Peppering our chat with funny anecdotes in a refreshingly candid and jovial manner, Lee Choon Li, General Manager, Projects, Development & Property, Singapore, shares with us valuable insight on how he conquered the numerous challenges he faced during his vibrant 20-year career at Frasers Centrepoint Singapore.
Mr. Lee Choon Li during his talk at the REDAS BIM Symposium 2016.
Through all the laughter, Mr. Lee expressed with utmost sincerity and incredible passion about the importance of seeing challenges and hardship as learning opportunities. These colourful experiences may be terrifying at times, but they allow us to learn, to grow and experience a fulfilling career.
And most importantly, they help us lead an interesting life worth living…
Tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you start?
I joined the property management department of Centrepoint Properties Limited, which was what Frasers Centrepoint Limited was known as, all those years ago. We only just obtained our first two Temporary Occupation Permits (TOP) for The Anchorage and Valley Park, which were old F&N factories back then and we converted them into residential units.
Since then, I found myself handling a new project or joining a new team every four to five years. From starting out at property management in residential properties, I was offered a role to do business development for the residential team and subsequently, I even ventured into project management.
I see all of these challenging roles as great learning opportunities. And all these new skills I picked up along the way have complemented my background in architecture. I must say that I have been very lucky and my time here has passed very quickly!
You are a familiar face to many in Frasers. How would you describe your working style?
I am by nature, very approachable. I love learning more about what my colleagues are working on. What I find sad now, is that we are losing touch with each other as our organisation gets bigger and bigger. In the past, you got to meet everyone and talk to them, because they were only a phone call away. In fact, I still chat with my ex-colleagues and even have the alumni chat group on my phone! This shows how close we all were.
We really got to learn more about everyone’s work, and share in our mutual successes. I hope we can continue to build a sharing culture – to remember to be more supportive of each other, or to just pick up the phone and ask for help.
I really believe that it is an important skill for every employee to be able to get along with all kinds of people internally and externally, and to approach discussion with an open mind, allowing for everyone’s contributions.
Yes, I can be a strict boss at work, but after work, my team knows that I put all hard feelings aside, have coffee with them, relax and just have a chat.
How do you deal with tensions at the workplace or with customers?
There will always be times when we are dealing with work stress, especially when dealing with customers. My tip to dealing with situations like this is to focus on what your objective is, what your message is. Do not be distracted by an individual’s words or behaviour towards you.
One example is a homebuyer we came across in the past. He was facing a technical issue in his unit. While we were waiting for our contractor to arrive at the site to fix the issue, the customer complained over the phone that the contractor was 1 minute late and gave me a big lashing for it.
By the time I got off the phone with him, the contractor had arrived and the issue was fixed. There are times like this where you just have to take it, erase the negativity from your mind and focus on finding the solution.
You have worked in many departments in Frasers for over 20 years. Tell us how your experience helped you overcome your challenges?
Luckily enough for me, I was actually involved in most of our company’s retail developments and asset enhancement initiatives (AEI), which includes the first one at Anchorpoint, followed by Northpoint, Changi City Point and Bedok Point. Of course, it was never me alone. I had my team around me and we heavily relied on each other during our collaborations, which gave me the chance to absorb a wealth of knowledge and experiences I could not get any way else.
One of the biggest challenges I had to face in my career was developing and selling the Good Class Bungalows (GCB). We were all stumped over how to sell and develop them! When we were revaluating our plans, we realised that we were looking at our development strategy the wrong way.
As the bungalows were all categorised under a single planning approval, we realised that it wouldn’t appeal to our customers because people who can afford units like that wouldn’t want a house that is identical to the rest in the same vicinity.
Finally after appealing to authorities, we managed to carve out eight individual planning approvals, and eventually, our big challenge became smaller and easier to deal with!
It just shows that when approaching problems, it is important to collaborate with your team and approach the issue step by step. This will help make any challenge easier to solve.
Choon Li (first from the right) enjoying a game with friends.
What do you tell your team when faced with challenges?
Stop mulling over things you cannot change. We will always have things we are unhappy about at work, and these things may never change. Instead, think positive, be flexible and focus on what you can contribute to the team and project.
It is normal to feel burdened with work, that happens to all of us. But it is important to remember to refresh ourselves, be it a short coffee break or a holiday. So that when it’s crunch time, we are ready to face our tasks again.
What I always tell our younger team members is to be patient and don’t quit so easily. Because navigating through hardship will only build us up for the future. Remember to stay positive!
What is your advice to younger colleagues at Frasers Centrepoint Singapore?
I have had a dynamic and engaging career here for two decades. This is because of the opportunities given to me by the company, as well as my willingness to embrace challenges and difficulties. If at any point of time I was not willing to go through the hardship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
How many people in my line of work can say that they have delved into residential, hotels and retail? The management groomed me for a leadership role as I readily took on the challenge, and quite frankly, the experience I obtained was worth much more than anything I could have ever imagined, outside of the organisation.
My advice – be patient, learn, grow, experience and embrace challenges. Life will be so boring without them right?