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Mother, daughter expand real estate empire

By MST Business | Posted on Mar. 03, 2013 at 12:02am |
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Her passion for aesthetics and design coupled with understanding of the Filipino middle-class market enabled Melesa Chua to establish a real estate empire that builds and manages condominium towers, hotels, serviced apartments and subdivisions in Metro Manila’s prime commercial business districts.
Chua, more known for her nickname Elsie, is the president and chief executive of CDC Holdings Inc., a private company which booked a profit of P109 million in 2012. CDC Holdings is the parent firm of CDC Realty, Quadrillion Property Management Inc. and Quadrillion Sales Inc. which were all established by Chua. Her condotel projects are considered as the pioneer in the serviced apartment industry in the Philippines.
With the help of daughter Charlene Chua–Sy, who serves as the company’s executive vice president, Chua was able to expand their clientele by tapping the lucrative overseas Filipino market, which now accounts for about 60 percent of their home buyers.
Chua saw the potential of the real estate market as early as the 1980s, after a stint in banking.  She wanted to be an architect, but her father, Dy Piac Gam, advised her to study accounting.
“I really love design and I love colors.  It is more of a passion.  But my father was against me becoming an architect and instead wanted me to become an accountant.  My father said ‘just know how to count your husband’s money.’  That’s why I entered Accounting at the University of Sto. Tomas,” Chua says in an interview at the Somerset Millenium Makati, one of the properties built and managed by Chua’s CDC Holdings.
Her husband, David Chua, is now the president of family-owned Melawares Manufacturing Corp., the biggest producer of melamine tableware in the Philippines.  “Our family business is Melawares.  That’s our bread and butter.  We have 250 outlets all over the country,” she says.
Chua, who also studied Marketing Strategy at the Asian Institute of Management, considers her father as her mentor in business.  Her father, who was from Amoy, China, taught Elsie and her siblings the value of work.  Her mother, Crisanta Racelis of Bicol, taught them the importance of relationship with other people.
Chua studied high school at Chiang Kai Shek College.  Although their family was relatively well off, her father made them commute from their home in Caloocan City to their school.  Chua says she now appreciates the wisdom behind it.
She became a banker at Solid Bank-Caloocan branch, where she learned the ropes of credit financing.  She eventually became the youngest chief of accounts in Solid Bank’s history.
Chua remembers the death of her parents in a car accident as the biggest trial in life.  As the eldest single child, Chua promised on the funeral of her parents that she and her younger siblings would never be poor.
While the family had a solid business in Melawares, Chua did not lose her love for design, which she found useful when she built her first home.
“It all started when I first built my house in 1981.  That started my interest in designing houses.  The business began by building and selling houses, until we built townhouses, and later subdivisions.  Then, when the trend of building condominiums came, I created Crisanta, the celebrity tower.  It was followed by Platinum 1000 and Platinum 2000 towers [in Greenhills],” she says.
Before embarking on high-rise developments, Chua sold nearly 10,000 residential houses and lots to the middle-income bracket through Silverland Realty & Development Corp. which she headed as managing director.
In 1984, Chua and her brothers, used proceeds from Melawares, to launch Crisanta Tower, named after their mother.  The initiative was maverick at that time during the social upheaval following the assassination of Benigno Aquino.
Encouraged by the success of Crisanta Tower in Pasig City, Chua would launch other major projects such as the development of properties in the Multinational Village subdivision acquired from religious leader Mike Velarde in ParaƱaque City, Ayala Heights in Quezon City, Macario Homes in Cavite, the Millennium Plaza on Makati Ave., Quadrillion Mansion in San Juan, 139 Corporate Center and Somerset Millennium Suites Makati, Astoria Plaza in Pasig, La Louvre and La Joya de Sta. Rosa.
Millennium Plaza, managed by an international hotel group, introduced the concept of a “full-service apartment hotel” in the industry,
Chua would soon embark on international expeditions to look for home buyers in Japan in 1992 and the Middle East in 2007.  Promotion of CDC properties brought Chua to various countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Europe, where there are large concentrations of Filipino workers and migrants.
CDC Holdings now has global offices in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Doha, Qatar; Tokyo, Japan; and Europe. CDC has a dedicated global team of over 300 sales professionals and more than 140 marketing representatives.
Asked about what sets CDC Holdings different from other developers, Chua says location, concept and price make their projects more attractive to buyers.
“Location is important in any development.  Location counts a lot and plays an important role for us.  We consider the accessibility of the projects, in terms of their distance from transportation and schools,” she says.
“We always measure the distance of the projects in terms of how many minutes away from Makati or from Ortigas.  We always want to be in central business districts,” she says.
Chua says she prefers mixed-use developments that are strategically located.  She says she also makes sure that home buyers will enjoy the facilities and amenities such as large swimming pools, large pavilions, landscaping, security and safety and exclusivity.
She says the concept of the project is as important as the pricing.  “Our prices are always 10 to 15 percent lower than our competitors.  That’s our competitive edge,” she says.
She advises Filipinos to invest in real estate, which she says has good returns.  “If overseas Filipino workers invest in real estate today and they come home five or 10 years from now, they will see the value of their property appreciate,” she says.
“Tirelessly, I encourage OFWs to invest, so that when they come back, they can start a business.  They should start investing.  And the best way to invest is to save your money in real estate,” she says.
She explains that a piece of real estate is useful in building a credit profile, which is necessary if one is to borrow capital from the banks.                 
“This is the most critical.  Based on my experience, when you don’t have an asset, if you don’t have a real estate, you cannot start any business.  That’s the reason why I encourage them to buy real property,” Chua says.
Chua says there are still pockets of lands that can be developed in Metro Manila, but the challenge is how to find them, especially now that a lot of new developers have joined the bandwagon.

Her latest projects include the 1.9-hectare 11 low-rise condominiums called Lions Park Residences in Sun Valley, ParaƱaque and the 1.4-hectare, nine-building Manila Rivercity Residences set on the scenic banks of Pasig River in Sta. Ana, Manila.
CDC Holdings booked a net income of P109 million in 2012, up by 150 percent from just P50 million in 2011, as sales reached P1.14 billion.
“Amidst the competitive and aggressive market, we were still able to hit the numbers that we aimed for.  Also important for us is that we were able to deliver our commitments to our buyers and homeowners as we planned,” she says.  “I see the company growing and opening more markets for 2013.”
The company started pre-selling the Rivergreen Residences also in Sta. Ana, Manila.  This year, it plans to launch Sentrale project in Dian St., Makati City, as well as the Citadines Millennium Ortigas.
“The Citadines Millennium Ortigas is also one of our highlights last year as this displayed the trust and confidence of The Ascott Limited in CDC Holdings Inc. as a property developer and for property management,” Chua says.
Chua says CDC Holdings recently teamed up with SEC Japan to help provide professional energy-saving elevator and maintenance solutions for its properties.
Her daughter Charlene Chua Sy says the company expects revenues to double to P2 billion in 2013 from P1.14 billion in 2012.  “We have big plans for 2013 and beyond. We have started to move in to high-rise development from medium-rise and we have many projects in the pipeline,” she says.
The younger Chua also revealed plans to offer private placements to foreign and local investors to raise as much as P400 million to partly fund the P1-billion capital expenditure in 2013.
Chua says behind the success of CDC Holdings as a real estate conglomerate is a real passion for what they are doing.
“The interest should be there.  For you to be successful in business, your interest should be there,” she says.  RTD

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