SDB’s new brand philosophy
Joseph Wong 
The SqWhere is expected to be completed in 2019

In an industry dominated by big township developers, Selangor Dredging Bhd (SDB) is perfectly comfortable to remain a niche player focusing on higher-end properties.

However, to ensure that it is not submerged in a sea of small and mid-sized developers, SDB has formulated a seven-point “brand manifesto” aimed at bringing it to the next level.

The document is divided into seven guiding principles – investing in the company’s own products and the community, and focusing on quality, customers, staff, environmental sustainability and peace of mind.

The biggest challenge facing the 55-year-old mining company turned property developer, helmed by managing director Teh Lip Kim, is to ensure the group does not just talk the talk but walk the talk as well.

In essence, the manifesto is a list of values, beliefs and standards that are to be reflected in all its on-going and future projects, explains Teh.

What its buyers, investors and associates know about SDB is that it takes a different approach to projects, giving each its own identity, rather than creating an image that is easily recognisable as the company’s brand.

“Our strategy is different [from others]. Our designs are always changing to inject new ideas and technology, so our projects are not easily recognisable as SDB’s.

“You can’t tell by looking at it that it’s SDB’s. Nor do we want people to recognise our projects by their looks. [We are not like] some developers which have recognisable projects due to their signature finishes,” she tells FocusM.

What SDB can promise is its commitment to quality, its responsibilities as an accountable developer and its pledge on the importance of living well and living responsibly, among others, Teh says.

“And that is what people will recognise in our projects. We have our own DNA,” she says. “Some people say talk is easy, which is why the evidence we provide here is to prove that we walk the talk.”


Lessons from parents

Part of SDB’s philosophy comes from Teh’s parents whom she was very close to. The company was founded in the early 1960s by Teh’s father, the late Teh Kien Toh.

“Both frequently imparted advice to me. From my father, I learned that credibility and reputation are central to running a business – it’s not about making a quick buck.

I learned from my father that credibility and reputation are central to running a business, says Teh

“My mother always advised me to uphold my values in whatever I do, be it in conducting myself at work or in my personal life. I would say these are the key things that I hold to, to this day,” she says.

Teh says it is one of the reasons why the brand manifesto came about, and not just when the company was reflecting on what it had done and how it was different from other property development companies.

“We realised that we had done a lot though the years and we should let people know of our principles, processes and achievements.

“We then came up with this seven-point brand manifesto to explain to people who we are and what we stand for as a company.”

The points are supported by proof or evidence to support the statements. “And the supporting evidence will expand as we go along and develop more properties and grow as a company,” she says.


Different look and feel

That is why SDB has a different look and feel to each of its projects, says an analyst.

“While the property developer concentrates on the high-end and high-rise market, each of its projects has a distinct feel like Ameera and Five Stones, both in SS2 (Petaling Jaya), and next to each other.

“At first glance, you would not realise they are by the same developer. Then along comes The Hub, which is part of SDB’s 4.5ha (11-acre) development in SS2. What is interesting is that all three products cater to different markets as well,” she says.

Teh says this is part and parcel of the process prior to any development.

“After Ameera, when we were designing Five Stones, we decided to look into family-living with all family members in mind and this is reflected in the designs. For example, we have two types of gyms – one for the active youngsters and a healing gym for the older generation.”

One dominant feature that stands out in all of SDB’s projects is the rectangular shape. “It gives more room for the owners but the cost (of such designs) is higher,” she says.

Hijauan on Cavenagh is among SDB’s completed projects in Singapore

Unaffected by the freeze

Not surprisingly, SDB’s projects are for the higher-end market. But will it be hit by the government’s recent move to freeze the approval for service apartments and luxury high-rise apartments priced over RM1 mil?

“No,” assures Teh, pointing out that its latest high-end project Una in Cheras has been approved and the other two projects are in Singapore.

On a more optimistic note, property consultancy Jones Lang Wootton executive director Prem Kumar says the freeze on luxury apartments could work out positively for existing and on-going high-end projects.

“If you limit the supply of luxury apartments and the demand continues to increase, the value of such properties is likely to increase,” he says.

However, Prem also warns that such a freeze imposed on a certain segment of the market would also affect land valuations.

“This has not been addressed as yet. There will be a cascading effect because when that segment at the top starts to have some sort of impact from the freeze, it will trickle down to land in other segments below.

“When fair market valuation comes into the picture, and land values have to be reduced due to the freeze, there is an overnight impact on land values,” he says.

However, SDB remains unperturbed. Its latest project, Una, a 46-storey mixed development comprising retail lots on the ground floor and 316 serviced apartments, has already been given approval.

Una, located in Jalan Peel in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, has an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM300 mil and slated to be completed in 2021.

The apartments, which range in size from 800 to 1,300 sq ft, will be complemented with facilities like a swimming pool, gym, rooftop sky deck overlooking the city skyline on level 46, as well as co-working spaces.

