Dato Leong Sir Ley’s stirring speech at the end of our interview was as inspiring as her demeanour. In person, the Founder and Chairman of Sheng Tai International, cuts the figure of a very capable woman with steely determination and a can-do approach to life and work. Yet at the same time, she exudes charm and charisma – a lethal combination indeed and fitting for the rare femme fatale in the property industry.
Indeed, her speech struck a chord with all those who listened – it was the pearls of wisdom gained from her years of experience, her innate common sense and savviness.
At the core of her speech was the importance of maintaining harmony at work and in business.
“Whatever disagreements we have, let’s set aside our egos and focus on the common goal to achieve the big vision. Once you have this attitude, things will proceed smoothly. Harmony is very important in a team to achieve big things ‘ Sir Ley also emphasised on being appreciative towards those who have helped us in business and life. “This will bring great rewards for us as the goodwill will boomerang back to us,” she remarks in perfect Cantonese.
The maverick developer appears to have walked her talk. The lower family law and conveyancing lawyer has done few or no other woman has done in Malaysia. She has steered her property development firm from a small setup in Ipoh, Perak, into an internationally recognised property development firm that’s forging footprint across half the globe, from Hong Kong and Japan, to Europe and the Middle East.
Her grand vision is to reenact the glory of Melaka’s heydays in the 15th century into today’s cosmopolitan community, all in the confines of Sheng Tai’s latest RM6.5 biI project. The Sail. It’s a historic moment as the nine towers which are connected by a sky ring, represent globalisation and the convergence of people from all over the world to this part of the world.
A Knight is Born
Back to Sir Ley, as a young girl, her father allowed her the freedom to do whatever that caught her fancy. She chose the legal profession and did so well that she eventually opened a few branches. As she dealt a lot with property transactions at that time, her interest was piqued. She dwelt deeper into it and discovered a passion for property development.
But instead of doing it the easy way, she chose the hardest path to enter the sector – by rescuing an abandoned project in Melaka Most, if not all. developers would steer clear of abandoned projects. But not Sir Ley 一 she and her team took on the nearly impossible task and managed to revive it in record time, earning the praise and appreciation of the buyers. That abundance of goodwill has translated into loyal customers today who later became repeat buyers.
The abandoned project became what is AMES Hotel today, one of the best 5-star hotels in Melaka. Subsequently, she revived a few more abandoned projects in Melaka, earning much goodwill along the way.
Being a white knight seems Io be in her DNA -she’s walking the talk of a leader who is willing Io sacrifice her own ego and comfort for the greater good of the community. The seed of greatness was already evident in her early years as a developer.
“My vision is to enable property investors to come and experience the lifestyle here first and fall in love with Malaysia before they make the decision to buy a property.”
When the property market started cooling down in 2012 after an unprecedented boom, Sir Ley and her partner, Collin Tan, Director of Sheng Tai, decided to venture overseas to attract foreign buyers. Their first stop was Hong Kong – they got burnt the first three times by unscrupulous partners. But they did not give up, and their resilience paid off when during their fourth attempt, they managed to forge a successful partnership with a local.
The rest is history as the partnership successfully brought thousands of Hong Kong buyers to Malaysia to view properties and get a taste of the lifestyle here. “When we first mooted the idea of property tourism to the Hong Kongers, we were told that property & tourism were two separate things. That was one of the challenges we faced in our early days – the perception. My vision was to enable property investors to come and experience the lifestyle here first and fall in love with Malaysia before they make the decision to buy a property. We worked out their itinerary where they get to experience the food, weather, sights and the people here.” [rml_read_more]
So, from mere viewing of properties, it became a full-blown immersive tour complete with food tastings of the best eateries, visits to interesting landmarks like Jonker Street, all fully backed up by VIP treatment including a stay at their five-star AMES Hotel. The tours became a hit within a short period of time as word got around about how enjoyable and worthwhile they were.
From about 200- 300 Hong Kong visitors two years ago, it has progressed to about 600 – 1,000 ‘property tourists’ coming from China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. That amounts to about 30 tours a month. Plans are afoot to promote the tours in Europe and the Middle East especially Dubai.
The ‘tourism’ element in selling property to foreigners has proven to work beautifully – it was the start of ‘property tourism’ – and since then, other developers have followed suit.
