KIP Group CEO Valerie Ong talks promotion, property, and passion, and what she’s taking from each to carve her own path.
‘Do what you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life’ – you’ve probably heard this saying to the point of cliché. Valerie Ong will tell you that that while she has experienced this to be true, it is no longer the be-all-and-end-all of building a career.
“You have to do ten thousand things at the same time because these days, work is no longer one thing, it’s a hybrid,” tells the newly-minted CEO of KIP Group of Companies. She is also owner-operator of The Point Restaurant & Bar, a wine rendezvous with a vast selection of vintage labels.
The daughter of Dato’ Eric Ong has officially taken the mantle from her father, and now spearheads integrated property developer and retail management specialist KIP Group. Known as a fashionable socialite with a globetrotting spirit, she spent five years mastering the ropes before rising to the task.
Still, Valerie clearly looks to her father for guidance, as evidenced by their daily morning huddles to run through daily agenda. She was exposed to the property world from a young age as the senior Ong would take her to property launches and malls he had built.
“Learning how to compromise is a skill”
Valerie recognises how her position of privilege facilitates her accomplishments, but points out that it does not negate hard work. In fact, it could even double it.
“My biggest challenge is not being a woman in a male-dominant industry, but being the boss’ daughter. I think I speak for everyone in my shoes when I say we have to do extra to prove our merit and improve the company,” she shares. That means more extensive market research, a million and one proposals, and learning when to take a step back. “Learning how to compromise and be silent at needed times is a skill,” she adds.
As CEO, she has to focus on strategy and move away from the nitty-gritty details. That’s why Valerie’s prime objective as newly-appointed chief is to enforce result-based systems that would empower the company to run smoothly as its own entity.
“People are not as hungry as they used to be, they are more comfortable,” she muses of the young working pool. “I have to grant my front liners the authority to run the business as well. If we micromanage too much, there won’t be innovations because employees won’t develop that sense of accountability and responsibility.”
It’s easy to label her a ‘tiger lady boss’, but understanding her background and motivation grants a certain insight into Valerie’s goals for KIP. “What’s important for me is building that relationship with someone, to give them a happy place to work in, and reward them in kind,” she shares.
Progress is never one-dimensional – it is inclusive and important, but it requires hard work, and sometimes, guidance. Valerie tells how her aggressive strategies are balanced out by the wisdom of those before her; the KIP founders Dato’ Ong and Dato’ Chew Lak Seong, who weathered two financial crises in their time.
Nevertheless, this vivacious woman knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to grab it. She weaves her passion for travel, fashion, and wine into her career, built on the belief that diversity is the recipe for contentment.
“Don’t just have one passion, have a few,” she iterates. “I fell in love with wine because there are so many levels to it. You can hold a smart conversation about it for hours!”
The only way to understand wine is to drink more, and don’t be shy about it!
In the five years since she opened The Point, Valerie notes that Malaysians are opening up to wine, but could use a bit more adventure. The Point hosts monthly wine tasting sessions at its refurbished, second-floor wine bar, where groups of 20-30 mull over vintage wines that are otherwise hard to access.
Together with her partner, whom she describes as more of a wine connoisseur, Valerie has turned youthful drinking sessions into an invitation into the world of wine. “Using words beyond ‘strong’ or ‘nice’ is something we learn together, but it’s also a sum of our personal experiences. It can be intimidating because it takes time – so the only way to understand wine is to drink more, and don’t be shy about it!” she laughs.
Valerie’s carefree spirit shines through her enjoyment of wine. She excitedly related her trip to Bordeaux in France, where she bottled The Point’s very first label, Le Grand Fusion.
“I can also take this whole experience back to what I do with KIP. When hosting associates, you need to have different interests beyond property development to make conversation – business talk is only a small part,” she divulges.
Focusing on community-centric shopping malls in the retail segment, KIP is banking on the longevity of tangible services that still require the human touch to build brand trust, especially in F&B and IT.
“No business can be run alone anymore. All successful businesses collaborate now,” she says, painting a picture of KIP’s future.
When asked about her personal future, Valerie believes marriage and settling down “will come when it comes”. She already has two ‘babies’ taking up her time, the company of family and friends to enjoy, with so much more of the world to see. Carving your own path isn’t always a bed of roses, but Valerie knows a glass of red sure helps.
Follow Valerie’s journey on Instagram.
Photography: Gan Yew Chin