Meet Raj Kumar – Singapore’s property investment king

Raj Kumar, arguably Singapore's most successful retailer and property investor, chats candidly with The Wealth Report about real estate, family and building a legacy.

Words: Nick Holt, Head of Asia-Pacific Research

Raj Kumar is the owner of Royal Holdings, which was formed when he and his brother Asok divided their Royal Brothers property business in 2011. His son Kishin, also a successful property developer, has set up another enterprise RB Capital.

Motivation: We’ve been in Singapore for 72 years. In 1946 my dad came from India to Singapore (the year before Partition). We travelled across the world after we lost our state, with a lot of fire in the belly and the need to survive.

Getting started: I used to help my dad in his shop after school. I made my first million in the 1970s when I was sixteen or seventeen years old. I borrowed SG$20,000 from my dad and gave it back within six weeks. I was in the retail business selling jeans at my store.

I ended up opening 27 stores – by the age of 21 I was opening one every month and became a relatively significant jeans retailer in the country. I think people wanted to do business with me because they recognised that I was honouring my word, paying everybody on time, and ultimately leading an exciting and fast growing business.

Big breakthrough: In the 1980s when I was 25, the markets fell significantly and interest rates were volatile. Property was difficult to hold on to and we picked up the real estate of Emporium Holdings, a department store company, for twenty cents to the dollar, as well as over 100 other stores including Queensway shopping centre.

Knight Frank then brokered us the sale of the basement of Lucky Plaza, which had 60 stores. That was a huge turning point for our group – so to this day I will never forget Knight Frank. They have been a consistently loyal partner over the years.

Secret to success: We buy on the traditional belief of location, location, location. We buy in places where no one else sees opportunity.

We buy and we and never sell, we’re like a long term pension fund. We bought Robertson Quay (now one of Singapore’s trendiest districts) when it was being referred to as old and irrelevant with dilapidated warehouses – however, to us it was a very exciting opportunity.

Overseas opportunities: UK and Australia are the two markets as a group we aim to focus on in the coming few years. The UK  because we believe there will be value due to the uncertainty over Brexit and the cheaper pound. Australia as it has been a market we are familiar with, having been invested there since the late 80s.

Second home : I love London, it’s been my soft spot for many years. I want to spend more time there. Brexit or no Brexit, it’s still going to be relevant.

Succession planning: My son Kishin (34) has earned his own reputation within the Real Estate Sector. He joined me a young little lad when he was just 12, accompanying me to important meetings. He was so hungry to learn and would always ask ‘why, why, why’. He still is! When he was about 21 I gifted him a penthouse, but he decided to sell it.

For once it was me who asked ‘why’? He said he didn’t need it and wanted to unlock the seed capital to start RB Capital group, which soon after acquired the HSBC building in Kuala Lumpur and the site where the EFG building stands today.

Mentoring and legacy: I’m not working for money now, I’m working for passion. I love backing emerging talent and am excited to grow many new entrepreneurs.

This will be my vision for the next five years. I plan to spend a couple of days a week finding and spotting talent – people who understand business, but don’t have the financial support. There is so much talent out there, which is really positive. It is my life’s calling.

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