Entrepreneur

Kishin RK: How This Real Estate Mogul Became S'pore's Youngest Billionaire At Age 37

Kishin RK, the only son of Singaporean real estate magnate and Royal Holdings co-founder, Raj Kumar, is Singapore’s youngest billionaire at only 37 years of age.

The Royal Brothers property empire was founded in the 1970s.

Raj, 66, had formed Royal Holdings when he and his brother Asok Kumar Hiranandani, divided their Royal Brothers property business in 2011.

Meanwhile, Kishin had carved a name for himself in the real estate business and F&B industry.

He is the founder and CEO of real estate acquisition and development company RB Capital, which has an asset base of over S$5 billion.

The father-son pair rank 13th on the Singapore’s 50 Richest 2020 list with their combined fortune of US$2.6 billion (S$3.5 billion).

Here’s the question: Did Kishin earn any of his own wealth or was it all inherited from his family’s fortune?

Real Estate Was Already In His Blood

When he was 12, his father had given him a crash course on purchasing property and guided him through the process of buying his first apartment.

He eventually purchased his first apartment, but did not reveal if he had used his own allowance or his dad’s money for the purchase.

Kishin RK and father Raj Kumar
Kishin RK and father Raj Kumar / Image Credit: Portfolio Magazine

However, he has said in interviews that his father later started taking him along to real estate meetings so he could learn more about the family business.

In property asset management firm Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report 2019, the older man proudly revealed that his son “was always asking, ‘Why?’ He was so hungry to learn”. 

I was basically a sponge. I wanted to absorb everything I could, as fast as I could.

– Kishin RK, in a 2019 interview with Singapore Tatler

By the time he turned 18, he found his calling in real estate.

“I realised that my interest was actually real estate. There was no need to do anything else,” he shared with Singapore Tatler in 2019.

After completing his real estate degree at National University of Singapore, he started working full-time in the family business in 2003.

Royal Brothers Group had a strong foothold in strata retail projects including numerous commercial shop units in Lucky Plaza, Peninsula Plaza and Queensway Shopping Centre in the 1980s.

They diversified from commercial and residential property investment into the hospitality industry in the 1990s.

They picked up hotel properties in New Zealand and Australia such as Novotel Hotel in Auckland, Holiday Inn in Queenstown and Mercure Hotel in Perth and Brisbane.

Novotel Auckland Airport
Novotel Auckland Airport / Image Credit: New Zealand.com

The Group also acquired Time Square Complex, a twin tower property that comprises of a hotel and office tower in Brisbane.

It also added the Melia@Scotts hotel at Scotts Road (now the Scotts Highpark condo) Singapore to its portfolio, which more than doubled in price within two years when sold to CapitaLand for S$165 million.

In 2001, they also bought the DBS Securities Building located at Raffles Place. After a major refurbishment, the building was renamed the “Royal Brothers Building” or “RB Capital Building” and housed their headquarters.

RB Capital Building
RB Capital Building at Raffles Place / Image Credit: RB Capital

In 2006, it acquired Cuppage Terrace, a row of 17 conservation shophouses along Orchard Road, which houses an array of restaurants.

Kishin has said the family business was his “real school”, which honed a passion for real estate.

I was a very cheap intern, always interning in the family business. I wouldn’t even call myself an intern. I was there.

An intern contributes to the firm. I was absorbing from the firm. I continue to absorb and I don’t think I’ll stop. I was exposed to everything, every business decision. It started becoming more familiar over time.

– Kishin RK, in a 2015 interview with The Business Times

The early exposure has clearly paid off for the former Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) boy and paved the path to setting up his own real estate firm.

I was really getting to understand the ins and outs of not just the family business, but the larger landscape of real estate and how it worked as an industry. And I wanted to go deeper.

– Kishin RK, in a 2019 interview with Singapore Tatler

Striking Out On His Own

Kishin RK had a keen appetite to learn and clearly wanted to do more on his own. Most importantly, he wanted to step out of his father’s shadow.

When he was 23, he decided to sell an apartment — a 5,000 sq ft in Meyer Road which he got as a gift from his parents — and used the proceeds to start his own company, real estate firm RB Capital.

The initials of RB are derived from the erstwhile Royal Brothers.

Kishin RK and father Raj Kumar
Kishin RK and father Raj Kumar / Image Credit: Portfolio Magazine

On how he reacted to his son’s decision to strike out on his own, Raj Kumar had told The Wealth Report 2019, “For once, it was me asking, ‘Why?’”

