With a fresh round of cooling measures having dealt a fresh blow to a company still reeling from a S$1.9 billion (now $1.4 billion) loss last year, City Developments Ltd (CDL) has turned to the family for some help.
The Singapore-listed builder announced late Tuesday that it has named Kwek Eik Sheng, nephew of chairman Kwek Leng Beng, as its new group chief operating officer (GCOO), a newly created position in which he will work side by side with his cousin, chief executive Sherman Kwek.
“The board is of the view that the said appointment is appropriate and beneficial for the CDL Group in that the GCOO will help drive the group’s overall performance, including providing leadership to the operational and administrative functions while ensuring an efficient reporting structure and effective internal controls system,” the company said.
The latest appointment follows a string of board changes in CDL over the past year after several directors decided to leave the company over concerns about its ill-fated investment in Chinese developer Sincere Property Group, including former director Jenny Lim Yin Nee, who left in May, and Kwek Eik Sheng’s uncle, Kwek Leng Peck, who resigned in protest in October 2020.
The elder son of the late Singaporean property billionaire Kwek Leng Joo and the nephew of CDL executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng, Kwek Eik Sheng was promoted after working at the company since 2009, serving as the group chief strategy officer overseeing investment analysis and coming up with business strategies for seven years, among his other senior roles.
Now 40, the younger Kwek has been in the family business for 15 years, spending the past 12 years holding executive positions and handling business development for overseas projects at CDL, while acting as a non-executive director at the group’s hotel arm, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels Ltd, at the same time.
This was on top of his three-year stint at Hong Leong Group, a trading company founded by his grandfather Kwek Hong Png in 1963, which paved the way for the Kwek family’s business empire that now extends to property development, hospitality, trade and financial services.
Eik Sheng went straight to working in the real estate, hotel and finance empire controlled by his clan — considered to be among Asia’s richest families, according to Forbes — upon getting a master’s degree from University of Cambridge in the UK in 2006 and obtaining an engineering degree from the University of London in 2005. He will assume his new post on 1 January.
Board Changes Continue
Kwek Eik Sheng’s appointment came at the same time that CDL redesignated one of its board members, Philip Yeo Liat Kok, as a non-independent non-executive director from his previous role as an independent non-executive director, and also introduced a new independent non-executive director.
The property giant said the board asked Yeo to stay on “to maintain a balance” between experienced and new independent directors, following an earlier announcement of his plan to leave the board by year’s end.
The redesignation still means that the 75-year-old industry veteran will no longer be the chairman of the company’s nominating committee and will also leave the board’s sustainability committee. Yeo will be replaced by non-executive directors who have been with the board for just over a year: Ong Lian Jin Colin, director at financial advisory firm Great Eastern Financial Advisers, will take over as the chairman of the nominating committee, while Chong Yoon Chou, the founder of consultancy firm Leanne Capital, will be assigned as a member of the board sustainability committee.
CDL also welcomed a lawyer from Singapore-based Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow law firm, Wong Ai Ai, 58, as the newest member of the board, bringing with her a broad experience in the legal profession, global management and other leadership roles. Wong, who graduated from Harvard University Law School, is also a director at the Singapore Tourism Board, as well as at PSA International Pte Ltd, a logistics company based in the city-state.
“The board believes that Mrs Wong’s broad experience, especially in corporate legal aspects, would provide further diversity to the core competencies and skill set of the board,” it said.
CDL saw four out of nine of its directors quit in the past 14 months after reporting a S$1.9 billion loss in 2020, mainly due to its unprofitable $1.36 billion investment in real estate firm Sincere, which is now facing bankruptcy, coupled with a loss-making hotel unit and the overall impact of the pandemic on the property sector.
Of CDL’s existing roster of eight board members (excluding Wong, who has just been appointed), Yeo, Kwek Leng Beng and his son Sherman are the only three directors left who have more than two years of experience on the board, based on the company’s website.