LPS Shanghai 2023 will be held on December 8-10, 2023, in Shanghai. We’re glad today to present you with an exclusive interview with the CEO of Malaysia-based real estate developer KSK Group, Ms Joanne Kua, recently named by Forbes as Malaysia’s top emerging businesswoman.
Joanne Kua is the CEO of KSK Group, one of Malaysia’s largest corporations with a presence in property development, general insurance and technology ventures.
KSK Land, a subsidiary of KSK Group, is the developer behind ‘8 Conlay’, one of Kuala Lumpur’s largest and most ambitious real estate developments.
LPS: As the CEO of KSK Group, Forbes recently listed you among the 25 emerging star businesswomen in Asia, and the only one in this list coming from Malaysia. When you joined KSK Group in 2010, did you foresee that you would reach such heights?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: When I joined KSK Group in 2010, I knew I would play an important role in the family business. From then on, I took the main responsibility to ensure that KSK Group and all the businesses (under the group) would have to be sustainable to ensure continuity into future generations at the same time honouring my father’s legacy and building my own as well.
It has been an unexpected ‘journey’ which landed me the role of a group CEO and receiving top honours from Forbes Asia’s Emergent 25 List, which I am deeply humbled by.
I personally enjoy the journey of pushing boundaries in our businesses like KSK Land and allowing our business to be future forward. Not many get the rare opportunity and platform to run a business and continue the family legacy. I get to have a platform to effect change to the business, community and the people that I work with.
LPS: How would you describe your leadership style, and the way you are managing your team?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: My leadership style is transformational, working with my ‘tribe’ or team to identify change and opportunities, creating a vision for them to look forward to and hopefully along the way, inspire them to change with the times and constantly allowing themselves to learn and grow personally.
At KSK, our motto is ‘what can you do for yourself?’ before asking them what they can do for the company. The ability to be nimble in a company and to constantly innovate starts with each individual’s growth. Their growth is the company’s growth. People are our biggest assets. I believe in being humble & having grit.
The feeling of victory is when our KSK tribe comes together as one, all from diverse backgrounds, full of grit, drive and passion to take on new challenges and constantly push boundaries in the work we do. When they grow and succeed, it gives me a sense of fulfilment.
LPS: KSK Group is a giant in the insurance industry. How did you decide, in 2013, that the Group would venture into property development with the creation of KSK Land?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: The very foundation of any great success starts with the relationships you build with people. That’s why in 29 years, we were able to make Kurnia a household insurance brand for Malaysia.
This new chapter with KSK Land, was inspired by the idea of nurturing a new way of living life abundantly, starting with Kuala Lumpur. A city/destination with endless opportunities and a melting pot of cultures. We didn’t just want to create fancy boxes for people to live in, but a place with a soul.
We realised we had the power to be stagemakers – creating spaces for people to live, work and play in. Bringing together different groups of like-minded communities, allowing people to create their own stories in these spaces and building relationships and trust along the way.
Selling a lifestyle is something we understood during the Kurnia days, as part of our DNA, selling that trust and comfort as well as protecting dreams. 8 Conlay, as our debut development, is an example of this.
LPS: 8 Conlay, a mixed-used development consisting of three towers atop a four-storey experiential retail space and located in the very heart of Kuala Lumpur, is the flagship development of KSK Land. In your opinion, what are the most exciting features of this development?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: From the start, we wanted 8 Conlay to be a landmark of design, innovation and collaboration in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. When completed, 8 Conlay will own the world’s tallest twisted twin residential towers.
Freedom in creativity sets the foundation for the design of 8 Conlay. The Chinese character of the figure eight inspired the curved profile of the YOO8 residential towers. Visually, the curves of 8 Conlay make its towers look like they lean towards each other, evoking a sense of stability and strength.
Ms. Kelly Hoppen
YOO8 serviced by Kempinski features two power brands – international award-winning design studio YOO and Europe’s oldest and most established hotel group, Kempinski.
The property’s two residential towers feature interior concepts exclusively designed by Steve Leung & YOO and Kelly Hoppen for YOO, as well as landscape architecture by TROP Studio. The branded residences will provide luxury in-house services by the adjoining five-star Kempinski Hotel. While the retail lifestyle quarters will complete the bespoke lifestyle experience.
LPS: Can you tell us more about the cooperation between 8 Conlay and famous Hong Kong architect Steve Leung?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: Exclusive design concepts mark the identities of the two branded residences — Hong Kong-based Steve Leung brings his Asian aesthetic to Tower A while British celebrity designer Kelly Hoppen’s creative handprint can be seen in Tower B.
For example, as Leung’s style is evocative of a modern urban space as well as a tranquil retreat, YOO8 Tower A exudes a sense of calm, bringing together the best of modern design and refined city living. With interiors designed to reflect Leung’s two exclusive concepts, Wood and Water. The two elements also exude calm and contribute a feeling of wellbeing to the environment. The ideology is evidenced in azure accents and lavish marbled surfaces, embodying the relaxing effect and elegance of flowing water.
