FROM THE GROUND UP
"Integrity, trust and creating value are the pillars of success"
Shann Sok was 24 years old when she joined her father’s business, Kingsland Development, commencing her entrepreneurial journey after a few years spent at an accountancy firm. The decision to join the family business came following a health scare involving her father. “I wanted to come back and assist him with the business as well as learn what he’s doing. He’s in very good health now,” says Sok, whose background is in accountancy and business.
Since joining the company in 2004, Sok, now 36, has helped grow the family business in various areas. From the construction company that it was at its founding, Kingsland is now a leading integrated real estate player across different asset classes, ranging from data centres and commercial properties to industrial park developments. In 2015, it also completed a six-storey Tier 3 plus data centre which builds, owns and provides data services for numerous sectors and enterprises such as technology companies, banks and e-commerce entities.
Joining the business entailed a steep learning curve. “It was difficult initially and because this is a male-dominated industry, people were sceptical of me because I was a young girl with no relevant experience or technical knowledge in engineering, construction or real estate,” recalls Sok, who is a certified public accountant. It took her two years to overcome the hurdles, during which she put herself through an intensive learning and training process. “I brushed up on what I was weak in and got people in to help me, so I could focus on my strengths and on other areas like business development, consultancy and sales, I also created new deals and opportunities,” she adds, citing the new data centre as an example of her business diversification. “My years in university gave me a strong foundation but the beauty of business entrepreneurship is in learning something new every day. Even today, I learn about things I never knew before, especially in emerging markets. The cup must be empty. For things that we don’t know or are unfamiliar with, we stay hungry.”
In that short time, Sok proved her mettle and gained the recognition of her peers, clients and most importantly, her father. Today, she oversees the strategy and vision of the company, making sure that the business is right on track for growth. New opportunities in different markets and countries are also on her radar, as well as the need to scout for strategic business partners and collaborations.
Commenting on the upcoming plans for the business, Sok says the strategic direction now is to continue their growth in Asia within the next five years. “We currently have two projects in Phnom Penh — Hotel Lumiere which is opening in March 2017, and a block of serviced apartments called One 18 Residences.”
Kingsland’s data centre is a move by the company to diversify across asset classes and yet focus on the core of the business, which is real estate. “We want to have something that can offer high value-add,” she explains. “It’s a different product in a different industry altogether and yet very aligned to our vision.”
Sok runs a tight ship with about 60 employees. She aims to keep the team lean, saying that the number of employees is not necessarily indicative of a company’s operational scale in their industry, and keeping lean with a flat hierarchy allows for greater efficiency.
The growth and continued success of the company is due to its core values of integrity, trust, and creating real value for everybody, says Sok. “This allows us to be sustainable in the long run. You can have the best business model in the world but if you don’t have the correct values, you wouldn’t enjoy success for a very long time,” she offers. “In this sense, we are still quite a traditional Chinese business, and this is an extension of my father’s value system grounded in Confucian ethics.” Similarly, the company hires and retains staff based not only on KPIs but also on a person’s traits, loyalty and integrity. Sok’s team includes staff members who have been with the company for more than a decade. “For these invaluable team members, we offer our appreciation by giving shares or stock options,” she says.
While the company has its presence in Malaysia, Cambodia, China and Australia in different asset classes, the focus within the next two to three years would be on commercial developments, especially in emerging markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, where there is potential for growth.
In countries where Kingsland has a footprint, the company endeavours to give back to society. Last year, the company organised a blood donation drive in Cambodia in partnership with local authorities, and in Singapore, the company has several welfare programmes for underprivileged children as part of its CSR initiatives. This year, Sok and nine other founding members of LadiesFirst aim to organise programmes in collaboration with Arc Children’s Centre, a day-care centre for children diagnosed with cancer, as well as other initiatives aimed at empowering and helping fellow women.
Sok herself dedicates a portion of her time to spiritual growth, which she says is crucial in being a well-balanced and fulfilled person. “I meditate regularly, and I go for classes and retreats at Oneness University in India. Life is a constant learning curve, filled with new challenges every day. I just want to be the best version of myself at any one time and to play all my different roles well, to the best of my ability. With life experiences come inner strength, courage, correct beliefs and mindsets to fully engage in life and all that it offers. Spiritual cultivation gives me the inner peace, divine grace and sense of surrendering, knowing that I have done my best, without being too attached to the outcome, and hence going with the flow of life with acceptance, and knowing that life is all about experiencing everything, good or bad.”
Reflecting on the past 12 years of working alongside her father, Sok says there have been some missed opportunities but there is nothing that she truly regrets. As an entrepreneur, she is guided by the belief that true success lies in creating real value for those who invest in you, from stakeholders to customers. “Once you have a cycle that first benefits those around you, the universe will naturally guide and see you through.”