Running in the family: how Triterra's Daniel Lim got into the family business

Running in the family: how Triterra’s Daniel Lim got into the family business

Daniel Lim, Deputy Chairman of property developer Triterra, is now a firm believer that there’s no business quite like family business

When a business has been founded, owned or operated within a family-type dynamic, it is certainly a badge of honour for those involved. Not only does this provide a strong backstory for the said business, but it also tells customers that you don’t subscribe to the usual traits of the corporate world. 

In other words, while commerce is often perceived as cold and calculated, family-owned businesses, on the other hand, emphasise a culture founded on the nurturing qualities of family life. 

First of all, this business entity was originally formed as a collaboration between two Malaysian business powerhouses – Dato’ Wira Lim Teong Kiat and his sons together with Datuk Seri (Dr) Michael Yam. Dato’ Wira Lim is the founder of Kiat & Associates, one of the oldest chartered accountancy firms in Malaysia. Apart from his professional responsibilities, he also manages the family’s investment arm. Dato’ Wira Lim is also known for his passion about sports as a medium of national integration, which has led him to serve as the Deputy President of the Badminton Association of Malaysia, as well as the Finance Chair, EXCO and Council member of the Badminton World Federation. 

The former CEO of renowned property developer Sunrise Bhd (now UEM Sunrise) and past president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association of Malaysia (REHDA), Datuk Seri Michael brings along a wealth of experience and his stellar track record is invaluable to the group. Both are Joint Chairmen of Triterra. Joining them as stewards and Director is Dato’ Lim Say Chong, former Group Managing Director of Chemical Company of Malaysia Bhd. 

Today at Triterra, we see Dato’ Wira Lim’s son, Daniel (who is the key figure to this business venture), comfortably assuming the role of Deputy Chairman, playing an intrinsic part in integrating the stewards with the management team led by his younger brother, Christopher, who is the CEO. Their middle brother, Andrew, who now manages Kiat & Associates, is also a director in the company. Together with the stewards, the trio aspire to create development projects that are future-proof. 

Yet, back in the time before he began his journey into the corporate world, Daniel, the eldest Lim brother, could actually see himself rebelling against joining the so-called ‘family business’. “I come from a family of accountants,” he remembers fondly. “My father, as you know, started Kiat & Associates, one of the most highly acclaimed chartered accountancy firms in Malaysia today. I’m very proud of my family’s legacy and everything they’ve built, but I wanted to venture on my own path.” 

Daniel actually proved to be pretty good with numbers himself from a young age, so he did eventually end up pursuing a degree in Mathematics and Statistics after all in university. “Later, it was my father who advised me against taking up a degree in accounting, as even he admitted that it can be rather boring,” he recalls with a wry smile. 

Soon after graduating, however, Daniel promised himself that he would never join the family business as an accountant, or pursue something even remotely close to that, as it didn’t hold the sort of excitement that he yearned for at the time. “So, being the loving but concerned parent that he is, my father asked me what plans I had for my life, and I told him that I didn’t have any. I didn’t even have a job at that point!” 

Instead, Daniel asked his dad to give him five years to figure things out properly. “I told him that if I didn’t make it in those five years, he wouldn’t even have to ask me to come home – I would voluntarily pack my bags and return to join the family business!” 

“So off I went, on my motorbike from my home in Alor Setar, Kedah, to the big city of Kuala Lumpur with empty pockets and a heart full of hope, not knowing what was going to happen. I managed to get a job selling condensed milk for F&N Dairies through my uncle. True, not the most glamourous job, but honest, hard work that helped me find my footing in my new journey,” he recalls fondly. 

Soon, however, Daniel had his first taste of business with a joint venture into a merchandising business with another friend. This was when he got a franchising license from Disney to sell cinematic merchandise from the Disney hit film Toy Story, which was all the rage back in the mid-1990s. 

“The venture was very successful and it was the most money I had ever made at the time! Thinking we had hit a goldmine, we then tried to replicate our success by investing all our earnings into another new licensing venture with Disney, this time to sell merchandise related to The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” recalls Daniel. “But it proved a costly mistake as the franchise was not as popular as Toy Story, and we ended up losing all our money and the business folded.” 

So, Daniel ended up working various sales jobs over the next few years. He remembers it as a very difficult time since he was struggling to hit sales targets, and every rejection from a customer took its toll on him. “But I was adamant I would not give up. Little did I know, this would eventually mould my character and build my resilience, making me a stronger person in the end.” 

Things eventually started looking up for Daniel and, soon, he was the head of a very successful luxury car dealership. “We were responsible for importing some of the rarest and most sought-after luxury vehicles in the country. In fact, we were selling more Bentleys than Bentley Malaysia!” Looking back, though, Daniel truly believes that it was actually the crash-course in movie premium marketing that would prove to be the key to his success later in life. 

“One day, my younger brother Christopher came to me with this idea that he had for an office space in Mont Kiara with a revolutionary concept, which he wanted to call the 3rd Space. He was able to spot a gap in the property market as there were no stratified Grade A office spaces in the affluent township at that point. So, once he pitched the idea to me, I was instantly sold,” recalls Daniel. 

They then immediately sought the guidance of Datuk Seri (Dr) Michael Yam, who has over 30 years’ worth of diversified experience in the local construction, real estate and corporate sectors. More importantly, he is also widely seen by everyone as the father of modern Mont Kiara. 

