Rebranding to keep up with the times
Ang Hui Hsien 
The refurbished MS@Work features the new logo in a bolder font
Since venturing into property development in 1994, Mah Sing Group Bhd has become a respected name in the industry. Over the past 23 years, it has amassed a vast portfolio of projects across the commercial, industrial and residential sectors.

However, the group realises it cannot rest on its laurels as past successes will count for nothing if it is unable to adapt to change – be it the business environment, demographics, consumer demand, new competitors, regulations or policies.

That probably explains why group managing director Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum initiated a major rebranding exercise as well as a renewed focus on affordable projects and increasing its land bank in Greater Kuala Lumpur.

“What we want to achieve is to provide high-quality homes in well-connected locations at the most affordable prices,” says Leong

It culminated in the unveiling of a new logo by Leong at Mah Sing’s annual dinner in February, its first brand change in years. This is the group’s third logo since its inception in 1965 as a plastics trading company.

The new logo retains Mah Sing’s signature red but features the company name in a bolder and rounder font, conveying a younger and more approachable feel.

So far, it seems to have had a positive effect on the group. For the first six months (H1) of this year, Mah Sing raked in about RM819.3 mil in property sales.

Despite challenging market conditions, it reported RM727.1 mil revenue for Q2 ended June 30, marginally better than Q1’s RM723.5 mil. For H1, it posted a net profit of RM180.8 mil on revenue of RM1.45 bil, a slight dip from the previous corresponding period’s earnings of RM183.85 mil and revenue of RM1.48 bil.

Leong explains Mah Sing’s new look is merely a visual representation of a company-wide rebranding initiative that has been ongoing for the past three years.

“After 20-odd years of running the business, we felt there is a lot of room to improve as we realised the market constantly changes, and buyers’ behaviours are also different today than in the past,” he tells .

While the developer has been commended for its daring move in replacing a logo that has become so ingrained with its image, it is probably too early to tell if its rebranding exercise will help bring the group to the next level.

Leong reveals the change came across as unexpected to many people as the group has always been viewed as conservative. “Many people remember the old logo [with] the company’s initials but that was done many years ago and doesn’t fully reflect that we are quite modern.”

Attracting young talents

In line with its new tagline “Reinvent Spaces. Enhance Life”, Mah Sing has also been revamping its headquarters along Jalan Sungai Besi in Kuala Lumpur.

Leong describes the move as an effort to enhance the lives of the group’s stakeholders, starting with employees. Dubbed MS@Work, the refurbished building will feature themed meeting rooms, open concept workspaces, colourful breakout areas as well as a gym and karaoke room upon completion by year-end.

“Today, it’s about creating a conducive environment for young talents to join because they are very different from the Baby Boomers,” he says.

Talent search, he adds, is on par with finance, land banking and branding when it comes to property development.

To tap the potential of the young, Mah Sing launched a 18-month Management Association Programme in September last year where trainees gain exposure in the group’s sales and branding, projects and corporate divisions. Existing employees are also given opportunities to upgrade their skills via workshops and training programmes held at the MS Academy.

Opened in June, the academy is located opposite MS@Work in its commercial centre Southgate. It has also hosted talks and casual sharing sessions by successful figures from various industries.

Leong believes continuous improvement of workers’ skillsets is necessary to keep up with changing market needs and trends.

“The market is getting pretty challenging, so we have to reengineer and re-strategise what we are doing. Things cannot remain the same as the way they were before.”

Mah Sing’s human resource department has also been renamed “people department” to reflect its renewed focus on its employees. “It’s people we are dealing with. It’s people who make a company,” Leong quips.

Tapping affordability

Moving forward, the developer reveals a heavier focus on affordable projects, which Leong says makes sense because of current market needs. “We are a market-driven developer and understand homebuyers are looking for affordably-priced homes.”

Asked to define affordability, he highlights the significant influence location has on house prices. “The price per sq ft of a home in the city centre will be higher than one outside the city.

“What we want to achieve is to provide high-quality homes in well-connected locations at the most affordable prices.”

Mah Sing, Leong adds, also strives to differentiate itself in the affordable housing segment with practical layouts, design concepts and facilities as well as quality delivery.

The group is no stranger to this market, recording a year-on-year increase in the sales of residential properties priced at RM700,000 and below. In 2015, 44% of its sales came from homes in this price range, rising to 50% the following year.

This year, the group has set a sales target of RM1.8 bil – 40% from houses sold from RM500,000 to RM700,000, and 33% from residences priced below RM500,000.

In March, the developer unveiled 660 affordable apartments at its Lakeville Residences development on Jalan Kuching. Sold at RM300,000 per unit, the Federal Territories’ Affordable Homes Programme project is the largest of its kind to be launched to date.

This is not the developer’s first involvement in a public housing programme as it has also developed 488 Rumah Selangorku apartments in M Residence 2, Rawang, and 264 Rumah Mampu Milik Johor townhouses in Meridin East, Iskandar Malaysia, Johor respectively.

Last July, Mah Sing also unveiled 84 and 90 units of two-storey link homes known as Fern and Dandelion respectively in Meridin East. Priced from RM400,000, both developments enjoyed a combined take-up rate of 50% at their launch.

Also unveiled in the same month was Covil @ Meridin Bayvue in Johor Bahru, comprising 294 serviced apartments priced from RM450,000.

Upcoming launches

Leong says the group is confident of achieving this year’s RM1.8 bil sales target, driven by projects priced below RM700,000.