Within less than a decade, Kishin had catapulted RB Capital from a dabbler in real estate to a powerhouse across the retail, office and hotel spaces.

A timeline of RB Capital’s investment projects:

  • 2006: Founded RB Capital. With the proceeds from the Meyer Road apartment, he bought a freehold retail podium of 6,000 sq ft on the ground floor of Malacca Centre.
  • 2006: Acquired the Menara Genesis building in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur for RM55 million (S$18 million). HSBC is its anchor tenant.
Menara Genesis building in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Menara Genesis building in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur / Image Credit: Kuala Lumpur Office
  • 2007: Acquired Satnam House and Amaraj House here for S$40 million and redeveloped the North Bridge Road site into the EFG Bank building, named after its anchor tenant.
  • 2008: Bought the former Shell station on the ground floor of Coronation Plaza in Bukit Timah for about S$6.3 million and transformed it into a thriving retail space.
  • 2010: Reportedly outbid heavyweights Far East Organisation and City Developments, and paid S$101 million for a hotel site in Clarke Quay. Kishin turned it into the 442- room Holiday Inn Express which is also SEA’s largest Holiday Inn Express hotel.
  • 2012: Acquired a 33,326 sq ft plot in Little India above the Farrer Park MRT station in 2012 for a record S$151 million and turned it into the 42-unit Farrer Park Medical Suites and a 300-room five-star hotel managed by Park Hotel Group.
Park Hotel Farrer Park / Image Credit: TTG Asia
  • 2012: Acquired The Quayside’s retail podium for S$69 million.
  • 2013: Acquired the adjacent former Gallery Hotel at S$232.5 million.
  • 2014: Announced plan to transform Gallery Hotel and The Quayside retail into the 225-room InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay and nearly 100,00 sq ft of combined F&B-led retail space.
  • 2015: Redeveloped the 16-storey RB Capital Building into a 63-storey property; and added a hotel component to Cuppage Terrace.

In 2011, Raj and Asok divided up the holdings of Royal Brothers and went their separate ways. The former subsequently set up Royal Holdings while Asok set up Royal Group.

InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay
InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay / Image Credit: Booking.com

Unlike his father’s firm which focuses mostly on repositioning under-performing real estate assets, Kishin’s RB Capital focuses on real estate development and building ground-up, greenfield projects.

When he joined the family business, he knew that for it to continue to prosper, it had to expand beyond mere buying and managing of existing buildings.

I had to see where the gaps and opportunities were, and where I could be relevant.

When you’re in for the long term, you need to understand how you’re going to ride the waves and make your business relevant over a long period of time.

– Kishin RK in a 2015 interview with The Peak Singapore

Both father and son realised they could grow both businesses by working together on various projects such as Clarke Quay’s Holiday Inn Express Hotel and the InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay.

That was why they decided to merge RB Capital and Royal Holdings in 2014.

On the shift in strategy, he had told The Peak magazine, “We don’t merely focus on business-to-business (B2B) – I build a unit, you buy it from me or I build a unit, you pay me rent.”

Kishin RK and Raj Kumar
Kishin RK and Raj Kumar / Image Credit: Knight Frank

“We focus on business-to-consumer (B2C) first, which allows us to shape the positioning of that property. So it’s B2C then B2B. When we talk to tenants/partners, there’s a very clear vision of who the consumers will be and how they will spend.”

After RB Capital and Royal Holdings’ merger, Kishin aims to build a property portfolio of $8 billion by 2020.

The two are now known as Singapore’s leading landlords and have a combined net worth of US$2.6 billion (S$3.5 billion).

He Errs On The Side Of Caution

While he has a proven track record, there was one project that he looked back at with regret.

At 29, he made a US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) offer for 42 Marriott hotels (totalling over 8,000 rooms) in the UK put up for sale by Royal Bank of Scotland.

London Heathrow Marriott Hotel
London Heathrow Marriott Hotel / Image Credit: Booking.com

The bid secured it a spot among the top three bidders. However, Kishin withdrew the offer, losing out to sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Nonetheless, he calls it his “most successful failure”.

Kishin had explained the move to The Peak magazine in 2015: “I had to be rational yet competitive with my bid; pull the plug when it was the right time to do so. Numbers have to take precedence.”

“The moment that I feel I have to win all the time, I’m in trouble. It’s painful because so much effort has been invested. But I’ve made it a point to never fall in love with a transaction.”