“Soon after that, he came on board as Triterra’s Joint Chairman, alongside my father. Completing the picture was Andrew, who assumed the role of Executive Director, and finally, myself as Deputy Chairman. For all the trouble I went through to avoid joining the family business, it’s quite funny how it finally came full circle like this!” he laughs. 

“Working with my father and Datuk Seri Michael means that they will also be looking out for all of us with their years of vast experience,” he continues. As the two are the most experienced people within the company, he felt that they definitely have plenty to offer. “But what I appreciate the most is how accessible they make themselves to all of us – I can just pick up the phone and ring them anytime of the day, and they’ll be more than happy to help with anything at all!” 

Triterra’s maiden project, The MET Corporate Towers, is part of the 75.5-acre KL Metropolis mixed development enclave in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Halim (formerly Jalan Duta). Comprising two corporate towers of 30 and 42 storeys, it has a gross development value of MYR650 million. Triterra signed a partnership agreement with Naza TTDI Sdn Bhd, the master developer of KL Metropolis, in 2017. 

The first tower, dubbed The North Tower, will offer some 450,000 sq ft of commercial space, and features units measuring 820 sq ft to 16,100 sq ft. The South Tower, on the other hand, will have 150,000 sq ft of net saleable area. For this part of the development, Triterra is planning to sell the tower to a single buyer. 

Daniel is confident that The MET Corporate Towers will be able to cater to the demand from nearby Mont Kiara, where there is presently a dwindling supply of office space. He then went on to say that Triterra prides itself as being a community-based developer that introduces concepts that will forge communities and stand the test of time. 

“Our vision is for The MET Corporate Towers to be recognised and remembered as a revolutionary office space anchored by the 3rd Space concept that will change the way Malaysians think about office space. The 3rd Space concept is predicated on merging social spaces and workspaces, allowing patrons to seamlessly integrate their lifestyles into the very place they work. We also build through the lens of investors by ensuring our developments are always future-proof.”

Inadvertently also, various features  incorporated within The MET Corporate Towers turned out to be pandemic proof, too. “For instance, we have a spacious lobby as well as individual units that work perfectly for social distancing. We also adopt a unified management system that allows us to enforce the pandemic SOPs with great efficiency and effectiveness. Lastly, The MET Corporate Towers is equipped with touchless buttons and motion sensors to decrease touch points and maintain high standards of hygiene.” 

This, clearly, is illustrative of Triterra’s bona fides as a family business, Daniel says, not just because it is a merger between two families, but also in the way it treats its own people and clients. “Yes, property development can be very transactional in nature, but we do our best to make everyone we interact with feel like family,” he reveals proudly. “Our approach is not just to generate sales, but to build long-lasting relationships with our clients. We even have a club for owners of The MET Corporate Towers called The MET Owners’ Club, where before the pandemic, we would regularly invite them for gatherings and networking sessions.” 

Expectedly, the still-raging pandemic has impacted the property market in a big way over the last year, leading many to hold on making purchases due to the uncertainty that clouds the market. Daniel is bullish, though: “I believe that, in the short term, you will start to see transaction volumes pick up as market sentiment improves with the arrival of the vaccines and the economy adapting to the current climate. 

“In the long term, I do think that the biggest winners will always be developments that have a unique concept that can’t be found elsewhere. This is why I’m confident that The MET Corporate Towers will continue to be a success despite the pandemic.” 

The MET Corporate Towers is Triterra’s maiden project

An avid skier – he used to make yearly ski trips to Europe, pre-pandemic – Daniel is also a keen investor. “Whether it is businesses or the stock market, I’m always looking for exciting new opportunities to invest in. It’s something I picked up a while ago and have become very passionate about.” 

Keeping track of his investments is part of his daily routine. “I start work around 9am, when I tend to my investments on the share market, reply emails and messages, and keep up with the latest news and social media. In between, I’ll attend meetings either for Triterra or other investment opportunities. I always have lunch with either friends, clients or colleagues – there’s a chicken rice place near our show gallery that I really enjoy. I make it a point to play squash three times a week at The Royal Lake Club after work to get a sweat going. Before the pandemic, my nights often consisted of dinner events or casual drinks with friends. My daily schedule is packed with activities from start to finish.” 

It’s a different story on the weekends, though: “I play futsal and squash, catch up with friends for coffee and spend some quality family time with my brothers’ families. I’m also part of a driving group that chooses different destinations every week, where we’ll drive to different places for tasty local food for either breakfast or lunch. For the remainder of the day, I try to allocate some ‘me time’ by watching Netflix or just catching up with things that I missed out during the week.” 

Reflecting on the past few years, Daniel is pleased with the way things have turned out, despite his early determination not to be in the family business. “I think it’s rather fortunate that we have a group of people that are on the same wavelength and are a pleasure to work with. This makes the working process a lot smoother and enables us to grow exponentially. 

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily easier to work with my brothers, but it is very much more fulfilling. I’ve ventured into successful businesses in the past but there is nothing like achieving the same feat with your family. I think it has brought us closer together and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he smiles. 

Apart from a 50th birthday to look forward to in April, Daniel has a clear vision of the future. “Personally, I want to be remembered as someone who made my way through forging lasting relationships and being an honest person. Back when I had my luxury car dealership, one of the traits that many of my clients appreciated was that I was always honest in all of my dealings. This was how I was able to garner their trust and build a good reputation within the industry. 

“As for Triterra, I want us to be remembered as a game changer, a developer that wasn’t afraid to introduce new concepts to the market while staying true to our core of being a family business. Legacies take time to build and we’re a long way from that, but I do believe we’re on the right path to achieving our goals.” 

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