Joo Kim Tiah

Estates. Real.

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In the relatively short amount of time Holborn Group has been active in the real estate development and management businesses in the lower mainland region, they have achieved a remarkable amount of traction, always putting quality levels at the forefront of their guiding philosophy. The splashiest, by far, of their projects to date is the soon to be completed Trump Tower, right there on Georgia Street, the unique design already spiralling its way into the Vancouver cityscape. Presiding carefully over it all is CEO Joo Kim Tiah, who lives here permanently, representing a company based in Malaysia but with both roots in and affection for this part of the world.

The Presentation Centre, which seems to always be quietly busy, has sample bathrooms, walk-in closets, a model of the tower itself. Tiah, with a clearly customary quick pace, enters and says hello to the assembled, before settling into a private room, to talk. The room was occupied not so long ago by Ivanka Trump, who was in town to assess progress and speak to various interested parties. She said with an assurance both natural and studied, that, “We love what is happening here in Vancouver. It is a truly international city, and we are proud to be bringing such a fantastic project to life.” Tiah shares that assurance, and if anything, actually has even more passion for the project. “What I want most of all is to create a truly beautiful thing, for this community,” he says. “I enjoy each aspect of the process, knowing it is something that will bring people together.”

The ambition is by no means modest. The architecture alone makes a dramatic statement, but Tiah is not thinking only along those broad lines. “My parents fell in love with Vancouver and Whistler, and began slowly making investments here,” he says. “They remain passionate about it to this day. For me, it was not like some epiphany or anything like that. I had slowly fallen in love with the real estate business, and I kept thinking about what is missing from the market here. That’s when the project with Trump came into play.” The Trump brand is of course important to him, because of their business prowess, their professionalism. “They are terrific to work with, truly great at hotel management, and real estate development. In fact, Donald Jr. and I have an affinity for each other, both having such larger-than-life fathers, in a high-profile business. Let’s just say we easily relate to each other.”

But there is something quite organic about Tiah’s ambitions, as well. “Trump is an important brand. But this is still my project,” he says. “It took me a year and a half to find the right partner, actually. But the idea here is to make something that all of Vancouver can be proud of, a local champion that has international appeal, most of all, simply, a place people want to come to.”

The research phase of the project meant Tiah spent a prodigious amount of time visiting and studying hotels, and countless meals in all kinds of restaurants. ”I just needed to get a clear sense not only of what is out there, but a sense of where the industry seems to be going, as well. Service levels, for example, absolutely must be attentive, crisp, and professional, but personable.” He thinks for a moment, before adding, “It is all about how to balance grandeur with intimacy. That’s not so easy to accomplish.”

The building is part residences, part hotel, and part public attraction. Among the amenities will be a Michelin-quality restaurant by the amazing Mott 32 team from Hong Kong, a dayclub/nightclub by Drai, and an Equinox fitness centre: world-class brands all. Tiah’s overarching goal of making a quality statement at the high end of Vancouver’s luxury market is well under way, and he seems, rightly so, to be pleased. When the doors open, in 2016, it will be some kind of party.

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May 4, 2015