Reflecting on Taiwan and Singapore

One of the biggest themes we saw on the Chazen Singapore/Taiwan trip is that connections matter. In Taiwan, we met with numerous prominent alumni who graciously hosted us because they wanted to grow the CBS network. We found ourselves being wined and dined in some of the top restaurants in Taiwan simply because of CBS or because somebody knew somebody who knew somebody…

This was particularly true in Singapore, where we visited two of the country’s most well-known institutions: Singapore Airlines and Marina Bay Sands. Both of these companies are quite private and rarely allow company or group visits, but because Jayburt Tsang ’17 (one of our fearless leaders!) spends a lot of time in Singapore, he was able to leverage his country connections and network for our Chazen group.
Singapore skyline at night

Checking out the Hainanese Chicken (local specialty) and other good eats at the Hawker Market!

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines is among the largest 15 airlines in the world. Despite the fact that Singapore as a whole has no domestic flight market (given how small the country is), Singapore Airlines has grown to prominence globally, operating in all of the major hubs. Its brand is well-regarded for high quality, high customer service, and impeccable amenities. We met with Nicholas Ionides, the VP of Public Affairs who spoke to us about Singapore’s plan for the future and also gave us a private tour of the airline’s training facilities. One of the key takeaways is that Singapore Airlines if focused on quality aircraft and technology. Its fleet is very young compared to industry average, at an average age of 7 years, 8 months. This allows them to constantly ensure that aircraft are fitted with top of the line technology, boosting efficiency and customer satisfaction. It also means that they have strong relationships with aircraft manufacturers who are eager to work with a company that consistently cycles its inventory. They also have their own engineering subsidiary, which allows them to ensure quality control is managed in house. Another subject we talked about extensively is how Singapore Airlines is able to maintain market prominence despite heavy competition. In recent years, it has decided to take a portfolio approach, managing 4 major airline brands: Silk Air, Singapore Airlines, Tiger Air, and Scoot. This allows them to have both a full service and low cost position, and to serve both regional and longhaul markets.

One of the most exciting parts of our visit was a tour of the training facilities. Singapore Airlines is renowned for its extensive and high quality training requirements. They operate a mandatory 15-week cabin week training program (industry average is half of this). Their large training center has multiple mock simulation centers.


Marina Bay Sands

Our last stop was Marina Bay Sands, the largest integrated resort in the world. We met with Robert Harayda, SVP of Finance. The first thing we learned is the definition of an “integrated resort” – which the Singapore government actually defined when Marina Bay Sands was built. The resort encompasses a hotel, sky park, casino, convention center, theaters, museums, malls, event spaces, and much more. The government was keen to open this resort in order to bring business meetings and expos into the country to increase foreign tourism. Building the resort required a $5.6B investment, making it the most expensive resort ever built in the world. With rapid planning and construction speed, the resort opened in 2010 – only 3 years after they broke ground. In addition to boosting tourism (the resort has an average 95-100% occupancy rate every day across 2,600 rooms!), the resort also provides jobs for the local economy. In fact, 90% of the resort’s procurement happens through local vendors.

 The view of the resort complex from the Chairman’s Suite.

The resort’s “sky park” – we walked on those suspension bridges!

The resort’s famous infinity pool – instagrammed like no other by thousands around the world.

Shots from inside the private Chairman’s Suite (literally where the group’s chairman stays when he is in town).

In Summary

The biggest tip we learned for successful business development in both Singapore and Taiwan was that networking and your reputation matter. You can be highly skilled and business proficient, but if you don’t take care in forming the right relationships, you will most likely stagnate. We repeatedly heard that many of the business deals these alumni had were due to friendships they had cultivated over many years, and when the time was right, they could capitalize on a business opportunity. Furthermore, to tie this back to our very first company visit in Taipei (Franz Collection)…even your reputation within your company is key. The culture that you seek to foster among your employees is very important and should be based on a foundation that values everyone’s thoughts and contributions.

This trip marked the beginning of a new year (2017) but also the beginning of my final semester at CBS. In many ways, it was a great way to kickstart both of these momentous transitions because it has reminded me of the value of relationships. This semester is a perfect time for all of us to focus on networking and using our leadership roles at school (whether in classes, clubs, etc.) to really build upon the reputation we hope to have. In other words, we’ll focus on the soft skills, and remember that while we may forget some of the basics of accounting or corporate finance, we can always build upon our EQ as we enter the workforce.

Finally, I think all of my fellow travel mates in the Singapore/Taiwan trip will agree with me that our trip was extremely rewarding because it gave us access to so many things we never thought possible. Some of the students had never been to Asia before and this was a great way to be immersed in a new culture. Many of us were quite familiar with Asia (either because we had lived or traveled there), but we had never had the opportunity to look under the hood of Asian businesses until this trip.

Our trip has come to an end, but the memories will last for a lifetime! Our team has gone through a lot during the past 2 weeks, from visiting stellar companies, to dining with some of Asia’s wealthiest billionaires, to taking a night safari in Singapore (literally, a safari at night), to eating chicken testicles and fish uterus…we’ve done it all! And we are so excited for #ChazenSensAsians reunions in the future!

