Sherman Kwek Replaces Grant Kelley as CDL’s CEO

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Sherman Kwek, CEO-designate of City Developments Ltd

Grant Kelley has stepped down as CEO of City Developments Limited (CDL), the Singapore-listed property heavyweight, and will be replaced by Sherman Kwek, the elder son of CDL chairman Kwek Leng Beng.

The family-led company, which is one of Singapore’s biggest developers, announced Friday that Sherman Kwek will take over as CEO-designate, effective immediately, and will assume full responsibilities as CEO on January 1, 2018. The appointment follows Kelley’s resignation on Thursday, after serving as CEO for over three and a half years.

Kelley will stay with CDL until the end of the year, then move to Australia to take on a new role as chief executive of a listed company based in Melbourne. CDL said the opportunity is “timely as he intends to return home to Australia for personal reasons.”

To ensure a smooth handover and continuity of leadership, 42-year-old Sherman Kwek will work alongside Kelley for the remainder of 2017 before taking on the CEO mantle. “In the meantime, the Board will also seek to recruit a senior private equity professional to maintain the momentum of the funds management and acquisition programmes launched over the past years,” the statement said.

New Kwek Generation Takes Charge at CDL

Through the leadership change, a scion of the Kwek family will take charge of a property business built up by his father, who led the takeover of CDL by Hong Leong Group in 1982. Kwek Leng Beng, aged 76, who serves as executive chairman of both CDL and its parent conglomerate Hong Leong, inherited the latter group from his own father, the notable tycoon Kwek Hong Png.

Sherman Kwek has served as deputy CEO of CDL and executive chairman of the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, CDL China Limited, since April 2016. In his previous roles at the company, he set up CDL’s presence in Japan and Australia and drove expansion into China, helping the firm pick up prime sites in Shanghai, Suzhou and Chongqing. Kwek has worked in New York, Hong Kong, and Shanghai as well as Singapore, according to the company statement.

PE Veteran Finishes His Singapore Tour

Private equity veteran Grant Kelley stepped in as chief executive of CDL in January 2014, bringing with him a dozen years of experience in managing private-equity real estate investments in Asia. Prior to joining CDL, Kelley had served as head of real estate for Apollo Global Management, and earlier had worked at Holdfast Capital and Colony Capital Asia.

Grant Kelley, who has just resigned as CEO (left), and Kwek Leng Beng, CDL’s executive chairman in 2014 (Photo credit: BTInvest)

“We need to be less Singapore-centric in light of limited opportunities domestically,” Kwek Leng Beng said of Kelley’s hire at the time. In that year, with Kelley at the helm, CDL launched an initiative to expand into overseas growth markets, specifically targetting opportunities in Australia, China, Japan, Britain and the US.

During his three and a half years as CEO, Kelley spearheaded a diversification strategy in which the company invested around S$3.5 billion ($2.6 billion) in overseas markets and raised over S$3.5 billion in funds under management.

Singaporean Giant on Global Growth Drive

CDL, which has a market cap of nearly SS$11 billion ($8 billion), is one of Singapore’s largest listed companies. The property behemoth, owner of London-listed Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, has built over 40,000 residences worldwide and holds a global investment portfolio of over 18 million square feet of residential and commercial space as of year-end 2016.

This past February, CDL China bought an under-construction 32,000 square metre commercial project, Meidao Business Plaza, near Shanghai’s Hongqiao transportation hub for RMB 900 million ($131 million). That deal came less than a month after CDL joined China’s co-working race by investing RMB 72 million ($10.5 million) in Shanghai-based shared office provider Distrii.

CDL has also jumped into the British real estate market, investing a total of £510.2 million ($634 million) in 10 freehold properties, most recently acquiring a site in London’s Battersea district in February with the aim of building a £222 million ($277 million) luxury residential project.

Kwek Leng Beng and his family were ranked as the fourth-wealthiest household on the 2017 Forbes survey of Singapore’s richest people, with an estimated fortune of $7.1 billion.

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