“It is located directly opposite Velocity Mall, and just 300m to the Maluri MRT station, and 500m to the Maluri LRT station, making it very accessible,” Teh says.

SDB’s two other new projects are located in Singapore and therefore unaffected by the freeze. “For both developments, the collective GDV is RM1 bil. We are still at the design stage for both, so no firm details yet on the design,” says Teh.

For the 1177 Serangoon Road project, SDB is expecting to roll out 117 condominium units. Located right next to the Kallang River, the project will occupy a parcel of land measuring 31,735 sq ft. The other project at Draycott Park will have 64 units.

“We also have two on-going projects [in Malaysia] expected to be completed soon, The Hub in 2018 and the Sqwhere in 2019,” Teh says.

The RM320 mil The Hub in SS2 comprises a 44-storey tower of suites, with sizes ranging from 500 to 1,300 sq ft, and 13 blocks of 2.5-storey shop offices.

SqWhere, located in Sungai Buloh, is a RM550 mil mixed development on a 2ha plot. It comprises a 31-storey small-office-versatile-office (SoVo) tower, a 27-storey serviced apartment tower and retail offices.

The Hub in SS2, Petaling Jaya. Each of SDB’s projects has a different feel

Fly in the ointment

However, SDB has had its share of hiccups in its rise as a reputable developer. Case in point was its controversial Damansara 21 project, comprising 21 bungalows priced at RM10 mil each, in Damansara Heights, about a decade ago.

Located on a hillslope, the project drew protests from residents in the vicinity and work on the project was stopped by Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL). Later, the government imposed a freeze on hillslope developments.

SDB subsequently disposed of the 16 plots of land there to a little-known company, Bukit Selesa Development Sdn Bhd, for RM71 mil.

Nevertheless, SDB has learned from its past mistakes as well as its moments of excellence.

Teh shares one such memorable occasion. “One of the main ones was when we won the FIABCI Prix d’Excellence award for Park Seven in 2010.

“It was very special for us as this was recognition on an international playing field and only six years after we embarked on the business.

“I would say that was one of the most unforgettable moments as it reinforced that we were on the right track.”

Banking on small parcels of land

UNLIKE many property developers which are taking the opportunity to bulk up their land bank, Selangor Dredging Bhd (SDB) will not be following suit.

Instead, it will focus on its cash flow and balance sheet to ensure it remains profitable by keeping a tight rein on expenditure, says managing director Teh Lip Kim.

The tight hold over its finances has worked well for SDB as the company has been seeing positive net profit over the last five years despite the property slowdown.

For FY17, it posted a net profit of RM57.3 mil compared to RM43 mil in FY16, RM67 mil (FY15), RM62.2 mil (FY14) and RM48 mil (FY13).

Revenue for the corresponding periods are RM220.5 mil (FY17), RM216.6 mil (FY16), RM400.5 mil (FY15), RM377.3 mil (FY14) and RM278.8 mil (FY13).

“Our projects involve smaller parcels of land so there is no urgent need to build up our land bank,” Teh says.

As its developments are niche high-end projects, the company looks at the feasibility of the land above all else, she says.

“Our land banks are smaller in size, and we build niche developments on these parcels. The benefit is that our developments can be crafted to fit the land and the area they are in, so each development has its own specific feel. As our parcels are smaller in size, we will not be building townships,” she says.

SDB has about 23ha of land in the country, with most of the parcels in the Klang Valley. There is one parcel in Penang and two in Singapore.

Nevertheless, Teh says SDB is always looking for the opportunity to purchase land, albeit smaller plots, for future developments, both locally and in Singapore. 


From dredging to building homes

Selangor Dredging Bhd (SDB) completed its first property project, Wisma Selangor Dredging, in 1985. And it was not until 1997 that it ventured into its second property project, Park Plaza Hotel, now known as Hotel Maya.

However, it was only after 2004 that the company became fully focused on property activities – hotel, property management and leasing, and its main business activity of property development.

SDB’s history dates back to 1962. Founded by the late Teh Kien Toh, Selangor Dredging Ltd was incorporated in 1964 and changed its name to Selangor Dredging Bhd upon listing on the Main Board of the then Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (now Bursa Malaysia) the same year.

For over two decades, the company’s sole business was tin mining, according to Kien Toh’s daughter and managing director Teh Lip Kim.

“It was the first Malaysian company to construct and operate a dredge,” she tells FocusM. It operated two dredges in Dengkil, Selangor and the second dredge, constructed in 1971, was the largest and most advanced dredge in the world.

In the early 1980s, SDB began to put in motion a plan for diversification when the tin mining industry began to slow down. This led to the company’s involvement in various activities, including hardware manufacturing and making of tyre rims.

But it was not until Teh took over the helm from her father in 1998 that it ventured into high-quality and niche property development that turned the company around. Since then, it has completed 10 properties with two on-going projects in Malaysia as well as five in Singapore.

Three new projects, one in Malaysia and two in Singapore, are expected to be launched soon.


This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 261.