Some women wear power suits to show they mean business. But Shann Sok, group CEO of Kingsland Development, doesn’t care for those conventions. An adventurous dresser, she professes a love for statement jewellery made of coloured gems and has no qualms experimenting with fashion.
“It is the substance that counts, not the clothes,” says Sok, who rocks up to our meeting at Kingsland Data Centre in a feminine lace Three Floor cocktail number and Ferragamo heels, topped with bold yellow sapphire earrings and an emerald ring. “I dress for myself, not others. It is about setting the mood for myself, as long as what I’m wearing is respectful. Plus, being youthful and fashionable add life and colour to a meeting full of suits,” she says.
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Just 37 years old, the mother of three aged one to eight is already an experienced hand in her family’s real estate development business. Armed with an accountancy degree from Nanyang Technological University, she joined the company at 23, and her father, Sok Hang Chaw, threw her into the deep end in the business development department of the firm’s plastics manufacturing arm. She describes his decision as “hen”, which means savage in Mandarin, but says: “It was a good start. I was introverted and this experience boosted my confidence. I learnt to understand what really matters to the other party in order to close the deal. This is a critical quality for an entrepreneur.”
She was transferred to the real estate arm of the business three years later. “Real estate is in my blood. Since I was young, my dad would bring me on site visits,” she says. The young firebrand brought a fresh boldness to the business, often challenging the elder Sok’s more conservative and traditional style by convincing him to diversify from industrial projects to other sectors such as commercial, hospitality and data centres, and expanding the business to new regions including China, Malaysia, and Cambodia.
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Instead of tackling every aspect of complex construction projects on her own, she is unafraid to play to her strengths, which are investing in people and keeping an eye on the aesthetics of the developments.
A recent jewel in the company’s crown is Kingsland Data Centre. It cost more than $100 million to develop and is the company’s first foray into high-tech developments. Inspiration struck one day while she was drinking wine with her father.
“I wanted to do something that was more ‘high value-added’ so technology related real estate was a good option. There was a real demand for data-centre space then, so I thought, why not,” says Sok. “I saw this as something that would continue to grow. Today, we never delete our videos or photographs and we shop for all kinds of things online; we store everything in the cloud – the clouds are here in the data centre,” she says. The Kingsland development, 208,000 sq ft across five storeys, opened in 2015 and was 99 per cent acquired by Keppel DC Reit this June for $295 million.
Next, Sok is focusing her attention on Global Tech Exchange, a US$250 million (S$344 million) mixed development in Phnom Penh which comprises a hotel, retail and office space and an IT media hub and data centre.
To de-stress from the pressures of the job, she turns to her female friends for conversation, a night out at hot spots like Burnt Ends, or a girls’ trip abroad. She says: “I’m lucky to have a sisterhood who supports me when I am down. At the end of the day, we’re still girls at heart.”
01 I LIKE TO SHOP at Siam Paragon in Bangkok, where the Thai designers can to alter clothes you buy to fit.
02 I BEGAN MEDITATING when I was 19. I attended a course on heart meditation, felt bliss and have continued with it since.
03 MY ROLE MODELS are Claire Chiang and Doreen Tan. It is not easy for a woman to be successful in all areas of her life and they are. They have substance, a successful family and contribute to society.