CEOs are many things but “cool” isn’t usually one of them. Desmond Sim, CEO at Edmund Tie & Company (SEA), however, is deserving of that adjective.

The 47-year-old is the co-founder and drummer of indie-pop outfit Lilac Saints. The group racked up several hits in the ’90s, including ‘Wasting Time’ that was featured in 12 Storeys, Eric Khoo’s seminal exploration of local angst and ennui. “But I couldn’t run away from real estate,” says Sim, who has a degree in the field. He got his start when the former DBS Land appointed him to do valuations and then he switched to research. Next, he did a decade at global real estate firm JLL before working for nine years at international real estate advisory giant CBRE.

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Sim is reportedly one of the youngest CEOs in the industry. He took over from Ong Choon Fah, one of the original co-founders of Edmund Tie. The home-grown SME with offices in Malaysia and Thailand is celebrating its 26th anniversary this year.

During his former work as a valuer, he had to lug clipboards, spare batteries and a box of five or six rolls of film to photograph clients’ homes. “You took every shot three times in case one was spoiled,” he says. “Thank goodness for digital cameras now.”

Naturally, one key push under Sim’s watch is digitalisation. “Real estate transactions create a lot of data. Digitising ours breaks down silos in the business and reduces the number of processes.”

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While capital markets or investment sales remain a key priority for Edmund Tie – it has brokered the sale of 23 redevelopment sites totalling more than $4 billion since 2017 – Sim wants to expand its property management business. Also in the pipeline: sustainable ESG initiatives such as using automation to optimise climate control, lighting and electricity use.

Talent development is another priority. Sim plans to roll out internships and work attachments for students and wants to set up a special millennial committee that will contribute feedback on corporate decisions regarding various subjects, from new tech adoptions to staff amenities.

Despite his plans, Sim, whose idol is former Manchester United manager and firebrand Sir Alex Ferguson, says he is not a radical disruptor. “I like to joke that the S stands for small and ME for mature experience,” he says. “Individually, the team is skilled and doing well. I just want to show them the benefits and give them a shared vision we can work towards together.”

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