Building corporate values starts at inbox

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am

While there is no shortage of books by chief executives of top companies, Building People - Sunday Emails from a CEO takes a different form. Liew Mun Leong's offering is a compilation of e-mails that he wrote to staff every Sunday as president and chief executive of Singapore's CapitaLand.

Liew's lively e-mails are peppered with anecdotes drawn from work, travel and his personal life. They serve to explain his management concept and practice in a bid to inspire some 9000 staff to meet the highest standards. One e-mail entitled 'Simple Man, Great Messages' shares his Chinese immigrant father's principles of life, such as the readiness to venture into the unknown, while remaining level-headed and hardworking - underpinned by the message that there is no free lunch in life.

In an interview in his Singapore office after publication of the book, Liew said the e-mails were his way to 'align staff to the philosophy of [the company's] core values', or what he calls the three Ps - Perfectionism, Paranoia and Perseverance.

Building the corporate value system would have been critical in part because CapitaLand was a merger of two very different property companies - DBS Land and Pidemco Land, which Liew joined in 1996.

These values reverberate throughout the e-mails that spanned 1998 to 2006, under themes such as 'fighting competition', 'of business and ethics', 'day-to-day business' and 'building people - what it takes'.

In the typical Singaporean appreciation of acronyms, Liew believes staying clear of the SME syndrome is the basis of a good corporate leader. SME, for Liew, means skin, money and ego. Skin refers to keeping work hierarchies free of affairs and relationships, money relates to eradicating corruption, and, lastly, the chief executive's ego should never be inflated.

'I've seen a lot of failures; I've fired six CEOs ... I am not very proud of that,' he recalls. The upside is that after long periods of trial and error in recruiting top positions, Liew said his skills had been sharpened.

The messages in Liew's e-mails were drawn from his decades of experience, including service in the public and private sector.

Reflecting the book's title, Liew said the biggest gratification in his almost 40-year career was his success in nurturing talent.

'If they can become successful, you feel that you have built a good team,' he said.

In the book's preface, the author said he derived immense enjoyment from writing the e-mails as a means of spreading his values on corporate vision, value systems, ethos and strategies.

Liew said the e-mail was the most powerful tool for reaching his staff, unlike previous efforts such as breakfast meetings or gatherings of various sorts that were limited to smaller sectors. A love of writing also helped, he said.

Hooked, Liew said he was now keen to put together a second book. 'It has also inspired me to write more e-mails and longer ones,' he said. The e-mails often took him four or five hours to write. 'The reality is, when I finish and read through it after editing ... after I send it off, I feel very good.'