“Our upcoming launches which comprise affordable high-rise and landed quality homes priced below RM500,000 will be key for us to reach this target.”

The bulk of these will be in Greater KL, starting with the September launch of 965 serviced apartments in Mah Sing’s integrated township Southville City in Bangi at indicative prices starting from RM399,000.

Benny Chew, an analyst with KAF-Seagroatt & Campbell Securities, sees the developer’s strategy to launch products in the RM500,000 range as a timely move.

“A house below RM500,000 is an undersupplied market and also a segment which has the highest demographic-driven demand. Mah Sing’s projects are nicely located within mature neighbourhoods.”

Chew also notes the developer’s RM819 mil sales in H1 and its confidence of at least RM1.8 bil sales for the year, implying a surge in new launches in H2 coming from newly-acquired development projects in Cheras and Sentul.

Also scheduled for a preview in the coming months are M Centura in Sentul and M Vertica in Cheras. Both are residential suites, the former starting from RM326,000 and the latter indicatively priced from RM450,000.

Located in mature neighbourhoods, they are also within the vicinity of public transportation – which Leong points out is a major differentiating factor for today’s purchasers.

“Developments must be appealing not only in terms of outlook, but also convenience. Today, it’s not as simple as just selling a house, but we are happy to go beyond. That’s why we use ‘Reinvent Spaces. Enhance Life’ as our tagline,” he says.

With this in mind, he reveals that D’sara Sentral – the group’s transit-oriented development in Sungai Buloh – was timed to be in conjunction with the completion of the Kampung Selamat Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station.

“We just finished constructing a covered walkway connecting the development directly to the station. The station is now only four minutes away from D’sara Sentral’s retail shops.”

The project has 197 serviced apartments called OLO Residence priced from RM600,000. They are scheduled for launching in the coming months.

Preparations are also underway to unveil M Aruna, a 38.8ha township in Rawang. It will consist of 565 units of two-storey link homes priced from RM550,000.

M Vista at Southbay in Penang is scheduled for an October launch

Up north, Mah Sing has two launches planned for October, one with 237 serviced apartments called M Vista. The units, tentatively priced from RM330,000, are one of the components within the group’s Southbay development.

The second launch will be an industrial park in Bukit Mertajam which will emulate the group’s award-winning i-Parc concept and will feature a mix of shop offices and light industrial factories.

Leong says the project comes at the right time due to better demand for warehouses with the popularity of e-commerce. “People will buy them for logistics reasons and to store products, so it is quite timely to launch this project.”

Hankering for more

Mah Sing has a land bank of about 886ha, of which 67% is located in Greater KL. While this will sustain the group for the next eight to 10 years, Leong reveals the company is still looking to increase its land bank in Greater KL to 75% over the next two to three years.

This year alone, the developer had acquired four parcels of lands, three to be developed into M Vertica, M Centura and an industrial park in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

A fourth plot is 1.4ha in Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur on which an affordable transit-oriented development is planned. Located 250m away from the upcoming Hospital KL MRT station, the lakeside condominiums will be indicatively priced from RM485,000.

RHB Research Institute analyst Loong Kok Wen feels that Mah Sing’s plans to increase its land bank is timely as the property market is still not strong, and land prices are more decent than three to four years ago.

“The reason to concentrate more in the Klang Valley is because this area is more resilient, as the population size is larger, and many economic activities take place here. The Iskandar area and Penang island are still weak.”

Leong hints that Mah Sing is identifying several new launches, but declines to say more, but reveals it will be a mix of affordable and mid-high developments.

“We must stay hungry in terms of land acquisitions, stay focused in our execution and be healthy in terms of balance sheet. We must ensure the momentum to acquire more land is there,” he says.

In no hurry to venture abroad

Unlike many other big developers, Mah Sing Group Bhd has yet to establish a presence outside Malaysia despite being in property development for 23 years.

Although it has been consistently showing strong interest in spreading its wings overseas, group managing director Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum says the company is “not in a rush”.

“We are always open to opportunities to expand to locations like Australia, London and Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia. But we are not in a hurry as we have enough land bank to keep us busy.”

Mah Sing’s land bank of about 886ha holds a combined gross development value and unbilled sales of RM30 bil.

“We have completed 13 of 48 projects and the remaining 35 projects will sustain us for the next 10 years, but we will still buy land,” says Leong. 

Thus, the group is comfortable sticking to the local market which it is familiar with.

Although Mah Sing is not actively pursuing any overseas projects, a company executive does not dismiss the possibility of the developer venturing overseas as the local market is limited by the population size. 

Grooming the next generation 

As Mah Sing Group Bhd group managing director Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum turns 60 this year, he reveals succession plans are in place.

“While I started the company with an entrepreneurial spirit, it is now very professionally managed. My team members have established their own succession planning for their respective departments,” 
he says.

One of the focuses in the group’s rebranding initiative – which started in 2014 – is attracting new talents.

“With more young blood in the company and the ongoing transformation programme, we are grooming potential young talents via various training and guidance programmes to mould them into future leaders of the company,” says Leong.

These young talents include his three children. His son Lionel and daughter Jane are directors of Mah Sing’s group strategy and operations. His younger daughter Rachel is senior 
general manager in the same department.

“I believe it is important for them to learn and understand every process of the company to take on their roles in leading Mah Sing to greater success in future,” he says. 

Leong, however, did not disclose who will take his place when he finally calls it a day. 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 248.