Reflections with Carina Lim

By Clarinda Ong and Maple Ee

As a Director in Keppel Capital, Carina Lim oversees the activities such as fund-raising acquisition, asset management and portfolio management of the Keppel Education Asset Fund. Before she heads up the education division in Keppel Capital, she led the asset management division of Alpha Investment Partners, another business unit in Keppel Capital to create and manage quality real estate to capture investor interest. As an established leader in the field of Private Equity Real Estate, Carina shares the personal challenges she faced and how she overcame them. She also offers her insights on the future of the industry and valuable advice for youths looking to take a similar path.

I think it is important to be able to blend work, life and family together. At times, you have to put more time into work; at times you have to allocate more time for your family. Equally important is having time for yourself too. I believe that in order to have a successful life and career, it is important that your family knows and supports what you do.

There will always be pressure in life. Hence, it is important to know your priorities and always stay positive. Surround yourself with good and positive people. Create a good social support network. 

During weekdays, I typically wake up at 5.30 am. I send my 2 teenagers to their schools together with my husband. I reach my office around 7.30 am after dropping my husband at work. I typically end work by 7.30 pm unless I have night calls. 

During my workday, time flies at Keppel Capital as I enjoy my work which involves fund raising, investment, and management of the Keppel Education Asset Fund. My goals are aligned with my company’s — for Keppel Capital to be the best-in-class asset management platform, serving as a trusted partner for our investors. 

I have been in Keppel for more than 10 years now. It is a great company to work with. There are always opportunities for people to excel, for people to strive to do better and learn more.  I started with Keppel as a senior asset manager and moved up the ranks. I oversaw the asset management of various funds in Keppel Capital before I head up the Keppel Education Asset Fund. 

My workday is usually packed with meetings and discussions with investors, partners and service providers. The education real estate and social infrastructure sector is in the beginning of the investment cycle driven by rising wealth, rapid urbanisation and the growing middle class in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. Many established education operators whom we are working with are expanding in APAC.  The education sector especially the K-12 sector has weathered the current pandemic situation well and has shown its resilience. Importantly, the education sector also contributes positively to the society – good schools help to develop individuals holistically. All the school operators we work with set aside a certain amount of their revenue for good causes such as bursaries for the students in need and scholarships for deserving students. I find my current work very meaningful, because I can make sustained and positive contributions to the education sector in APAC.

My interest in real estate started during my university days. I did a lot of part-time work related to this industry to gain experience as well as earn extra pocket money.  In those days, my work involved selling private residential apartments. 

It was only later when I was working with a developer in leasing and marketing roles that I gained an understanding of the real estate fund management sector. I was keen on learning more about this segment of the real estate industry, and working in it. I then took a Master’s course in financial management as well as asked for rotation to the investment department of the developer firm to gain experience, hopefully giving me a better chance of getting into this industry. 

The ebbs and flows of the APAC real estate market makes fund management exciting. One needs to gauge when to invest and when to exit. In addition, during the difficult economic period, one needs perseverance and good asset management skills to turnaround assets.

I mentioned earlier about the importance of being able to blend work, life and family together. In addition, it is important to create a good social support network. I have experienced how important this can be.

In 2009, my husband had an excellent opportunity to work in an esteemed and well-regarded company in Hong Kong. At that time, my daughter was around 4 years old and my son was around 2 years old.  We had to make a critical decision of whether we should relocate the whole family to Hong Kong or if we were comfortable with my husband relocating to Hong Kong for a period of time. This seemed like a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for him. 

In the end, we discussed and decided that he should relocate to Hong Kong on his own so that he could pursue his career and do what he loves. I stayed in Singapore to take care of the children and continued to do what I love too. We made a plan for him to fly back at least twice a month. We also spent all our holidays in Hong Kong. This would not have been possible if we did not trust each other and have a strong sense of responsibility that this arrangement would work out.

Times were tough as I needed to take care of the 2 young children on my own while making sure my work quality was not affected. I received some help from my domestic helper, my mum and my mother-in-law. My children also learnt to be independent. When my boss heard about my situation, he kindly suggested that I should cover the Hong Kong market too. I was very grateful for his understanding. 

In the end, things worked out well.  Looking back, I think I would not have been able to successfully navigate this challenge without a good social support network.

