Joanne Kua, CEO of KSK Group and MD of KSK Land, returned to Malaysia in 2010 to manage her family’s business after building a career in risk management in Munich and London. She founded KSK Land in 2013 and the company began constructing 8 Conlay, a mixed-use property at the heart of Kuala Lumpur comprising a five-star Kempinski Hotel, a lifestyle retail quarters and two towers of branded residences called YOO8, serviced by Kempinski.
When asked about what makes KSK Land standout, Kua says, “We aspire to deliver bespoke properties that prioritise design, craftsmanship and lifestyle. For instance, with our maiden project of 8 Conlay, we wanted to create differentiation – by setting the gold standard – for an iconic branded serviced residence that redefines luxury by connecting emotionally with customers – through crafted and meaningful experiences. Essentially, we view ourselves as a lifestyle developer where we are placemakers that set the frame for people to live, play and work where we think about how people’s journeys would be and design them.”
And developing lifestyles is just where her forte lies. KSK Land have just launched the RM1 million Platter Accelerator programme to provide a spring boost to F&B SMEs and Kua says they will be announcing Project Rainbow, their next project development. They are also are looking to start a tech venture capital fund management company at KSK Group.
We delve deeper to find out what lies beneath Kua’s poised demeanour, fuelled by plenty of coffee (her favourite), it seems.
You were on Forbes’ 25 Emergent list. How does that make you feel?
I was really surprised and in awe of being in the list together with so many fantastic successful women. Being the youngest in the list, I was wondering, ‘How did I manage that?’ I am very proud and honoured to be in the list. I still feel that I have a lot to prove even though I have come a long way as Group CEO of KSK Group & MD of KSK Land. I will only be satisfied once 8 Conlay, our insurance businesses and tech ventures like Carmana and Sunday have steady growth. Only then, would I have felt truly fulfilled when all our businesses at KSK have truly grown into their own giants.
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In times of uncertainty, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. That’s why, in light of the ongoing Movement Control Order, the team at 8 Conlay and its developer KSK Land is working diligently from home to remain available to you via phone, e-mail and direct message, should you have any questions or concerns during this time. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime. #8Conlay #KSKLand #SocialDistancing
You’ve mentioned that you never thought of yourself as a businesswoman. How do you view yourself?
As a CEO, I think of myself as a professional CEO operating a family owned business in Asia. My ultimate objective is the legacy I am helping to chart for KSK and, to build sustainable businesses. My job is to ensure that we leave a legacy and craft frameworks for our businesses to evolve over time in the future. This means we have to think about not just creating value and profits but how our businesses would also affect people and communities we engage with, in whatever we do.
Biggest achievement you can think of?
Success as a CEO is about building a legacy, creating a business and a brand that will stand for many generations to come. This is done by being nimble and evolving as the world and people evolve, especially in a hyper growth and hyper changing environment. I feel a sense of winning whenever I see our KSK tribe (KSK team members) come together as one. Diverse individuals coming together full of passion, drive and grit to take on new challenges all the time for us to constantly be pushing boundaries in the work we do. When they grow and succeed, I succeed and that gives me a sense of fulfillment. That’s really my biggest achievement because I believe in any business we do, it is always about the team coming together and not based on one individual alone.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome that?
With the course of the company changing dramatically, my journey has never been uninteresting. After plans to diversify and dispose of Kurnia came to light, I was out on the front with the team for the biggest insurance sale in Malaysia. That took up a good part of my first two years. There wasn’t time to think if this was hard or not, everything was so overwhelming with the business. Then came a soul searching experience when we had the rare opportunity of creating a brand new identity for our Group post-Kurnia. A year later, we started KSK Land and bought the land for 8 Conlay, which has since spiralled into this huge project. Post that, we took inspiration from the insurance business and ventured into tech ventures which gave birth to Carmana and Sunday. Nothing I have done in the last ten years has been business as usual ever since I joined KSK Group. Personally, it’s not been difficult; professionally, it’s been super interesting. It’s a trajectory. There are ups and downs. My biggest challenge right now is to continue to think how to evolve the businesses as consumer preferences are changing so quickly. To overcome my ups and downs, it’s really about taking every up and down as a learning and positively. It’s really about the self awareness that I have inculcated in myself over the years and the shared learnings. It’s important to note a failure, recognise it and learn from it. Also important to note the successes and do more of that. It’s really about our state of mind.
