Desmond Sim takes on the mantle at Edmund Tie

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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May 28, 2021 7:00 AM SGT
DESMOND-SIM - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Sim: People may consider us an SME, and we may be small but we have a wealth of experience within Edmund Tie (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Taking the leap from CBRE head of research for Singapore and Southeast Asia to CEO of Edmund Tie real estate consulting firm was “a hard decision”, says Desmond Sim. (See: Singapore’s office market shows recovery in 1Q2021: CBRE)
He had spent nine years with CBRE, the biggest global real estate advisery firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), where he had been happy, having friends among his colleagues both locally and regionally. Before that, another 10 years was spent with JLL, the second-largest NYSE-listed international real estate firm. Sim had started in the valuation department at JLL before switching to research.
While mulling over the offer from Edmund Tie, Sim consulted his elder brother one evening over dinner. Sim says: “He asked me, ‘How old are you now?’ I replied, ‘46’. He said, ‘Do you want to hit the age of 48 and lament to me that you missed out on an opportunity like this? Such opportunities don’t come too often. Just take it.’”
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Sim will be joining Edmund Tie on June 1 as deputy CEO and will officially take over the reins from incumbent CEO Ong Choon Fah from July 1. “I like the fact that it’s a homegrown company,” says Sim. “People may consider us an SME and we may be small but we have a wealth of experience within Edmund Tie.”
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Ng: We see the long-term potential in the business and want to groom the next generation to build on the strong foundation established by the founding team (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Ownership changes

Edmund Tie has undergone numerous ownership changes over the years. The most dramatic was the management buyout (MBO) in 2016, following the firm’s split with DTZ in the aftermath of the merger with Cushman & Wakefield. After severing ties, Edmund Tie returned to its origins as a local independent real estate consulting firm.
The eponymous Edmund Tie had co-founded the firm, then called Edmund Tie & Co, along with 13 of his former colleagues from JLL (formerly known as Jones Lang Wootton) back in 1995. Edmund Tie & Co was rebranded DTZ in 1999 and the name remained unchanged until 2016 when it reverted to its original name.
Ong Choon Fah was one of the original 13 co-founders of Edmund Tie & Co. Following the MBO, Tie continued as chairman of the firm. Ong became CEO in 2016, even while she continued to head the research and consulting business.
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In 2019, the firm rebranded and contracted the name to Edmund Tie. “I’ve spent 26 years of my career with Edmund Tie and although I’ve worked very hard, I had a great time,” she says. “The plan was always to pass the business to the next generation. And it’s time for new leadership to step in.”
January 2019 marked the retirement of Tie from his position as chairman of the firm, but he remains on board as an honorary adviser. Roland Ng, managing director and group CEO of cranes and heavy equipment company Tat Hong Holdings, became the new chairman of Edmund Tie.
Ng’s family investment firm Triplestar Holdings and extended family investment arm, TH Investments, had acquired a stake in Edmund Tie during the MBO in 2016. When some of the original shareholders at Edmund Tie retired in 2018, they sold their shares to Triplestar and TH Investments, which collectively own 60% of the company today.
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ONG-CHOON-FAH - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Ong: I’ve spent 26 years of my career with Edmund Tie and although I’ve worked very hard, I had a great time. The plan was always to pass the business to the next generation. And it’s time for new leadership to step in (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Next-gen leadership

At the end of last year, Edmund Tie’s board decided that it was time to transform the company. Ong had indicated that she would be stepping down, which sparked the search for a new CEO.
That led to Sim’s appointment. “We see long-term potential in the business and want to groom the next generation to build on the strong foundation established by the founding team,” comments Ng. “Desmond [Sim] shares the same vision as us and brings in a wide range of experience that will be valuable to the company. We believe with his leadership, we will continue to grow the company, attract young talent to the business, and provide value to our clients.”
Ng’s youngest son, Christopher, joined Edmund Tie in January this year as COO. “The company celebrated its 25th anniversary last year which marks a timely milestone for us to pass the baton to the next generation,” he notes.
“Desmond brings in fresh perspectives, new ideas, and energy to the business that will help us navigate through the ever-changing business landscape,” adds Christopher. “Together with the newly appointed exco, we are confident that the team will continue to strengthen our branding and build up a sustainable business.”
Even though he will be turning 47 later this year, Sim may well rank among the youngest CEOs in the real estate consulting and agency business in Singapore today.
He believes that it’s time to recognise local talent and homegrown real estate players. “Let’s not deny the fact that the SMEs contribute to half our GDP,” he says.
For sure, the firm does not have the global reach that international property firms have. Still, the firm has a staff strength of 200 in Singapore and more than 400 across the region including Thailand and Malaysia through its long-term affiliates. “Due to the changed circumstances, we are no longer a heavyweight fighter,” concedes Sim. “But we should try to win all the bouts in our middleweight class. Occasionally, we can punch above our weight for the championship title.”
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The Golden Mile Complex, where URA has offered incentives for conservation, is targeted to launch for sale by tender in 4Q2021 (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Full spectrum