Signing out –

Melanie Chow ‘17


Taiwan & Singapore – Kicking Off!

A lot of CBS students decide to join a Chazen trip to get insight into a new culture – they want to be immersed in a new language, new spices, new traditions that they have not yet experienced in their daily lives. And these are all excellent reasons!

But I decided to go a different route – to explore a culture I am immensely familiar with, but in a unique and exciting way. I am Cantonese and have traveled extensively through mainland China and Hong Kong, but have never been to Singapore or Taiwan. This upcoming Chazen trip, which kicks off in one week, will be a way to take a culture I love and see it through the eyes of my classmates and amazing trip organizers, Eric Yen ‘17, Evelyn Wuu ‘17, and Jayburt Tang, ‘17.

We’ve already had a taste of how great this trip will be from the kickoff dinner they organized for us a few weeks back. We went to Han Dynasty, a restaurant I’ve been to many times before. But while I often struggle with deciding what to order and properly pronouncing dishes I only half remember how to say with my elementary Chinese, Eric, Evelyn, and Jayburt quickly took the helm and ordered us a huge feast. They chose dishes that were mostly new to my classmates – things like chili oil dan dan noodles, beef tendons, double cooked pork with fermented greens, pickled vegetables, etc.

So what are we excited for?

  • Exploring Taiwan, from the startup culture to modern pottery to automated manufacturing to fine dining
  • Ringing in the new year while watching fireworks shoot off of Taiwan 101, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers
  • Visiting Singapore Airlines and learning about the luxury hospitality and real estate scene in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands, a 5-star hotel
  • Traditional Chinese meals from peking duck to local Taiwanese street food to multi-course meals in a palace museum…

and the list goes on…!

Melanie Chow ‘17
Singapore & Taiwan

Real Estate Association Study Tour: Final Thoughts

Our final day abroad was spent traveling to Hong Kong, experiencing the process of passing through immigration from mainland China to Hong Kong Island. We learned that due to political limitations, there is a daily cap of residents of mainland China who are able to visit Hong Kong in any given day.

Our planned company visits were complete and we had a full day on Saturday to explore Hong Kong. The island was not as I expected it. Previously, I saw photos of the International Finance Center, a sky scraper housing restaurants, a mall, the logistics and baggage transfer portion of Hong Kong airport and large firms in its tower. I extended this image to the rest of Hong Kong and imagined it as an island covered in large, marble office towers housing retailers of luxury goods.

Instead I explored the narrow, hilly streets lined with everything from local fare to high-end fashion designers and artisans’ boutiques.  We visited the Police Married Quarters (PMQ) which is an adaptive reuse project consisting of two buildings formerly used as police barracks that have been transformed into a unique shopping mall housing local and international artisans and their trendy wares. The phrase “hipster central” would be an appropriate descriptor of this mall.

The city has rich character. Unfortunately, we only visited for one short day and were unable to see even a fraction of the sights available to us. Unlike during the previous days, we used Saturday to explore the city in small groups, deepening our conversations with one another and really coming together as a group.

As I reflect on this past week during my 16-hour plane ride home, the following thoughts come to mind:

  1. I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness China develop as a nation. I’m curious to see if this government-initiated (almost forced) growth and expansion will propel Guangzhou and Shenzhen into sustainable growth or if it will create the next ghost cities due to oversupply of office buildings.
  2. What is the future of public transportation expansion in Singapore and China as this is the one feature critical to upholding future real estate development?
  3. Will China ever place a moratorium on the number of massage parlors present?


Nicole Atoyan ‘17

Real Estate in China: Just Build It

Heavy mist and grey skies greeted us as we walked off the plane in Guangzhou, China. The same climate bid us goodbye as we drove to Shenzhen one day later.

The last two days in southern China, first in Guangzhou then in Shenzhen, have been fast-paced as we’ve visited 7 major leaders in the real estate landscape here. The contrast between Singapore and southern China is stark. Singapore is a small city-state with a population of 5.4 million people. Guangzhou, largely recognized as the world’s manufacturing center, boasts a current population of 14 million and is one of China’s 5 National Central Cities. Singapore is pristine. Guangzhou is noticeably a busy, less manicured manufacturing hub and exhibits signs of development. There is a far greater number of cranes in the sky in Guangzhou and Shenzhen than there are in Singapore. Construction is around every corner, largely because land owners must develop newly-purchased land within 2 years of purchase and understand that building income-producing real estate assets is a safe harbor compared to holding cash that may lose value against other international currencies.

