A Matter of Principle

Malaysia Tatler | April 2015 Issue


By Tien Chew

Dato’ Kenny Tan reveals to Tien Chew what it takes to stay successful for 35 years in the property development industry

There are many types of successful businessmen out there in the professional world. Some are extremely hardworking, always ensuring that great work can never be achieved without great persistence while others believe in letting honesty shine through in every aspect of their business, sticking to their guns and remaining true to their word but a few believe that humility is a key trait of a good leader. Dato’ Kenny Tan of Ken Holdings Bhd is an individual that epitomises all the aforementioned traits. The founder of Ken Holdings and also a specialist engineer by profession, Dato’ Tan is best known as a person armed with a stern demeanour. But get to know him better and you will slowly learn that he can still enjoy a joke or two just like everyone else. His personal ethos comprises all the three mentioned qualities, holding up these attributes with utmost importance and high regard.

Placing emphasis on the significance of modesty, he likes to reiterate a short story passed on from one of his role models. “My father used to tell me that life is just like a paddy field. When you observe a rice stalk with a lot of grain, it will often fall down to the ground due to its weight. Take a look at a stalk without the grain and it will soar tall,” says Dato’ Tan. The moral of the story is to remain humble, for without it we will be brought down to the ground by our own hubris. Intertwined with his self-effacing way of carrying himself, the wise leader claims that you only need two qualities in life. Honesty is one of his admired traits, as he opines that when it comes to honesty, you are always a winner. “Thirty-five years is not long nor is it short in comparison to many other organisations but it is good enough for people to understand your reputation for the past three and a half decades,” he says. “If you don’t have your reputation, whatever you pass down will make it extremely difficult for your children to flourish,” he adds shrewdly.

Dato’ Tan speaks of course from experience as he has proudly passed on the mantle of the group’s managing director to his son, Sam, who himself is a man who resembles his father in many ways. Although currently assuming the position as the group’s executive chairman, Dato’ Tan still has that fire and tenacity in his heart after 35 years with Ken Holdings. This brings us to his third treasured attribute: diligence. Hard work and being meticulous in every aspect of his profession are the characteristics that undeniably shine through in his personality, so much so that those who often work with him are used to his hands-on approach. This level of assiduousness can only be achieved when one shows a great amount of passion for his work, something that Dato’ Tan has no qualms about divulging.

“When people like art, you can tell that their character is different”

Business aside, those who know him well will not hesitate to admit that he is an art lover too. He finds himself attracted to Chinese brush paintings as well as the performing arts. “When people like art, you can tell that their character is different,” he says. He admits to amassing a collection of artworks since his younger days that which he proudly displays at home and plans to showcase them in his new headquarters.

According to Dato’ Tan, it is a shame that the British colonists did not leave behind any performing arts infrastructures during their occupancy. With such a passion for the arts, he actively contributes and supports the local art scene. “We have a lot of talented artists and art lovers but lack the platform for them to emerge and display their works,” he says. Support for the arts alone isn’t enough for him and as a result of the lack of infrastructure, Dato’ Tan will be constructing a well-equipped theatre that can be used for performances, art auctions and more plus an art gallery in the company’s upcoming new head office in Taman Tun Dr Ismail. “A lot of people don’t realise it but art is important to society,” says this art lover.

“We have a lot of talented artists and art lovers but lack the platform for them to emerge and display their works”

When it comes to making big decisions, the ever capable leader makes it a point to always sit down with his team in order to listen to what they have to say. He is a firm believer in appreciating and allowing others to voice out their opinions and sometimes he even speaks to his colleagues on a more private basis. Risk management to him is very important and he includes his team in the decision-making process before making a move. Simply put, he values approachability in the workplace.

Thanks to his strong and transparent leadership style, he will leave behind a secure and prosperous legacy. “The company is very stable as I have planted a foundation that is so strong that the next generation can come in and develop without much hassle,” says Dato’ Tan. A man of foresight, he always ensures he has two five-year plans in the pipeline in order to give the company a steady flow of income and sustainability. “Once you have laid a strong foundation, you can leave it to the next generation to build anything with only the sky as the limit,” he adds.

With Dato’ Kenny Tan’s vast knowledge of the industry and forward planning qualities, he has already equipped his successor with all the tools, skills and knowledge that he needed to cement his own legacy.