YOO8 Tower A’s 564 serviced residences range from 700 square feet to 1,308 square feet across 61 floors, setting a retail benchmark of RM3,283 per square feet.
LPS: How important is the China market to KSK Land?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: 75% of our buyers are foreign, while 25% are Malaysians. Out of the 75%, Hong Kong China and mainland China tier 1 cities buyers make up 50%.
In recent years, China property investors have shifted their interests in property investment to Malaysia, especially into Kuala Lumpur. As Kuala Lumpur remains an attractive investment destination with a rapidly growing and diversified economy and a robust GDP growth.
Kuala Lumpur was one of the top two best cities in Southeast Asia according to Mercer’s 2018 Quality of Living Rankings. In recent years, Kuala Lumpur’s capital appreciation is strong with an average of 5.1% year on year.
According to media reports, Chinese investments in Malaysia’s residential real estate are expected to double by 2025. Residential properties make up the majority of property acquisition from the Hong Kong China and China markets, and one-fifth comprising industrial, commercial and retail properties.
LPS: Many Chinese luxury property investors are very interested in investing in Kuala Lumpur for the first time, but some are still hesitant because they feel they lack knowledge and experience on this market. Which advice would you give them?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: Firstly, in terms of branded service residences, Kuala Lumpur has one of the most “affordable” price per square feet, in comparison with Bangkok, Hong Kong China and mainland China.
For example, the 8 Conlay development is priced at USD792 per square feet. While, in Beijing, the Armani Casa is priced at USD1,571 per square feet, in Bangkok, the price per square feet is USD 2,061 for 98 Wireless, and in Hong Kong at USD 4,376 per square feet for the YOO Residence. Kuala Lumpur offers high quality residential products at lower entry costs compared to some of the other South East Asian countries.
Foreigners can buy freehold properties in Malaysia and have the same rights as the locals. Kuala Lumpur also has recorded a capital appreciation on average of 5.1%.
The cultural diversity of Kuala Lumpur makes it easier for mainland Chinese to adapt culturally in terms of language as English, Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken widely with no language barriers. In terms of education, Kuala Lumpur offers a plethora of top international schools with world-class educational talent and facilities. Kuala Lumpur’s upcoming high speed rail project that connects to Singapore in just 90 minutes.
8 Conlay is an example of what will be an iconic development in Malaysia when completed, and buyers can be rest assured of its value appreciation with its residences serviced by Kempinski.
LPS: How would you describe the current supply of new luxury real estate developments in Kuala Lumpur? Is it currently under or over supplied?
Ms. JOANNE KUA: The upper-income population and high-net-worth individuals around the world have increased and are becoming savvier when it comes to their choice in branded service residences. True branded residences such as 8 Conlay are a rare gem in Kuala Lumpur which differentiates itself from non-branded luxury residences.
According to a Knight Frank Malaysia report, it revealed a growth in foreign investors’ interest, mostly from mainland China, Hong Kong China, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan China, Australia, USA, UK, and some European countries.
According to reports by Savills, KL recorded a premium of 69% against non-branded luxury residences in 2017, while Shanghai recorded a premium of 55% (in 2012) for branded residences and globally, the average premium for branded residences over non-branded residences are 31%.
The report also indicated that the largest premiums are usually achieved in emerging markets where the luxury brand adds an appeal to the newly wealthy. Premiums are also higher in these markets because the standard is usually much greater than existing non-branded stock.
Ms. JOANNE KUA
CEO OF KSK GROUP
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF KSK LAND
Having catalysed her career within the risk management departments of the Munich Reinsurance Company in Munich and Deutsche Bank in London, Joanne Kua returned to Malaysia in 2010 in order to join her family’s business in Malaysia.
In the following year, she was instrumental in leading the RM1.6 billion sale of Kurnia Insurance Malaysia to AmBank/IAG. In 2012, she took the helm as Group CEO and spearheaded the rebranding of Kurnia Asia to KSK Group; and in 2013, she led the privatisation of KSK Group.
Later that year, she founded KSK Land, the company’s trailblazing property development subsidiary currently constructing a mixed-use property at the heart of Kuala Lumpur called 8 Conlay, which comprises a five-star Kempinski Hotel, a lifestyle retail quarters and two towers of branded residences called YOO8 serviced by Kempinski.
In 2016, Joanne co-launched Carmana, the first and largest consumer-to-consumer online marketplace for buyers and sellers of used cars in Thailand. In 2018, Joanne was selected as one of Forbes Asia’s inaugural Emergent 25 list of women making a recent mark in regional enterprises.
She holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in Economics from University College of London, U.K. and M.Sc in Management and Regulation of Risk from London School of Economics, U.K.