Edmund Tie has in place many relevant business units that cover a wide spectrum of real estate services — from valuation to property consultancy, investment advisory, property management and facility management, says Sim.
In 2017, Edmund Tie and OrangeTee had joined forces to create the third biggest real estate agency by salesforce — OrangeTee & Tie. Today, it has 4,297 agents and remains in third place.
Capital markets or investment sales has always been the most visible part of the real estate consulting business, as it’s deal-driven. At Edmund Tie, the investment advisory business is headed by executive director Swee Shou Fern. Since 2017, Edmund Tie brokered the sale of 23 redevelopment sites with a total value of more than $4 billion. They include the collective sale of Royalville ($477.94 million), Crystal Tower ($180.65 million), Peak Court ($118.88 million) and more recently, 2, 4, 6 Mount Emily for $18 million.
The sale of Citimac, the largest freehold industrial land sale in Singapore, which changed hands for $430.1 million, was also brokered by Edmund Tie. Sites that have been sold to be repositioned as hospitality assets include Tai Wah Building ($84.89 million), Chinatown Plaza ($260 million) and Golden Wall Centre ($276.2 million). In addition to these, Edmund Tie also brokered the sale of KH Kea Building to UOL Group for $79.3 million in November 2019.
A high-profile collective sale that Edmund Tie is involved in is Golden Mile Complex. Completed in 1973, the 16-storey mixed-use development was built on one of the earliest government land sale (GLS) sites on the newly reclaimed Beach Road, coined as the “Golden Mile”, hence its name. The 47-year-old mixed-use development was “one of the first, large-scale mixed-use developments in Singapore that integrated commercial, recreational and residential uses into a single building”. Hence, URA considered it an iconic building with rich historical and architectural merits.
In October 2020, URA announced incentives for potential developers for conserving Golden Mile Complex. “We are working with all stakeholders — subsidiary proprietors and planning authorities, actively providing feedback on the conservation incentives,” according to Ong. It is likely to be launched for sale by tender in 4Q2021.
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Nouvel 18 (pictured), along with Gramercy Park and New Futura are some of the developments where Edmund Tie is the appointed property manager and provides staff for the concierge service too (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Niche in property management

The property management business at Edmund Tie is headed by Kwok Sai Kuai, executive director and regional head. “Over the years, we have developed a niche in our property management business, competing on value rather than on price,” says Ong.
Examples of prime condos where Edmund Tie provides property management services with a full concierge team include New Futura, Gramercy Park and Nouvel 18. At South Beach Residence, the concierge staff is provided by Edmund Tie even though the property is not managed by the firm.
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Some developments where Edmund Tie has been managing since its completion include luxury development Scotts Square (completed in 2011), Marina Bay Residences (2010) and Marina Bay Suites (2014). At the luxury waterfront enclave of Sentosa Cove, Edmund Tie manages six out of the 10 condominium projects: The Berth by the Cove, The Oceanfront, The Azure, Cape Royale, Seascape and Turquoise.
The property management business, therefore, gives Edmund Tie an edge, notes Sim. “I believe real estate services shouldn’t focus solely on transactional fees but should package add-on services such as property management,” he says.
Beyond property management and the existing core businesses, Sim feels that Edmund Tie has the potential to expand into facility management as well, with a focus on clean buildings and sustainability. Another sector which the firm will be investing in is technology, says Sim.
While tightened Covid restrictions will still be in place when Sim starts at Edmund Tie on June 1, he intends to address all the staff in the company via video conferencing.
“We would like to focus on developing the existing young talent that we have,” says Sim. “We will work with HR [human resource] to create a progressive career chart, focus on talent development, learning and skills upgrade.”
Sim is also toying with the possibility of rebranding Edmund Tie “as a talent developer”, he adds.
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Cape Royale is one of the six condominiums at Sentosa Cove where Edmund Tie is the appointed property manager (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Musician, foodie

Before real estate beckoned, Sim was a musician and part of indie pop band The Lilac Saints (by combining the names of two late-80s British Indie bands, The Lilac Time and Pale Saints). Formed in 1990 after he and his friends completed their Cambridge O-level exams, The Lilac Saints had several hits, including “Gina” (1994) and Wasting Time (1997) featured in the original soundtrack of Eric Khoo’s movie, 12 Storeys. Sim was a drummer and also participated in writing lyrics for the songs.
In 2007, the band got together to record a Christmas single, Gimme Love on Xmas Day. Last year during the “circuit breaker”, they got together online to perform their original hit, “Gina”. “It was called Gina because we had a knack of naming our songs by randomly pointing on our lyric sheet ... it landed in between the word ‘imagination’,” says Sim in his LinkedIn post with a video clip of the performance.
A foodie, Sim loves the traditional hawker fare at zichar stalls and favourite local haunts include Enjoy Eating House at Kam Leng Hotel, Wimbly Lu café at Tyrwhitt Road and The Hainan Story at Hotel Boss. “Even the packaging for their takeaway is amazing,” says Sim.
And just as local F&B eateries are adapting to the latest tightened measures, so are other businesses in the rest of the economy. “No doubt, everyone is treading cautiously,” adds Sim. “But the circuit breaker has made us well-prepared for the tighter measures this time around.”
Sim believes there is still a sense of optimism over the long term, despite the current uncertainty cast by the new Covid variants. “That’s why you see the flow of capital into Singapore,” he adds.