Golden Girl

Trad­ing in a job in in­vest­ment bank­ing to de­velop a prop­erty in one of Asia’s last fron­tier mar­kets is Daphne Teo’s best ca­reer move yet, learns suhana ab

Prestige (Singapore) - - COVER -

for daphne teo, a mem­o­rable les­son in hu­mil­ity came when she was only 10. She had lost first place in a swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion and was crushed that the vic­tor turned out to be some­one she didn’t even con­sider as a threat. “My op­po­nent was small in size, didn’t look strong and yet, she won. I broke down,” the for­mer na­tional swim­mer says with a laugh, tick­led by the rec­ol­lec­tion. Such ex­pe­ri­ences have only made the chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer at D3 Cap­i­tal, her fam­ily’s pri­vately owned in­vest­ment com­pany, stronger. “It was hum­bling. From that in­ci­dent alone, I not only learnt the mean­ing of sports­man­ship, but also hard work and per­se­ver­ance. If you fail, pick your­self up. Try again,” she says. “Never un­der­es­ti­mate oth­ers and al­ways be on your toes.” An alumna of Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, the 33-year-old ap­plies these val­ues to her daily life and is not one to shy away from hard work, whether as an ath­lete, in her for­mer role as an in­vest­ment banker with Gold­man Sachs or now at D3 Cap­i­tal.

“When I was work­ing at the bank, I would get home at 3am and, at one point, didn’t even see my par­ents for three months. By the time I wake up, they would be out of the house. But I wanted the ex­pe­ri­ence and to face the chal­lenge, so I stayed on,” she shares. Af­ter three years in bank­ing, the fi­nal straw came when Teo fell ill. In the span of two months, she was pre­scribed four cour­ses of an­tibi­otics, yet never got any bet­ter due to the ar­du­ous hours spent at her desk. Her doc­tor, a fam­ily friend, urged her to re-think her choices.

Call it serendip­i­tous but it was also dur­ing this pe­riod in 2011 that her fa­ther, busi­ness­man Teo Cheng Kwee, pre­sented her with yet an­other pro­posal to join the fam­ily firm. But this time, the op­por­tu­nity was dif­fer­ent. He had come across a 362,000-sq-ft site in Yan­gon, Myan­mar and was ex­plor­ing the idea of de­vel­op­ing it into a lux­ury project.

In­stead of de­clin­ing her fa­ther straight out in favour of carv­ing her own in­de­pen­dent ca­reer path — as she had done on pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions — the youngest in the fam­ily of three chil­dren, gave it due con­sid­er­a­tion. The fact that Myan­mar was and still is, one of the fastest-grow­ing economies in the world, piqued her in­ter­est.

Visit­ing Yan­gon with her fa­ther to get the lay of the land, she was im­me­di­ately taken in by what she saw. The site in ques­tion was strate­gi­cally lo­cated along the prime Yankin Road, just a 10-minute drive to the cen­turies old Sh­wedagon Pagoda (one of the coun­try’s most sa­cred Bud­dhist shrines) and a 5-minute drive to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. It even of­fered views of the city’s iconic Inya Lake.

“When I first vis­ited, I was ex­pect­ing a run-down city. Yan­gon is old but it is clean, you don’t find lit­ter on the streets. Beau­ti­ful her­itage and colo­nial build­ings also dot the streets. I was taken by its charm,” she says. “Be­sides, the once-in-al­ife­time op­por­tu­nity to be a part of such an ex­cit­ing project in a fron­tier mar­ket also ap­pealed to me.”

And with that, Teo joined her fa­ther to help over­see the development of their maiden Myan­mar prop­erty — Golden City, a mixed used project with a gross development value of US$700 mil­lion. Cur­rently well un­der way, the ten-build­ing development will com­prise nine 33-storey res­i­den­tial blocks with 1,439 apart­ments and a 30-storey com­mer­cial block with of­fice space and a ho­tel when fully com­pleted in 2018.

When the first four res­i­den­tial blocks launched in 2014, 250 units were snapped up within two days and its twobed­room units sold out within an hour. To date, 80 per­cent of the apart­ments have been sold. Phase two saw the launch of an­other three res­i­den­tial tow­ers in 2015, of which 60 per­cent of units have been sold. The pub­lic re­cep­tion, Teo says, has been en­cour­ag­ing.

“The older build­ings in Myan­mar are typ­i­cally eight to 12 storeys high. There are no lifts and hence the lower units are more ex­pen­sive. In the be­gin­ning, the lo­cals weren’t able to com­pre­hend why the higher floors cost more,” Teo shares. “Once, a po­ten­tial buyer from the older gen­er­a­tion even asked if he had to climb the stairs to the top floor, should he buy a unit there. It was a valid ques­tion and we had to ex­plain to them the con­cept of the development. It’s a con­stant ed­u­ca­tion ex­er­cise for us.”

