be some conflict of interest, but being the shrewd businessman that he is, he should be able to work something out.

School campus: This is how the Peninsula School offshore campus will look like on completion.
School campus: This is how the Peninsula School offshore campus will look like on completion.

The H brand

The emerging property developer will be launching his brand come October. Known as the “H Educity” series – a high proportion of that RM8bil will be linked to education.

“As the group MD for SEGi and having our own campus and built accommodation, we have a fair bit of experience,” he says.

Why “H”?

“H is part of the HCK brand name,” he says, which also stands for Hii Chii Kok, his Chinese name.

“If I am going to involve a part of my name in my products, it means I have looked beyond just selling, because it carries my name. “If you provide good products – in this case property – there will be a following. There are so many big players in the market. As a relatively new one, all I need to do is learn from their mistakes and strengths and handle the gaps in the market.

“(The next step is to) package our products according to technical, physical and holistic aspects to ensure there is demand and interests are not compromised.

“People say times are bad. In good times, every developer can sell whatever they build. So, what is the challenge? (So) now is the time to show our true worth,” he says.

Hii has set a three-year time frame to launch RM8bil worth of property because “the current weak market cannot last beyond three years.”

“I will give it two years before the cycle goes up again. If there are special circumstances which warrant a reallocation of resources or a change in timeline, we will do so. But we have set certain milestones in order to achieve certain targets. I don’t want to be unprepared when the bad times come and neither do I want to be unprepared when the good times come around when people generally pluck the low-lying fruits,” he says.

His reading of the crystal ball does not make him a prophet of the property sector but a forward-thinking businessman.

Hii says it is only wise to launch in today’s weak climate, but it has to be done in a co-ordinated manner while making adequate preparations at the same time. This includes planning, getting development orders and putting the right people in the right job so that when the cycle turns, or an opportunity arises, they are ready, he says.

“As far as I am concerned, in any business, speed counts. People says success and innovation count but along the way, people do make mistakes. So, the faster I learn and evolve, the better I would be as an entrepreneur and emerging property developer,” he says.

Hii says the “H Educity” brand will have three elements to it – residential, education in the form of a campus and commercial.

His core focus on the property sector will be dominated by this “H” brand, which offers buyers the option to either buy for their own use or be passive investors who buy to rent out to students.

As for the commercial and educational segments, they will flourish by themselves once the development is ready.

Opportunities in the gaps

The businessman says his leverage on education offers a slightly different path in his upcoming foray into the property sector.

“Malaysia has so many big property developers. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he says. But he does see opportunities in the gaps within the sector and he thinks he has the experience to fill some of those gaps, be it in Peninsular Malaysia or in Sarawak.

The 230 acres he has near Kuching is about 30 minutes from the city.

“To the people there, that is very far because in Kuching, people go home for their lunches, which may just be 10 minutes by car.”

He will give that project some thought, but the more immediate one will be branding his “H” series.

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