Sir Ley is glad that she could do her bit in promoting Malaysia and putting it on the global map. “Many foreign nationalities including the Chinese have not even heard of Malaysia. I hope our ‘property tourism’ business model can bring more awareness of the beauty and history of Malaysia, particularly Melaka,” the trailblazer says.
Sir Ley also expresses her hope that with The Sail, Sheng Tai’s latest and biggest project, they could recreate that history through the symbolic design of a ship. “This ship envisions a smooth-sailing journey for Melaka and Malaysia as we sail into a new era of nations coming together to create a harmonious.
“ It’s like once you take off, it’s a smooth sailing ride for Malaysia fora long time to come.”
When completed, The Sail will be even more well-known among foreigners. “We hope its international reputation will bring more tourists to Melaka and Malaysia and will raise our profile in the world stage. We are working as hard as we can towards that direction because the more effort we put in, the more tourists will come and stay. With all our property, accommodation and entertainment offerings, I have full confidence that these tourists will come and stay longer than just a day,” Sir Ley says with a smile.
The company is also joining hands with MITI, MIDA, MATRADE, MOTAC as well as embassies and consulates in promoting Malaysia to an international audience. The Minister of Tourism, Arts and culture, YB Datuk Mohammadin bin Haji Ketapi has also given his blessings.
From Nanjing to Melaka
Sir Ley elaborates that in Nanjing, China, where Admiral Cheng Ho sailed from before landing in Melaka, there is a museum where Melaka and the Straits of Melaka were mentioned. “Yet in Malaysia, this is not highlighted.”
“From our research, we discovered that many of those who sailed from China died in the sea as it was a very rough ride. We want to highlight this history in Melaka.”
She adds: “During our visit to Shanghai in September this year, the Governor of Melaka, Tun Datuk Seri Utama Mohd Khalil bin Yaakob who was also there, mentioned that some 500 years ago, China sent a few thousand young men to protect Melaka from the Thai and Burmese invading forces. It was a permanent posting so these bachelors married local girls and settled down in Melaka. That’s the origin of the Baba s and Nyonya’s of today.”
The Shanghai trip was to open a branch office there in conjunction with the latest 2020 Malaysia-China Tourism Years China Promotion Campaign. During the event, Sheng Tai signed MOUs with China Greenland International Hotels Group, Beijing Qhiwi Technology as well as Beijing Shougang International Tourism. Their aim was to promote the cultural and tourism aspects as well as cross border trade between China and Malaysia. They also celebrated the 45th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Sir Ley adds that The Sail which has a Melaka-Nanjing Square (so named to remember Admiral Cheng Ho) within the development will be a showcase or reenactment of the many different nationalities staying and doing business together in Melaka, just like the old days 500 years ago. Melaka-Nanjing Square Melaka which also represents the new Jonker Street, will see nationalities from different countries selling food and merchandise side by side. Imagine Japanese and Dutch shops （Melaka’s former colonial masters）doing business in a peaceful environment.” The Sail is to be completed within five years, so it is a very hectic time for Sir Ley and her team now. The urgency is also because The Sail has been designated as a Belt and Road project, hence “it has to be successful,” explains the visionary.
Yoga & Russians
Despite a hectic schedule, Sir Ley manages to squeeze in occasionally for yoga – a believes can prolong one’s stamina and youthfulness. It definitely has worked as the friendly businesswoman exudes a very positive energy which complements her bubbly personality.
Her tight schedule usually does not allow her much time to indulge in luxuries like exercise. For instance, just before the MOU signing in Shanghai, she and her team had to jet off to Russia on the invitation of the Russians to discuss about the possibility of housing a medical university and an aviation institute within the premises of The Sail.
More proposals are also on the table but Sir Ley prefers to keep them under wraps as they are not finalized yet. “We would like a smooth sailing journey that is imbued with passion and integrity. At the same time, we are open to opportunities,” the founder says of Sheng Tai’s mission.
At the rate things are moving, it won’t be long before Melaka becomes a world renowned destination and The Sail becomes the convergent point for many different nationalities. “By then, I would probably be sipping coconut juice from the top of The Sail’s tower with some good friends,” laughs the amiable entrepreneur extraordinaire.