KEN shares the company’s move into building green hotels and townships

Focus Malaysia | June 13-19, 2015


Text By Grace Lim

Understated flamboyance


KEN Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director Sam Tan.- Photo by Mohd Azman

KEN Holdings Berhad group managing director Sam C.S. Tan may be the green developer with the Midas touch, but when it comes to naming his favourite shade, bright yellow is certainly it. “I just like the colour. It’s bright and quite stunning. Yellow has a lot of good significant meaning like opulence and the colour gold. I have a lot of yellow shirts, shoes and belts. As a golfer, it’s fine to have striking attire,” laughs the immensably likable Sam.

Although clearly on top of his property game, the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia (Rehda) Youth co-founder and deputy chairman shares that his achievements so far are just the tip of the iceberg. For 2014, the group has chartered an ambitious course that will see it expanding its range of projects from green residences to planning a mixed green township development named Ken JBCC (Johor Bahru City Centre) and another in Kota Bharu, Kelantan.

“We are also venturing into commercial and retail developments as well as hospitality with a few green hotels being planned, including one in Genting. We want to bring these segments to the next level” he said, referencing the group’s track record of building green residences and its natural progression forward. Its latest project this year is the Ken Rimba Condominium in Shah Alam.

A bird’s eye view of the planned Ken Johor Bahru City Center township.


”We’re always finding ways to improve, push boundaries, be more resource efficient and to create added value for our projects and the owners. It’s a never-ending task needing construction and engineering expertise. We’re fortunate to be able to continually improve.”

Sam says that the goal is to/do and be better than yesterday. There is so much that we do not know, or do not know enough of. Knowledge is power, he said. Nothing is neglected on the home front either, as the company works on its new office building. ”We’re trying to set new boundaries with our Ken TTDI (Taman Tun Dr Ismail) office in Kuala Lumpur, just like what we did in Ken Bangsar with our building. Our new office headquarters with its performing arts theatre and art gallery is about setting a new benchmark with a highly rated green building but which is made affordable. We work together with UTAR’s (Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s) R&D (Research and Development) team. We test out our own theories and inventions to make our developments better. We’re in the midst of patenting the temperature lowering, breathable roof which we’ve used in the terrace houses at Ken Rimba Jimbaran Residences and Ken Rimba Legian Residences.” Besides publishing scientific papers in engineering journals, the company invests in thermal sensors, weather stations and other related equipment to the tune of hundreds of thousands.

Trending on affordability

There’s the issue of affordability and first time buyers. For us, it’s about sustainability.

We’ve always believed in what we term as SEE – Social, Economic and Environmental sustainability that must be balanced together. It cannot just be environmentally sustainable but not economically feasible. You can run your business, but make it sustainable – economically, socially and environmentally. Sam draws upon everyday items – lights, cooking pots, cars and trains to illustrate pertinent points. He believes in the significance of timing, which to him, is the determining factor to the overall equation of success.

There are many ways to skin a cat, likewise, there are a thousand solutions to any problem. Everything is about timing in the sense that some solutions may only be relevant for a certain era to get people to support it. It wasn’t feasible to use LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) 10 years ago as the timing and acceptance level wasn’t there, in comparison to it being widely accepted now. The timing is now right for us to bring different green solutions to our properties.

Reinventing the property wheel

Using rhetorics to question how buildings work, Sam’s engineering background helps him arrive at creative building solutions. What is the single most important cost in the UK? Heating materials. When you use red clay bricks for houses, it actually retains heat. Clay is used when you double-boil soup as it retains heat longer. So, if our homes use clay, it’s the absolute wrong technology, he said, defending his scientific approach coupled by the use of R&D in proving the sceptics wrong. You can see my background coming forth in the things that we do. It’s not what he says, you say, she says and you do. You need qualified designers to design proper homes as building green residences requires efficiency and proper planning, he maintained.

Driving the talk

I think we have our own way of doing things – from building zero lot bungalows to the fire requirements. We ask the question: Does it give the home owners comfort? A lot of people know more about their cars – like how it can travel from zero to 100 in how many seconds – than their own home features.

My family drives hybrid cars. We’re the first company to introduce a green allowance for our staff with hybrid cars by paying off the car interest to encourage them to walk the talk, he grinned.

Sam’s sibling Yvonne is now managing the legal, corporate and tax aspects for the group since she studied law and is well versed as a tax consultant while Jasmine – the elder of the two sisters handles the finance aspects, coming from an auditing and banking background. Sam, an alumni of the University College London (ranked no. 4 in the world) where he studied civil engineering is also a graduate of the London College of Law. Expressing admiration for his father Datuk Kenny Tan who established the company, and whom he says has always been in business, Sam says it was a natural progression for the older Tan, with his engineering and construction background, to become a developer. My father has always been my role model. He never gives up. This is where I get the same fighting spirit from. I think we need lots of sheer determination and grit to pull through the increasingly challenging obstacles we continue to face daily in our business.

Understated flamboyance

Sam’s affable quality sees him taking a leadership role naturally. At a Rehda Youth gathering held at the Ken Bangsar penthouse recently, Sam, clad in striking red pants with black stripes, stood out as an exemplary green developer and gracious host, while being the life of the party – all in one go. One of our core values is being hands on and committed. I believe that we’re capable of changing the world, one step at a time. We would like to be a real life example in the works that we do. After all, it has always been in our DNA to try to build better homes for people, he smiled.