I think it is important not to define work-life balance too rigidly, as you will feel stressed if you cannot fall within a strict definition. Learn to blend work, life and family together instead. Also, know where your priorities are and keep your promises to your family.

One frequent misconception is that people might think that asset management is just property management. Asset management encompasses more than just property management. The job of an asset manager can be compared to a general manager of a business. The asset manager has to make sure that he/she maximises the revenue, controls the expenses effectively while managing the real estate or investment well. 

In addition, private equity real estate fund management is more than just buying and selling assets. It involves the whole value chain of deal sourcing, underwriting, financing, tax structuring, asset management, value adding to investments, portfolio management (including hedging, tax planning), divestment, etc. with the objective to optimise returns for investors.

I enjoy spending time with my family, such as eating nice food (not necessarily expensive food), watching movies or interacting with them. I have a variety of interests including reading, listening to music, doing yoga and brisk walking.  

Beyond family members, I also meet up with close friends and colleagues. I volunteer from time to time though I wish I could be more active in this area.

I am involved in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities that my company is involved in. Keppel Capital partners the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore), MDAS, in our community outreach efforts.  I am also one of the founding members of the Real Estate Women Association (REWA) which we just started this year. Besides these, I am also involved in parent support groups of the schools my two teenagers are attending.

I think it is important not only to stay grounded, be humble and grateful for what we have. In addition, we should also give back to society.

Fund management is a highly competitive industry. One must continue to learn to do better and do well. Be prepared for the long hours and hard work especially when you are working on deals. When you first enter this line of work, try to take on more tasks to learn more. 

Also, remember that investors put money with you as they trust you. You have a fiduciary duty to them. 

There are times when your energy feels so depleted that you want to give up. Don’t.  You have to stay positive and strong. Things will be better. That is how you can build resilience. 

When you look back,  you will know it is worth it.

As mentioned earlier, fund management is a highly competitive industry. As fund managers, we must continue to evolve, grow to survive and do well.  

With the pandemic, there is a shift towards alternative asset classes such as data centres, infrastructure as well as  infrastructure  for the education and social sectors which are viewed as defensive due to their long term leases with contractual income uplift and risk adjusted returns. 

The importance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)  has also increased over the years. Keppel Group is an early adopter of ESG.  All our funds under management took part in the GRESB survey, a global benchmark for ESG efforts.

In addition, to stay relevant, companies have to embrace technology, learn and leverage on technology. At Keppel Capital, we leverage on many technologies to do our work more efficiently and effectively.  For example, for the Keppel Education Asset Fund which I am managing, we use Microsoft Power BI to create compelling visuals and reports for data analytics. Power BI is a collection of software services, apps and connectors that work together to turn data into interactive insights. Data sources could be from one or multiple databases and cloud sources to complex datasets and reports. 

I believe REITs and asset management businesses will continue to stay relevant despite the pandemic. Some of the activities such as meetings have shifted online but business still continues. Landlords have to show understanding to their customers and tenants during this difficult period. Keppel Group has offices in key cities in Asia Pacific and that have supported our investment activities overseas as we have people on the ground to continue to perform their due diligence.

As mentioned earlier in my reply in Q5, private equity real estate fund management is more than buying and selling assets. It involves a whole value chain of activities. 

Some core or strong skills set you need to learn or acquire for a start would include finance and financial management 

  1. Communication (both verbal and written) 
  2. Analytical skills (both quantitative and qualitative) 
  3. Develop knowledge in institutional investment management, capital markets, portfolio management, risk management and understanding the asset class(es) you are interested in. 

Where possible, try to gain practical experience. Network with people in the industry as they may be able to share their knowledge and experiences.

Besides the core skills I mentioned above, there are other things you need to note: 

  1. Make sure you have a good reputation – online and offline
  2. Be friendly to people including your competitors as the industry is small
  3. Be responsive and helpful
  4. Keep your promises

Stay positive, be focused and stay true to your goals. When you face fear or pressure in life, always remember you are not alone. 

At times, when I face pressure or fear, I always jokingly remind myself that “Fear/Pressure is not a virtue. So don’t worry about losing it.” Thereafter, I will just make a mental plan to focus on the task again.