Malaysia tycoon in bed with Trump frets over Vancouver deal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 1:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 1:32am

Malaysian property developer Tiah Joo Kim got way more than he bargained for when he signed a licensing deal to use the Trump brand on the Trump International Hotel and Tower that is opening Tuesday in the Canadian city of Vancouver.

Prices for condominiums in the sleek building designed by one of Canada’s top architects have set records. But police are expecting protests by many who object to having a major Trump-branded property as a city landmark when the president’s two oldest sons officially open the tower on Tuesday.

Joo Kim’s Holborn Development struck the licensing deal before Trump’s political ascent. He says he’s now “locked” into his licensing agreement, with no legal grounds to back out of the deal, whose terms have not been released.

“There would be severe legal implications,” he said in a recent interview.

Joo Kim, 37, is the son of tycoon Tony Tiah Thee Kian, one of Malaysia’s richest men and a staunch Christian who built his fortune in stockbroking in the 1990s before expanding into real estate.

A post shared by Joo Kim Tiah (@jookimtiah) on Jan 20, 2017 at 9:39pm PST

Groomed to inherit the family business, last year Joo Kim was appointed CEO of its property arm TA Global. He also runs the Canadian-based Holborn Group.

Raised in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, he studied at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and earned a master’s degree in international business at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

When he set the deal with Trump in 2013, Joo Kim was banking on the staying power and cachet of his brand.

“I wanted a brand that would get me a lot of attention so that the public would, in turn, be impressed with me knowing I am responsible for the product,” Joo Kim said last year.

He has a picture on Instagram of himself at Trump’s January 20 inauguration, along with a picture of his ticket for the Liberty Ball, one of three balls the president attended.

A post shared by Joo Kim Tiah (@jookimtiah) on Dec 26, 2016 at 6:52pm PST

Joo Kim has profited from the partnership: TA Global reported it earned US$10.4 million from the Vancouver Trump project in 2015, representing 57 per cent of its total profit.

Now, Joo Kim says he found Trump’s statements about Muslims, Mexicans and women “extremely stressful.”

“I did a lot of soul searching because people were attacking me for it,” said Joo Kim.

The Tiah family has endured setbacks and criticism before.

In 1999, Joo Kim’s father, who is now 70, was charged with abetting a businessman to defraud another brokerage, Omega Securities. In 2002, he was convicted on a reduced charge of providing a false report to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. He resigned as head of his financial firm, TA Enterprise.

The elder Tiah made a comeback in 2009 with the listing of his property arm, TA Global.

The family are devout Christians in a majority Muslim country: Joo Kim’s father often preaches at Christian events.

Joo Kim says he chose the Trump brand in part because he felt a bond with Trump’s son Donald Jr. “We’re both the oldest son and our fathers were really dominant and difficult at times,” he said. “We may be OK financially but we didn’t get the attention of our parents because our parents were always busy working. But at the same time there’s a big expectation to be perfect.”

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