We were fortunate enough to visit the the Ping An Financial Center – a 600-meter (1800-foot) Class A office building, which is soon to be completed. This building is the third largest in China and is due to open in April. It will house Ping An, a large regional life insurance company, and several high technology and finance companies. Most importantly, its construction marks the creation of a structural icon in southern China, much like the Empire State Building is in New York City. In fact, the building’s ownership originally requested it look identical to the Empire State Building and subsequently scrapped the idea after viewing the model and deciding that the scale and shape of the structure didn’t quite match the surrounding real estate. The building is 118 floors and boasts an observatory: the first in Guangzhou and undoubtedly a future major attraction and revenue source. We donned hard hats through the construction site, boarded one of 4 double-stacked elevators and travelled to the 56th floor where we experienced the leasing team’s impressive marketing video on floor-to-ceiling screens all around us. We were 1 of 15 tours that day.

On the social front, the LN Garden Hotel in Guangzhou hosted a happy hour for our group, complete with a live band, a dim sum bar, a noodle bar, a full dessert table and a party bus. After a long day of traveling from company to company, this was a welcome surprise! An even better surprise occurred when our resident singer requested Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and took the stage to serenade us all for the next 5 songs. Dancing en masse ensued. Pictures are of course provided below. Who knew we had so much CBS talent in our group?

Nicole Atoyan ’17

Singapura: Utopia

Over the last three days in Singapore, we’ve visited 7 corporations and government agencies and have been immersed in Singaporean cultural and civic lessons. This city-state that gained its independence a mere 60 years ago from Malaysia and became a melting pot of cultures from all over Asia, advancing technologically and socially at a rapid pace.

During our visit here, Singapore struck me as a utopia of sorts. This view is shaped by the city-state’s impressive strategy around public housing. When the Housing Development Board (HDB) was formed in the 1960s as a component of the new independent government of Singapore, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had a view for citizens: home ownership for all, despite socioeconomic status, to give them a stake in the country. Not only was his vision to encourage home ownership, but to make it affordable enough that homelessness and squatter living would cease to exist as a pervasive problem.

A shocking 85% of the Singaporean population now lives in public housing, which is either purchased or rented from the HDB. Public housing in Singapore is of very high quality and  features attractive and varied floor plans. Such a development, the Pinnacle@Duxton, is pictured below.

Most interestingly, it’s a social engineering experiment. In order to foster racial harmony, the Singaporean government (and by extension, the HDB), mandates that each floor in a public housing development be racially integrated. Families of the same nationality cannot live next door to each other. Neighbors must be of different nationalities. (Largely, the mix is South Indian, Malay, Chinese, Singaporean and others who are permanent residents.)

Housing is heavily subsidized by the government for families and couples. Singles aren’t permitted to rent or purchase public housing until age 35 since the Singaporean government strives to encourage marriage and family formation given the anemic birth rate. Low income families are not denied high-grade housing and their rent is heavily subsidized based upon their income. They can rent for as little as $52 USD per month. This policy justifies the low (almost 0%!) homelessness rate in Singapore.

It’s also interesting to note that apartment sales are leasehold, meaning the owners “own” the apartment for 99 years after which the apartment reverts back to the government for restoration and resale.

Our visit to Singapore ended with an alumni reception at Spago hosted by Morgan Stanley at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. A breathtaking view of the bay surrounded us as we gathered with alumni and newly admitted students. It couldn’t have been a more perfect conclusion to our stint in Singapore.


I am so amazed at how far this city-state has come in 60 years of autonomy and development and I’m so intrigued by what they’ll accomplish in subsequent years.

And now, off to China!

IMG_7799.JPGNicole Atoyan ’17

Singapore, China & Hong Kong: the journey is upon us!

When I think of Singapore, skyscrapers and images of technological modernity immediately come to mind. I would be remiss by neglecting to mention the image of The Jetsons – a once popular American cartoon – that also comes to mind for me when this hyper-developed nation is mentioned. The trip will formally begin in two days, when 40 Columbia Business School students and two faculty members from the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate depart for a study tour of Singapore and the Pearl River Delta region of China. The fortunate portion of our group that hasn’t endured an endless stream of final exams has already departed, visiting the beaches of the Far East before heading to Singapore.

Our first day will be filled with cultural visits: a visit to the Gardens by the Bay (pictured here), Chinatown and Little India. A riverboat tour and dinner at one of the most notable seafood restaurants will follow.

120607010620-gardens-bay-panoramic-horizontal-large-galleryWe’ll spend the next two days meeting with leaders in the real estate industry: multinational companies such as Blackstone Real Estate Partners, the largest real estate private equity company in the world, and Capitaland in addition to strong players in the regional market such as GIC. We’ll end our Singapore experience with an alumni reception at Spago.

Guangzhou, nicknamed the City of Flowers in southern China, is our first stop in the Pearl River Delta region. This area is considered the birthplace of the ancient maritime Silk Road, now used as a major trading and transportation hub.  This major city is an important commercial center in China and a focus for real estate development and investment.

The group will also explore Shenzhen – another major commercial center in the Pearl River Delta. Meetings with Vanke, Jones Lang LaSalle, Swire Properties, Fosun and site visits of the Ping An Finance Center and the Qianhai project await.

The trip will end with a day to explore Hong Kong before returning to New York City. I can’t wait for the adventure that lies ahead. I am, however, hoping to sleep for the duration of the 21-hour flight there!

Nicole Atoyan ’17