Meet The Tribe: Datuk Seri Michael Yam
Meet the Tribe is an eight-part series introducing some of the industry leaders across Asia who helped us select the Gen.T List 2019—a panel of experts we call The Tatler Tribe. Datuk Seri Michael Yam is a member of The Tribe in Malaysia, representing the Real Estate & Hospitality category.
Michael Yam envisioned a career where he was surrounded by ever-changing landscapes, never bound to a desk. It was what drew him to working in the construction and real estate industry at an early age, having accompanied his father to building sites and seen the unique nature of his work set-up.
Before he could embark on his own career in the industry, Datuk Seri Michael attended the Royal Military College in Malaysia, a boarding school known for its discipline and focus on leadership skills, before heading to England where he graduated with a degree in Building and Management Studies from the University of Westminster in 1979. This education prepared him well for an illustrious career that would see him head up such revered real estate institutions as Peremba Malaysia, Sunrise (now UEM Sunrise) and Country Heights Holdings.
Following a 30-year career in the industry, Datuk Seri Michael attempted to retire, but the industry keeps drawing him back in, valued as he is for his unparalleled expertise. Today, he not only runs his own consulting firm, Impetus Alliance, but as of 2017 serves as chairman of property development company Triterra Group, insisting all the while that he remains at least semi-retired.
What endures for Datuk Seri Michael is a desire to share the knowledge and know-how garnered over his career with the next generation in his industry – which happens to include his son, James, and his son-in-law, Shaun Mok, Triterra’s Brand and Marketing Manager and COO respectively. Datuk Seri Michael has also contributed his expertise as a Tribe member. We caught up with him ahead of this year’s Gen.T List unveiling events to find out how he feels about the Gen.T honourees and what advice he has for the leaders of tomorrow.
How did you decide to pursue a career in construction and real estate? Was there is a pivotal moment?
My father was a reputable builder and I would follow him to the work sites and see him in action, negotiating and executing projects. This gave me great insight into the construction industry. During this time, I realised the unique nature of an industry where your job does not see you tied to a desk and where your office is set up in the many sites you may be involved in, whether greenfield land or urban pockets.
This provides opportunities for varied experiences due to a changing landscape that could even be overseas. The pivotal moment for me was when I was given charge of a multimillion-ringgit project after high school. It confirmed to me that there was never a dull moment in this job, working under the open sky, not desk-bound, in a role dependent on one’s leadership and people-centric skills for success.
What are your proudest accomplishments to date?
Being appointed CEO of an award-winning publicly listed property company at the relatively young age of 43 and a year later moving to another publicly listed company, Sunrise (now UEM Sunrise), as its CEO and MD, and remaining at its helm from 1997 to 2008, steering it through the Asian financial crisis profitably and picking up various awards along the way, including being named Malaysia’s CEO of the Year in 2002.
The high level of talent and excellence of Gen.T honourees will motivate young entrepreneurs, innovators and creatives to sit up and want to compete
— Datuk Seri Michael Yam
What's the value of the Gen.T List?
The high level of talent and excellence of the Gen.T honourees will motivate young entrepreneurs, innovators and creatives to sit up and want to compete.
What are the traits of a successful leader?
A good leader serves before leading and always sets an example. They wouldn't ask someone to execute a task that they wouldn't do themselves.
When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how do you determine who to hire?
All things being equal, I look for EQ and personality and, most importantly, a person's values and character. Some of the possible indicators would be a person's extra-curricular activities, such as NGO activity, sport, community service and the desire for continuous study and self-improvement.
What resources would you recommend for future leaders?
Join the association, NGO or advocacy group that represents your industry to get insights on trends and new regulatory or compliance policies. Embark on continuing professional development and education and join or qualify with a professional institution linked to your chosen career. Attending regular short courses and seminars also serves to build up knowledge and is an avenue for networking and fellowship.
I am optimistic about the future of the talents in my industry. They are not only competent technically, they are also tech-savvy, able to discern trends and financially capable
— Datuk Seri Michael Yam
How did the process of nominating names for the Gen.T List make you feel about your industry and its future?
I am optimistic about the future of the talents in my industry. They are not only competent technically, they are also tech-savvy, able to discern trends and financially capable. Additionally, they understand the power of branding and marketing using big data, social media and print media. Most importantly, they are focused on customer service and customer satisfaction that will ensure repeat business and references.
Which leader do you admire and why?
Nelson Mandela. Despite the many years of imprisonment, ill treatment, discrimination and a total loss of the best years of his life, he could be forgiven for being revengeful and bitter, but he chose to forgive and move on. He united his nation and became a leader of his country and a respected global statesman.
What are your future ambitions?
To give back what I have gained from the nation and the industry and to help nurture young people to be the best they can be.