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How Emilia Teo’s taste for adventure inspires her to steer Tong Eng Group

The third-generation scion of Tong Eng Group on guiding the family business during these times - and her favourite whiskies

Emilia Teo’s idea of a dream getaway often involves heading into the great outdoors. Her most memorable trip, says the director of Tong Eng Group, was hiking through the untamed steppes of Mongolia. “I like discovering new things, and that is something I look out for on my holidays. I am always up for adventure.”

This exploratory spirit extends to her professional life. A third-generation scion of the Teo family behind property development firm Tong Eng Group, she and her brother Terence led last year’s launch of a new business arm: TE Capital Partners, an investment and asset management firm.

“The purpose is to manage our family’s money and third-party funds under an institutional outfit guided by integrity, trust and excellence,” says Teo, 36.

The firm’s latest deal is a joint venture acquisition of an office building in Melbourne’s central business district at A$145 million (S$143 million) in July, making it one of the most significant investment deals in the city this year.

Since she joined the family firm in 2011 after completing her masters in business administration at the UNSW Business School in Australia, she has been trailblazing a path for the 70-year-old company. In 2014, she spearheaded its first overseas foray in developing an Australian office portfolio, and has been involved in transactions amounting to almost A$800 million to date. Since then, TE Capital Partners has made investments in Japan, and has plans to look at opportunities in other Asian cities.

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Emilia Teo is the managing director of Tong Eng Group.

Emilia Teo is the third-generation scion of Tong Eng Group.

In Singapore, the group’s properties include its headquarters Tong Eng Building on Cecil Road, and recent residential developments such as Wilshire Residences, Belgravia Villas and Belgravia Green. The company recently redeveloped its older properties, including Arc 380 (formerly Eminent Plaza and Lavender Food Square) and Centrium Square (previously Serangoon Plaza). There are also plans to explore other asset classes besides residential and office developments, such as debt, logistics or multi-family projects.

Philanthropy is next. While it has been supporting social enterprise Dignity Kitchen, which hires people with disabilities, and social and intellectual challenges, Teo believes more can be done. The pandemic has been a motivating factor – the business provided lunch boxes for migrant workers in a collaboration with Blossom World Society. TE Capital Partners was also involved in a campaign to aid low-income families in a tie-up with Beyond Social Services. “We are hoping to develop this to give back in a more meaningful way,” she says.

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Having the latitude to explore varied interests is one of the benefits of working in the family business, says Teo, who held a wealth management role in Citibank for about two years. “In an MNC, my work was very specific. In contrast, working for the family business meant I could learn all aspects of it. Real estate is a multidisciplinary industry and I was able to deep dive with my company’s experienced team,” she observes.

“Working with the family, you know they will have your back,” she adds, noting that this means having to deal with work and leisure blending at the dinner table.
That’s when whisky is served. Teo loves Talisker Dark Storm for “easy drinking” and The Ladyburn 42 when she wants to indulge. “I like that every whisky has its own character and complexity,” she says. “I enjoy trying new whiskies with pals where it can be an adventure.”