Tell us more about the Platter Accelerator Programme.
The concept of a communal culinary space is not new nor has it been replicated easily either. Platter, which will be located as part of the retail lifestyle quarters of 8 Conlay (the maiden project development by KSK Land) is inspired by the concept of communal dining which extends beyond just sitting down together for meals, but forming communications between people and food that transcends emotions and builds bonds. It goes back to the symbolism of “platter” which is a sharing plate, encompassing that idea of bringing people to one place, and to communicate through food and moments. The Platter Accelerator Project provides an opportunity for F&B SMEs in Malaysia particularly to be a part of 8 Conlay’s Platter when it opens in the second half of 2021. The programme is designed to provide a spring boost to carefully selected restaurateurs with an aim to create a diverse and unified culinary ecosystem that would also set the stage for aspiring food artists. This is a bid to nurture shared experience and exemplify cross-industry collaborations between young business owners in the field of F&B. This is also Malaysia’s first ever F&B accelerator programme.
What is a day in your life like?
A typical work day would include early morning meditation before I start the day to clear my mind, then a coffee for breakfast to kickstart the work mode; sometimes breakfast with our chairman where we align on vision, our businesses, strategy and our people and what we want to do, followed by a quick check on my emails for the morning. Meetings in the office typically start at 8.30-9am and go on for the rest of the day till 6pm when I wind down with emails and then be home in time for dinner with friends or family. I could be in a discussion about management, numbers at one moment and talking about designing spaces or tech and data next. It’s fun, I love the diversity in what my mind could be focusing in just one day. I believe in finding balance in setting time aside for personal time versus work, but that comes with a lot of discipline in time management. Managing my calendar strictly helps me craft time out for myself. Weekends are reserved for catch up with family, friends and also to catch up with fitness classes or gym sessions. I travel a lot for work too if not for COVID-19.
How has the pandemic affected your work and life?
I usually travel a lot for work because we operate regionally. The pandemic has halted all that and I am starting to discover when it is truly necessary to travel for work. Also, learning how to balance the divide between work and non-work and optimising my time is helping me more. The pandemic has also reminded me to appreciate simple and small things in life. Sometimes, when we are always buzzing about, we tend to forget the simple things that make us happy. We don’t need a lot to be happy and maintaining relationships with people are integral to our emotional state.
Are you a morning or a night person?
A morning person for sure.
Best way to relax?
A combination of Netflix, catching up with family & friends and meditation.
Favourite travel destination?
It’s extremely hard to pick out one because I love travelling, especially for food, arts & to explore local cultures. If I have to pick, Peru and Japan holds a special place in my heart.
Best and worst investment you’ve made?
The best investment I made was in my education. It helped build a foundation and allowed me a foot in the door to start exploring my career in places like Munich Re & Deutsche Bank in Europe before heading home to contribute in Asia. My worst investment is maybe just leaving my hard earned salary in Fixed Deposits as I was not optimising my monies there!
Do you read? What is your preferred mode of reading?
I do read quite a bit. I read mostly books and magazines for leisure and also the internet for info and news.
If you could build anything in the world with no budget/time/resources constraints, what would you build?
I want to build a whole smart city collaborating with governments and big tech players to bring together a full synchronized platform aggregating experience in the city using data for a seamless experience. Imagine huge spaces dedicated for interesting parks and a huge community space where people of all walks of life can come together or even spaces like art museums where we can bring together all local artists works for people to admire. All this in a city where it’s safe and sustainable into the future, taking on principles such as circular thinking, where these spaces will evolve and last many generations. This is really a fun project where it’s all just about true placemaking.
Your most overused phrase or word?
Coffee! (Work hazard).
Your pet peeve?
Lack of attention to detail or sloppiness.
Best gift you have ever received?
Personalised birthday ice cream flavour gifted to me called ‘Morning Jo’ that has my favourite ingredients I like and crave most times – coffee and granola, concocted by my siblings and ice cream shared with everyone at KSK.
What would you spend the most money on?
Recently anything health and wellness, tech included.
What would you spend the least money on?
Any kind of soft drinks.
If you could have 3 dinner guests, dead or alive, who would that be?
Walt Disney, Eva Chen and Obama