IT is often said construction and property development are male-dominated industries due to the harsh working conditions and challenging nature of the businesses.
Apart from being physically taxing, they also involve coordinating with various stakeholders such as architects, consultants, local authorities and clients while keeping to a strict budget and project timeline.
However, sisters Jamie Lai, 34, and Adelynn Lai, 32, are part of the succession plan to take over the helm of Ehsan Bina Group, a more than three-decade-old construction and property development outfit that had completed the Taylor’s Lakeside Campus in Subang Jaya, Premium Outlet in Batu Gajah and the M Resort Hotel & Spa in Kuala Lumpur, among others.
Ehsan Bina was founded by their father Lai Choon Kong, who started his career journey as a foreman for a construction company in Singapore in 1979.
Despite having graduated from Universiti Malaya with a degree, Lai’s entrepreneurial passion led him to forego an academician’s path.
Ten years later, he founded his own company and got his first breakthrough building a factory for a Taiwanese company during the influx of foreign direct investments into Malaysia in the late 1980s.
From then on, Lai never looked back and spent a lifetime embarking on all types of construction projects nationwide.
As Lai had painstakingly built up his success from scratch, he also insisted that his daughters look for employment and gain experience in other companies — just like any other fresh graduates — before they ascended to their present positions.
Jamie is group chief financial officer at Ehsan Bina while Adelynn is the executive director of Marketing.
“Our father made it clear to us that we had to accumulate work experience elsewhere before we could join the family business. He believed that without professional knowledge and experience, we could not contribute to the growth of the company despite our qualifications,” said Jamie.
She had studied at the London School of Economics & Political Science in the United Kingdom for three years before returning to Malaysia where she worked with Deloitte’s corporate finance department while pursuing chartership under the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
She became a chartered member of ICAEW in 2014 and joined Ehsan Bina the following year.
As for Adelynn, she obtained her Master’s of Architecture after spending five years at the University of Melbourne. She then worked for eight years in a local architecture firm and successfully obtained her registered architect licence in 2019.
She joined Ehsan Bina in March last year.
“We have been able to see eye-to-eye about most things, especially when it comes to product design or marketing content.
“We do not have a big team but most members of the management team have been with the company for a long time. We respect our seniors but, at the same time, must be firm in order for our voices to be heard,” said Jamie.
She thanked her father and his team for having built a strong foundation and paved the path for her and her sister to build up their career.
“My father treats everyone in the company like his own family members. He knows there will always be a learning curve and that everyone deserves a second chance.
“To preserve the harmony and trust among colleagues, no one is given special treatment and that includes us,” said Adelynn.
As Ehsan Bina approaches 34 years old, both sisters have been tasked to work hand-in-hand to launch its largest in-house condominium project.
ForestHill Residences, located on a 1.77ha site, has a gross development value of RM450 million and is the final phase of the 8ha Foresthill Damansara residential development.
It comprises 618 residential units in two tower blocks.
“Unlike commercial title projects with high density per hectarage, our project is a residential title development that focuses on the quality of living. Foresthill Residences is like an urban oasis that provides a retreat from the bustling city life.
“It is also one of the most affordably priced projects in the area and, hence, is ideal for young executives who are planning to start a family,” said Adelynn.
ForestHill Residences embraces sustainability from its conceptualisation, where the developer rehabilitated the land and its surrounding while preserving the natural habitats.
Extending the philosophy of nature’s preservation with modern technology, Adelynn said the green design features included electric vehicle charging pods, rainwater harvesting tank and the lake that doubles as an Onsite Stormwater Detention tank.
The writer was a journalist with the New Straits Times before joining a Fortune Global 500 real estate company. This article is a collaboration between the New Straits Times and Tradeview, the author of ‘Once Upon A Time In Bursa’