Interview

Zamani Bin Kasim

Chief Executive Officer of Astaka Holdings LTD.

Most important to our reputation is that we deliver what we promise, and our track record will speak for itself. In the end of the day, we need to be result-oriented.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Can you give an introduction of Astaka Holdings and what have been the Company’s milestones?

ZAMANI: Astaka Holdings Ltd began as Astaka Padu Sdn Bhd and was founded by Dato’ Daing A Malek Bin Daing A Rahaman in 1993. In 2005, the company had a privatization exercise with the state government to redevelop the old indoor and hockey stadium and turned it into a mixed development project. This is when I was appointed as the CEO of Astaka Padu in 2012 and I had a big plan for its future.

At the time, we had 7.65 acres of land in Johor Bahru City Center, and I realized that this is a prime location where we subsequently acquired another 3.5 acres of land to expand our land bank because we believe this location has a lot of potential. Consultants were then called in to plan and strategize on the conceptualization of the whole development. You must plan the task properly, understand what your role is, strategize how to do it and then track your progress. This is how we can proudly announce the completion of the new icon or landmark for Johor, The Astaka @ One Bukit Senyum, a 65-storey and 70-storey luxury service apartment, which is also known as the tallest residential tower in South East Asia back in June 2018.

Earlier, it was unimaginable. When we started the company, it was only with 3 staff, but we position ourselves as professionals in the industry and that's how we managed to get the trust of our investors and we were listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange to internationalize ourselves.

I graduated from university with a Building Science degree, and I have subsequently been working in the property development industry for more than 35 years. My previous experience with companies like UEM Land Berhad enabled me to get all the knowledge I needed to develop my expertise in the market. The developments in UEM were quite diverse, such as master developments and commercial residential projects in which under my care is a 600 acres of urban waterfront development. I always believe that you have to work hard to prove your capabilities and you can work your way up when people recognize your skills. That is why our shareholders had confidence in me when I was appointed as the CEO of Astaka Holdings Limited. As of today, we have managed to position Astaka as a leading integrated property developer based in Iskandar Malaysia.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Can you elaborate on Astaka’s current projects?

ZAMANI: Our Phase 1 of the One Bukit Senyum project is now completed and we have successfully delivered The Astaka @ One Bukit Senyum. “Bukit” in Malay means Hill, while “Senyum” means Smile; thus our flagship development could be referred to as the “Smiling Hill”.

The Astaka @ One Bukit Senyum is the highest residential tower in Southeast Asia: we are 1,020 feet above sea level. From the higher floors of the Astaka units you can see the whole cityscape of Singapore, right up to Marina Bay Sands and One Shenton Way. We’re even taller than the tallest building in Singapore.

We offer big luxury units ranging from 2,207 square feet to 2,659 square feet that are able to cater to international standards. The units are large in size because we want to focus on a niche luxury market and set ourselves apart from our competitors. Majority of the people were surprised why we started so big on our flagship project, but we have to make a statement for what we want to deliver. I always believed that there is a demand for such a product and it has shown in our results. We have sold approximately 70% of our building where the buyers comes from 15 different countries including Singapore, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Germany, Brunei and even Finland. Most of them are expats working in Singapore.

We have the perfect offer to any international investor who is looking into luxury property at an affordable price while we still have some units available at The Astaka with a potential estimated value of approximately MYR 400 million.

Our Phase 2 is currently on-going which consists of the construction of Johor’s new City Council building (Menara MBJB), estimated to be completed by the end of this year.

Due to the high success rate, we will soon embark on Phase 3 of One Bukit Senyum as there are still approximately 7.65 acres of land ready to be developed by us. I am currently looking for strategic partners for the third phase to co-develop with Astaka.

On top of the exclusive world-class development at One Bukit Senyum, we have another township of 363 acres, namely Bukit Pelali to add to our diversified portfolio. In this township, we will be delivering 500 units of terrace houses and 100 units of 3-storey shops worth RM 400 million in the year of 2019. The entire development includes hotel, school, shopping mall, hospital, business park offices, mart as well as clubhouse. With the anticipated significant growth in population to 70,000 by 2020, the whole area is currently booming and is in high demand, specifically Bukit Pelali, which is closest to the mega oil & gas hub, Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: How do you deliver value to Astaka’s reputation as a reliable and quality property developer?

ZAMANI: From the Company’s perspective, we cannot only focus on the bottom line. We have to continue to add value and to upgrade our units. Therefore, we have partnered with a renowned property management company (Knight Frank), whom are experts and specialists in providing the best management services, which would be perceived as an added value to our investors. From this, you can tell that we are not just another condo but a branded residence in collaboration with prestigious brand.

The Astaka is the best development where condos are concerned. We have set a new standard here in Johor. Our developments have been acknowledged internationally and we have also received numerous awards, such as the Asia Pacific Property Awards, ASEAN Property Awards, ASIA Property Awards – which we will be representing Malaysia to compete with other Asian countries in Bangkok end of this year.

Most importantly, we have delivered what we promised, and our track record speaks for itself. In the end of the day, we need to be result-oriented. We need to plan and strategize how we can give the best service. We take pride in everything we do.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are the current developments in Johor, Malaysia’s real estate sector and what is the business outlook for these coming years?

ZAMANI: Johor Bahru’s main advantage is its strategic location. As the most southern state in Malaysia we have a close proximity to Singapore, and there are plenty of opportunities for many types of industries to carry out their business here with Singapore, albeit at a lower costs. It also makes an excellent location for expats working in Singapore to have a luxury lifestyle in Johor for only a fraction of the price.

Johor’s economy was boosted because of the initiation of the Iskandar Malaysia region. Iskandar Malaysia is a special economic zone with a development and catalytic blueprint that has boosted the local economy since its inception.

Thanks to Iskandar Malaysia, a lot of Chinese Developers have come in to invest along the coastal areas of Johor Bahru. Some of these developments have in a way changed the architectural landscape of Johor Bahru. And thanks to the aggressive promotion of Iskandar Malaysia overseas, more and more people from other countries have begun to take notice of the existence of Johor in general and Iskandar Malaysia in particular on the map.

For us, The Astaka will be even better positioned in Johor after the completion of Phase 2, as the Johor Bahru City Council (“MBJB”) building will be seated in the building next to our residence. Anywhere in the world, the city council will be the center of a town and is capable of attracting businesses. We are extremely proud of this, and this certainly is an indicator of how great the location we have here.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is your message of confidence to the international business community?

ZAMANI: The change in the government has given a positive message to the international business community that we are making a change in society to become transparent and that business will be done ethically. The peaceful transition is giving endorsement to the strength and relevance of our systems and is giving a message of confidence to do business in Malaysia.

We are benefiting from renewed interest from overseas investors and Astaka is well positioned internationally to capitalize on that.