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DIALOGUE: CITY BY THE SEA, Interview with Liang Thow Ming, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd
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City by the Sea

Invigorating the ancient maritime silk route

Interview with Liang Thow Ming, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

By Malaka Yattigala

BT 201703 DIALOGUE 14 maxresdefault

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd is a subsidiary of the Global Fortune 500 Company China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC). Listed in both the Shanghai and Hong Kong Stock Exchange, it is a leader in Port Design and Construction, Road and Bridge Design and Construction, Dredging, Container Crane and Heavy Machinery Manufacturer in the world with a presence in 135 countries and regions. Having designed 5 of the 10 world's largest Container Terminals and Cross-Sea bridges, CCCC ranked 3rd as ENR Top International Contractor in 2016. Its latest ventures are in the heart of the Indian Ocean adding a facelift to the vibrant city of Colombo and showcasing the diversity of Chinese State Owned Enterprise (SOE) investments overseas. Business Tianjin spoke with Liang Thow Ming, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd about the ongoing project.

BT 201703 DIALOGUE 10 DSC 0489aCan you tell us how you came to take up your current position?

I come from Singapore and have more than 20 years of experience in marketing real estate developments. My current appointment at CHEC is an outcome of a top management decision to resonate the message with an international perspective. They hired a head hunter to look for suitable expertise either from Singapore or Hong Kong. To cut the story short the head hunter found me and I'm here.

What are your thoughts about CHEC investing in the real estate sector in Colombo?

CHEC has been in Sri Lanka since 1998, engaging in the infrastructure sector as a contractor and also an engineering company building the Hambantota Port, Mattala International Airport, Southern Expressway, Colombo South Container Terminal and several other commercial projects. With the expertise in construction and engineering, it is natural to diversify the business strategy to become a developer. The Port City investment is currently the largest FDI in the country which signals confidence, familiarity and comfort in doing business here. We have the appetite to invest and be part of the rapid growth in countries that we have confidence in and feel comfortable with as long as they see good opportunity.

Given the recent history on the project and inclusion of an International Financial City, what is the latest development?

We are in the final stages of conceptualising a 360degree identity for the project and the International Financial Centre. As for the project itself, we are finalizing the image and branding that includes various catalytic project components that would drive and spur development on the business side. There has been a lot of synergy with the government to ensure that we are in line with the country's overall economic policies. Towards the end of the year we will be able to finalise everything and present to the public.

The need for a regional hub in the Indian Ocean has been long due. Is there a real vacuum between Dubai and Singapore?

If you look at the South Asian region, I think this is probably the fastest growing region in the world right now. With China taking a little bit of a breather at the moment, India particularly has been experiencing high growth. It means a lot of wealth creation and accumulation in the region. And if you look at the bulk of wealthy people, they move their money to Dubai or Singapore and a good portion to Mauritius.

In a neighbourhood where people are required to travel a considerable distance out of the region to fulfil their commercial and financial interests, there is the need for the void to be filled. If Colombo can adulate itself to the same status and level as Dubai or Singapore where businessmen would feel much more confident in placing their money, it will be the "go to" place. If we can assist to create this eco system then there is no reason to go elsewhere but very well come to Colombo. It is natural for people to want to move to somewhere nearer and familiar.

BT 201703 DIALOGUE 11 IMG 5549aHow do you intend to compete with the "Western Region Megapolis Planning Project (WRMP)"?

We don't intend to compete. It is a different segment of the market that we look at. According to analysts we would probably go beyond what Cinnamon Life is doing or what Shangri-La is doing. The concept of WRMP is very different and an ambitious plan that would take time to generate enough interest and call within its means. It is much easier for us to do so purely on the basis of difference in size and we would probably be the one to give the earliest visible results. So we are not actually competing but complementing each other.

In fact, Colombo Port City will spark the concept into reality the minute we bring in some capital, some expertise and developments which will have a trickling down effect. The fact that the project is being recognised within a CBD concept includes various other projects that are taking shape. Therefore in terms of aesthetics, in terms of appearance and in terms of various qualitative components we would look much 'sexier' than the rest.

How do you see Colombo and Sri Lanka fitting into the 'One Belt-One Road' initiative?

The maritime silk route cuts across Europe, Africa, South Asia and Asia with each particular point having its own importance. The consideration is to create economic hubs or trading points to generate wealth and economic development. The purpose of 'One Belt-One Road' concept is to link key maritime points to generate and stimulate global trade. And Sri Lanka is blessed with a unique geographical location. Considered a pre-eminent maritime hub of the Indo-Asia- Pacific region, any ship that commutes between should traverse across.

Why should an investor or a tenant invest in CHEC Port City Colombo?

For an investor the question is not about why they should invest but why they should enter the market. If the investor is not interested, the Port City will not even come into the scene. So the question here is does Sri Lanka have the potential? And if yes, then its policies, governance and the attitude will be under the microscope for the Port City to be considered. Firms who are in the financial industry decide that Sri Lanka is the right place to set up and can consider the Port City. So whoever is investing must be a fit between what they are looking at and what we are doing. And of course those who think that they can provide services to these entities, which can be quite varied from an F&B outlet, entertainment outlet to an educational institution are welcome into the Port City.

What is interesting and challenging about working in Colombo?

If you look at the region itself, it has huge potential. Over the past couple of decades it has lagged behind certain parts of Asia in terms of development. But it's picking up and therefore has a lot more mileage to go with, a lot of energy and youthfulness. And what's exciting in Sri Lanka is that there is certain willingness among the people and the government they have elected into power to want to unlock this potential. If you talk about challenges, fact is that there is some catching up to do. Legal structure and financial markets will stimulate the economy and businesses. There is space for improvement and the process of trying to get these improvements take time and effort but it is moving in the right direction.

How do you spend time off work while in Colombo?

Work is hectic and every month I'm away. But when I have time, there is plenty of good food in Colombo and nice restaurants which I visit quite a lot. When there's an extended holiday I tend to get out of Colombo. There are so many different places to visit; Negombo, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kantale, Kandy of course, Nuwara Eliya, Matara, and 'Kataragama'. And you don't go there without visiting the temple and doing what the locals do, including smashing coconuts and of course you have to make a wish.

From Han dynasty missions to Chinese Monk Fa-Hien's travels and Zheng He's expeditions, the Ancient Maritime Silk Road heritage reflects the pursuit of peaceful cooperation in trade and cultural exchange. Civilizations need to engage in trade, share prosperity and learning. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will revive and connect three continents with trade and culture through a 'String of Pearls'.


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