Property scion runs his own race

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HE IS only 31 but property firm boss Kishin R.K. has racked up an enviable track record since he chanced his arm in the fiercely competitive game eight years ago.

Mr Kishin, the son of billionaire Raj Kumar, 60, has built his development and hospitality group RB Capital into a major player with assets of about $2 billion.

The founder and chief executive of RB Capital also recently announced plans to integrate property held by Mr Kumar's firm, Royal Holdings, with his own in the next 11/2 to two years. Together, they will hold about $4.5 billion worth of assets, with plans to expand to $10 billion by 2020.

Despite a family fortune estimated by Forbes to be US$2.3 billion (S$3 billion), Mr Kishin started relatively small with a 5,000 sq ft apartment in Meyer Road that his parents had given him.

He told The Straits Times in an interview on the sidelines of the Forbes Global CEO Conference last month that his firm has been his own from the get-go.

"In terms of advice, yes, my father was invested in RB Capital. But my parents said I could start out on my own. They gave me an apartment and I sold it."

That seed capital was ploughed into his first investment - a freehold retail podium of 6,000 sq ft on the ground floor of Malacca Centre that he bought in 2006.

He then acquired the Menara Genesis building in Kuala Lumpur from a portfolio of distressed assets. It has since been repositioned with HSBC as its anchor tenant.

With the confidence of a steady cash flow from a "credit- worthy" tenant, Mr Kishin went on to snap up Satnam House and Amaraj House here for about a total of $40 million the next year.

The site has been redeveloped into the EFG Bank Building, with his office on the penthouse floor of the nine-storey building.

Mr Kishin's foray into commercial property was driven by the need to "find a niche in a competitive market".

When he started RB Capital in 2006, plans to build the integrated resorts and casinos in Singapore were already afoot, attracting capital from funds, private equity firms and real estate investment trusts shopping for developed properties.

"There was a lot of competition for ready-made assets... I focused on ground-up commercial developments because the big property developers had a lot of focus on the booming residential segment at that point," he said.

The firm has also ventured into hospitality and medical. It opened the 442-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel in March and is redeveloping the Gallery Hotel in Robertson Quay into the 227-room InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay, with a 63,000 sq ft retail area on the first three floors.

This will link with the Quayside retail strip spanning 30,000 sq ft by the Singapore River.

Farrer Square, which will comprise the 300-room Park Hotel Farrer Park and 42 units of medical suites above the Farrer Park MRT station in Little India, will open by the end of 2016.

Although real estate is a "very mature business", learning at the feet of his family from a young age meant that joining the sector was a natural progression for Mr Kishin. He knew from the start that it would be vital to focus on a market he was familiar with.

"It's not very easy to get a young man attracted to bricks and mortar. Being real estate, it's a very local sector. So if you look at most of the assets that we have, it's focused on Singapore.

"I've been here all my life, born into a real estate family, so for me it was just diving into familiar territory where I saw the opportunity, and where I played it safe."

In fact, Mr Kishin prides himself on being "pretty conservative" - a strategy the firm has stuck firmly to, taking on one to two projects each time in a year.

"Once we're towards the tail end of the construction and the project has stabilised, we go on to acquire the next one," he added.

The firm is "very cautious" about expanding overseas, but Mr Kishin believes the firm will have to spread its risk evenly.

For now, he is planning for the new merged entity and exploring how RB Capital's capabilities in development can unlock the value of assets held by Royal Holdings.

The new firm could take on a different name, but one thing is for sure: Mr Kumar will not be retiring any time soon.

"He's been running for a long time, but I don't see him slowing down," said Mr Kishin. "I look forward to the pairing of young blood and grey hair."

Energy, of course, is a perk of being young, but he has never felt that has put him at a disadvantage when it comes to dealmaking with older stalwarts in the market.

"In Singapore, it's focused on relationships, all of us know each other. I don't see them as competitors, I see them as inspiration.

"I think the biggest opportunity is to learn from the areas the older players have succeeded in, taking a bit from each," said Mr Kishin.

"I've been blessed because they've always looked at me as their son, as someone they're willing to share advice with. Even if I were to clinch a tender, most of my competitors would give me a call and congratulate me. I think I'm blessed because they'll give me the best advice they can."

He has also not heard comments that his success has been possible only because of his background. "If there's anything, they tell me, 'You're a young man, go and live your youth!'"

Even if there are doubters, Mr Kishin has this to say: "I don't compete with anyone, I don't have a goal to be bigger than someone. I'm running my own race, and when you do that, you don't offend anyone.

"Just put your blinkers on, focus on what you know best - that's how I've been doing things."

Source: Straits Times, 24 Nov 2014