With the sale of the apart­ments steadily on­go­ing, Teo is now turn­ing her at­ten­tion to­wards business development.

As part of her vi­sion to turn Golden City into a life­style des­ti­na­tion, she has be­gun to form strate­gic part­ner­ships with sev­eral firms, one of which has been mul­ti­l­abel lux­ury re­tailer Ree­bonz, which opened a con­cept shop within the Golden City showroom. In a coun­try where lux­ury goods is not yet a norm, Teo be­lieves the open­ing of the store will sa­ti­ate the Myan­mar peo­ple’s in­creas­ing de­sire for the finer things in life.

She has also struck a part­ner­ship with Col­liers In­ter­na­tional and is in talks with sev­eral par­ties, in­clud­ing a kinder­garten and F&B es­tab­lish­ments, to open shop at Golden City. Teo also con­firms they have se­cured a five-star op­er­a­tor to run their ho­tel, but de­tails re­main un­der wraps.

“Myan­mar is rapidly de­vel­op­ing. The peo­ple here want to en­joy in­ter­na­tional brands. Did you know that KFC just opened and it costs al­most twice as it does in Sin­ga­pore?” she says with dis­be­lief.

While her work has be­come her pas­sion, what she trea­sures most about leav­ing bank­ing to join the fam­ily’s in­vest­ment com­pany, is the chance to work closely with her fa­ther in strat­egy development. “With him, I know I will al­ways have a part­ner who has my back. That he will tell me the truth, no mat­ter how painful, and that his opin­ion on cer­tain mat­ters come from years of ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says.

The pair’s work­ing re­la­tion­ship may have only been for­malised in re­cent years, but their men­tor-mentee dy­namic goes way back. From as early as age five, Teo would ac­com­pany her fa­ther (then-ceo of Sap­phire Corp, a min­ing com­pany he founded) on his business trips to coun­tries such as China and In­done­sia.

Even at a young age, she some­how knew that pay­ing at­ten­tion to the cul­tural prac­tices of oth­ers, would come in use­ful some­day. When in China, for in­stance, one should never sit at a din­ing ta­ble un­til the guest-of-hon­our ar­rives, as do­ing oth­er­wise would be con­sid­ered im­po­lite. The youngest should also go around the ta­ble with a cup of tea and of­fer a toast, while bear­ing in mind that their cup should al­ways be lower than the older per­son. “You might think this is com­mon knowl­edge but it isn’t. It’s im­por­tant to know as such fac­tors might in­flu­ence the impression the other party that you wish to do business with, has of you,” she muses.

Such trips were a way for her fa­ther to spend as much time as pos­si­ble with the fam­ily, de­spite his hec­tic work sched­ule. Af­ter all, the sin­gle most im­por­tant piece of ad­vice he has al­ways shared with Teo and her two older broth­ers is: “Fam­ily al­ways comes first.” Not once dur­ing their grow­ing up years did the sib­lings even hear dad air his business-re­lated frus­tra­tions at the din­ner ta­ble. “He would never put his business be­fore his fam­ily and would say that the one thing in our lives that we have is our fam­ily. Treasure that,” she says.

Teo ap­plies this to her own mar­riage to Jeffrey Lu, an Amer­i­can-tai­wanese who is the co-founder of ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Good­man Cap­i­tal. But since Lu also serves as an ad­vi­sor to D3 Cap­i­tal, the cou­ple used to find them­selves talk­ing about work at all hours of the day, even at 2am in the morn­ing. Re­al­is­ing that it wouldn’t be healthy for any mar­riage in the long run, they have since put an end to dis­cussing work-re­lated mat­ters af­ter 9pm. The per­son who breaks the rule pays a fine of $50, which the other party gets to spend, shares Teo with a chuckle. “This has worked quite well for me as Jeff is al­ways the one who for­gets!”

Just as her own fa­ther did when she was younger, Teo makes time for fam­ily no mat­ter how busy she gets. This in­cludes hav­ing reg­u­lar meals with her hus­band and par­ents. Some week­ends, her young nieces, aged seven and six, also come over to her place to play with her two rag­doll cats: Louie and Hughie. “My furry friends are an­other way for me to de-stress. They have this sense of calm about them that is ther­a­peu­tic. Ev­ery­one needs an out­let to re­lax and they are mine.”

“With [my dad], I know I will al­ways have a part­ner who has my back. That he will tell me the truth, no mat­ter how painful, and that his opin­ion on cer­tain mat­ters come from years of ex­pe­ri­ence”


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