Speech By Mr Lee Chee Koon, Chief Executive Officer Of The Ascott Limited At The Presentation Ceremony Of The National Order Of Merit By The Ambassador Of France To Singapore
His Excellency Ambassador Benjamin Dubertret, colleagues and friends,
1. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to attend tonight’s event. I am indeed humbled and honoured. When I was first told of this award, the word that came to mind was ‘serendipity’. The good work that was done to build Ascott was contributed by many people before me. I think the award should first and foremost go to all the colleagues of Ascott, who are all the people here and beyond, you should give yourself a round of applause.
2. I would also like to thank some very important people in Ascott at the board level. Mr Lim Chin Beng, who was one of our longest serving Chairman; Mr Lim Jit Poh, who was on the board of Ascott and subsequently agreed to be the Chairman of Ascott Residence Trust and of course, Mr Liew Mun Leong, former President & CEO of CapitaLand Group, who was a firm believer of the Ascott business, even though the going was very, very tough. Subsequently, the various CEOs including Mr Kee Teck Koon who was the pioneer and the first person who dared to take the bold step to invest outside of Asia, which explains why we have the Citadines platform. And of course, Ms Jennie Chua who kindly graced this evening’s ceremony with her presence. I was in Mr Liew's office when Ms Chua assumed the role of Ascott's CEO – she provided leadership stability and steered the company forward.
3. After that it was Ming Yan who did three very important things when he was Ascott’s CEO. First, it was decentralisation, allowing the various clusters to grow very rapidly. Secondly, he looked at the Citadines portfolio. There was great value but it was under-tapped, so he embarked on a very aggressive renovation plan to upgrade the Citadines portfolio and decided that we should grow the Citadines portfolio. That is why today’s Citadines is in many countries; it is doing very well and it is also Ascott’s fastest growing brand. The third thing that Ming Yan did was to inject our European assets into a REIT (real estate investment trust). That was instrumental in lightening the balance sheet for Ascott and helped to grow the REIT platform for Ascott. A lot of the credit goes to Ming Yan.
4. I think Ascott has come a long way. If we take a step back and look at the major hospitality companies around the world like Marriott, IHG and Starwood, they managed to grow big and fast because they have a huge continental economy to support their growth so once they decide on a concept, they can grow very rapidly. The fact that Ascott managed to grow from one property in Singapore to where we are today – 45,000 units, almost 300 properties in more than 100 cities, 27 countries – I think it is a significant achievement. Recently, the CEO of a big company told me, "Ascott is probably the most international company in Singapore.” He said that Ascott’s mode of expansion involves a long-term commitment to the market it is in as the company has to build the property, put up our brand, hire the people and grow the business.
5. Beyond that, we have also done very significant things in the last few years to transform Ascott’s business by taking stakes in technology companies like Tujia to participate in the sharing economy. We also partnered with Alitrip, a subsidiary of Alibaba, to strengthen our competitiveness and garnered the support of capital partners such as QIA (Qatar Investment Authority) to give us the additional arsenal to grow and invest as we continue to look for projects and work with other partners, including the French banks.
6. Recently, I caught up with the CEO of another global hospitality company. He said that he monitors Ascott's moves closely because he finds that we take very strategic steps to position the company in a way that will keep us competitive in the next few years. I took that as a compliment and recognition of the good work that the team has done. We are still in the growth phase at this point in time and I think there is tremendous work to be done. Europe, in particular France, is a main part of our growth strategy and it is a market where we will continue to expand our presence. We will invest in France, we will grow Citadines, we will make the creators of the Citadines brand proud and I believe that will help to strengthen not just the business relations between Singapore and France but also hopefully, the government relations between Singapore and France.
7. Before I end, I want to show my gratitude and appreciation to the President of the Republic of France for giving me this recognition; and to the Ambassador for your graciousness in hosting this conferment ceremony at your residence. To all the Ascott colleagues, thank you for your support. And lastly, I am really very thankful to my supportive and understanding wife as well as loving family.