SOME see him as a David standing up to the property development business' Goliaths. He has learned from his "mentor", although he admits he doesn't personally know Robert Kuok, Hong Kong-based Malaysian businessman extraordinaire of Kerry Group/Kuok Group and our country's richest. He has role models in two property industry stalwarts but prefers that their names remain anonymous.
He talks about his humble roots: Poverty drove him to start working at 9 to help supplement supermarket supervisor Dad's income and to make up for dressmaker Mum's loss of loyal clients when the family relocated from Penang to Kuantan.
When Dad lost his job, they had even resorted to borrow two condensed-milk tins of rice to tide over. They were evicted when they owed rent. He sold home-cooked noodles in school and later to the public to increase his measly daily takings. At 12, he sold vegetables and fish near the market during school holidays, waking up at 2am to collect them from the wholesaler, discarding the stale parts before selling the produce in the neighbourhood from 6am to 11am.
At 13, with the government backing the plastic bag campaign back then, he saw the potential, used his savings of RM9, borrowed RM6 from Mum, bought 10 packets of the bags from the manufacturer (his friend's father) and cycled a 15km radius peddling his wares at RM2.50 a packet, 50 sen less than what supermarkets charged. He was in the business for a while.
"I learnt from young that if one wants to have a better life, one would have to fight many battles. Not born with a silver spoon in my mouth has never been a hindrance; on the contrary, that inspired me many a time."
Fast forward to the 1990s and armed with a bachelor's degree in urban regional planning, he worked as project executive with a firm for a month before he left for another, a job that involved consultancy and conducting surveys, which he says vastly improved his understanding of the property market. He met many developers in the course of work some of whom inspired him.
Then the Asian financial crisis reared its ugly head. He got his fingers burnt dab-bling in shares (Chew Piau and Bridgecon), had to sell his car and other possessions, use credit card borrowing to pay off debts and survive on instant noodles. Again.
With only RM40 in the ATM and it was difficult doing his line of work in Kuala Lumpur without a vehicle, Dad supported him for a while and helped pay for a Proton Saga (number plate: 2468). Lady Luck smiled on him in a numbers forecast game (winnings of RM13,500) and today he still keeps his old jalopy as well as the number for all his other cars.
Things started to look up when a friend of his who didn't know what to do with a 3.3-acre leasehold plot in Bandar Bukit Puchong, Selangor, employed him as general manager (his staff number: 001) and promised a good reward upon successful completion of the project.
By then, he had 14 years of property management experience, some with distinctive developers. That project led to another when he seized the opportunity to develop the neighbouring plot but not after having to resolve land ownership (the plot previously belonged to 40 owners) and quit rent issues.
That's him before he's Dato’ Neoh Soo Keat the developer of niche projects, but not without overcoming more trials and tribulations. Neoh, a registered town planner, founded Trinity Group Sdn Bhd in 2004 and soon after kicked off its maiden venture, The Heron Residency, a 290-unit high-rise serviced apartment in Bandar Bukit Puchong.
"When we started out, we were nobody in the property business.
"We approached banks to be our end-financiers ... many were unwilling. After numerous failed attempts, we finally relied on self-funding with family and friends chipping in."
The managing director and doting father of two daughters also recalls how just after the launch, it was hit by falling consumer confidence due to news of land-slides occurring in Puchong.
"People were skeptical ... the only prospective buyer cancelled the booking the next day. We promptly reinvented our strategies. To attract buyers, The Heron Residency was redesigned to smaller units of 900sq ft to 1,000sq ft from the originally planned 1,200sq ft to 1,300sq ft.
"The incident taught me about the need to take risks and to tune in to market trends."
A string of successful boutique developments in the Kiang Valley followed: Trinity Group is now looking at developing four projects with a combined gross development value of RM1.5 billion in Seri Kembangan, Serdang; Melawati, Ampang; USJ19, Subang Jaya; and Johor.
On the refreshing ideas it brings to the industry and which give its projects the competitive edge, Neoh says glass balconies at The Zest @ Kinrara 9 serviced apartment are a first for properties in Puchong.
"Such features are only found in higher-priced condominiums. The eco-friendly waste disposal unit in every apartment unit also makes it the first project of its kind in the area.
"Our innovative product ideas have been positive to our business ... most of our recently launched projects received overwhelming response from our past buyers who account for at least 30% of our total sales revenue.
"Support from our loyal customers and the community is vital in the property development business."
His views on what the future industry should be: "Property marketing calls for developers to commit to the green movement, to make sustainable approaches part and parcel of our mindset, habits and culture. Trinity Group will place greater emphasis on sustainable ways to light and ventilate homes in our new projects."
So what do buyers/investors/industry think of its products?
"Trinity Group has developed a portfolio of very successful projects over the years," he says with pride.
The Heron Residency, completed in 2008, achieved the highest rental rate (30%) compared to similar projects in the area and that equates to good resale value, he says.
Its second project, 19 Residency semi-dees also located in Puchong, attained a 79% score for Quality Assessment System in Construction or QLASSIC assessed by the Construction Industry Development Board, putting it among the country's top 10 highest scores as of August 2010.
The Zest @ Kinrara 9 achieved capital appreciation of 100%, also giving it high resale values. Then comes The Latitude unveiled this year, Trinity Group's first low-density, gated industrial development located in USJ19 targeting end-product manufacturers and high-tech businesses.
Its "most ambitious project to date", Neoh adds, is The Z Residence offering lavish highrise living at affordable prices with a floating garden, infinity pool and sky lounges, and recently it launched Zeva @ Equine South in Seri Kembangan offering similar lifestyle at entry-level prices that come with premium features such as an Olympic-size swimming pool, three-tier sky terrace, sky club and a garden café with WiFi hotspots.
To another question, he stresses that Trinity Group is in no way associated with Trinity Corp Bhd (formerly Talam Corp Bhd) which, according to media reports, was involved in questionable land deals.
"We're awaiting the final decision of the court and we believe that a fair judgment will be passed.
"Other than that, it's business as usual, of course."
`Trinity Group not associated with Trinity Corp'
Trinity Group Sdn Bhd held a press conference at its sales office on July 12, 2012 to clarify that Trinity Group Sdn Bhd, its associated companies, directors and shareholders are not in any way associated with Trinity Corp Bhd (formerly known as Talam Corp Bhd) or any of its subsidiary companies.
The press conference was put together due to the recent publication of Talam Corp's debt recovery exercise that caused a lot of confusion among Trinity Group's customers, business partners, shareholders and other members of the public.
"Unfortunately, this happened in an ill-timed period for us at Trinity Group as we had just launched our latest project, The Zeva @ Equine South. There have been numerous calls urging us to clarify the issue, as many have mistakenly associated our company with Trinity Corp Bhd," said Trinity Group managing director Dato’ Neoh Soo Keat.
General manager Ng Ching Yee said the issue is going overboard and is beginning to dampen Trinity Group's reputation as a developer with a track record of quality products and services, mostly delivered ahead of schedule.
She said Trinity Group has left the matter to the hands of the law and hopes that the hearing would favour them, adding they will definitely trade mark the name as they did with their logo to prevent such an incident to ever take place again.
For now, Neoh hopes the press conference would help to clear the confusions and that all stakeholders of Trinity Group, its customers and other members of the public are aware of the differences between it and Trinity Corp.