Had RB Capital been successful with the acquisition, the UK hotels could have been combined with the group’s Singapore hotels and he would have been one of the largest hotel owners here.

Image Credit: Robb Report Singapore

“Moving forward, if we have an opportunity like that again where we have a strategic portfolio of hotels, then we might revisit a hospitality Reit listing — subject to market conditions at that point in time,” he said.

Apparently, his conservative nature arises partly due to his upbringing.

I’ve lost out on opportunities that turned out well, because of my conservative nature. The one thing about being brought up in a comfortable background is that your appetite for risk-taking is less.

You ask yourself – do you really need it? … There is risk in every transaction. Do I want to change my nature? No. I have made some mistakes, but for the longevity of the business, I do not need to take on substantial risk at this point. It wouldn’t be sensible.

– Kishin RK, in a 2015 interview with The Business Times

He runs RB Capital with a level-headedness and conservatism normally
associated with businessmen several years his senior.

Kishin, who reportedly counts Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin as one of his close friends, has a very clear vision on how to make his business relevant over a long period of time.

“I’ve never got into the whole sex appeal of real estate. I build the business on stable cash flows. Which is why my first hotel is a 442-key Holiday Inn Express (in Clarke Quay),” he told The Peak Magazine in 2015.

There was a gap in the market for a hotel with limited service in the prime central area. If I wanted a sexy hotel, it would have been a 15-, 20-room hotel with a funky restaurant that I could take my friends to. But, no.

I’ve never done anything, especially on the career front, to prove anything to anyone. It’s not in my nature.

– Kishin RK in a 2015 interview with The Peak Singapore

His Latest Venture: Cloud Kitchens

Besides real estate, he has many different interests and one of them is food.

I have a very fond interest in food, and the emergence of lifestyle enclaves like Keong Saik and Tiong Bahru in the early 2000s got me really interested in that business. It seemed very glamorous and fun from the outside.

– Kishin RK, in a 2019 interview with Singapore Tatler

Kishin’s newest venture is TiffinLabs, an online meal delivery firm with more than 1,000 cloud kitchens in Asia, Europe and the U.S.

The company was co-founded in early 2019 by Kishin, restaurant industry specialist Shaun Smithson, Facebook alum Sam Ahmed and tech-focused mergers and acquisitions strategy expert Phuminant Tantiprasongchai.

rk kishin
Image Credit: Luxury Insider

They harness data analytics to identify food trends and consumer preferences.

By leveraging on its AI-driven kitchen operating and management system, the food tech firm reengineers the food delivery ecosystem while serving up high-quality meals to diners who choose to stay home.

Not just a meal delivery firm, the food tech company has acquired over 1,000 underutilised commercial kitchens that are waiting to be activated in Asia Pacific, Europe and America.

cloud kitchen tiffinlabs food delivery
Image Credit: TiffinLabs

Each “smart” kitchen is equipped with a proprietary operation system operated by three to four staff.

Rather than deliver food from brick-and-mortar restaurants, centralised kitchens prepare food that can be ordered from virtual restaurants.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, TiffinLabs set up a charitable foundation called Food is Love and provided food to needy individuals and families.

20,000 restaurant-quality meals were offered to low-income families suffering from job losses and an additional 10,000 meals to health care workers.

Building His Own Wealth

He could have had everything on a silver platter, but he chose to be an entrepreneur and build a business to his name.

It’s true that if Kishin didn’t have financial backing from his family to start RB Capital, he may not have gotten this far.

However, it is clear that he has a nose for sniffing out real estate opportunities and a thirst for knowledge.

He also seems to be a very low-profile person who is not very active on social media. His Instagram account is private and has only five posts, while his Facebook profile is quite bare to the public.

According to a Forbes 2012 article, he prefers to drive a BMW rather than the yellow Ferrari gifted by his dad.

Both father and son live together, sharing a 30,000-square-foot mansion on Meyer Road, an ­upmarket enclave of villas favoured by wealthy Indians.

While he has said he loves dining at the finest restaurants in the world, he prefers to live within his means.

There was a rumour that he’s in the market for a private jet, but he has shrugged off the speculation saying, “The numbers don’t add up”.

“I’m only 32. Who am I to own a private plane?”

Kishin RK may have had great start in life, but he’s not relying on his parents to help him get by – instead, he has ventured into new territory and boosted his father’s established real estate business in the process.

Featured Image Credit: RB Capital

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