Success never smelt so sweet

The rags to riches story of one Singaporean CEO.

Dato David Cheangs meteoric rise to founder and chief executive officer of Singapore developer DC13 Development, having started as a part-time property agent and being bankrupt in his late 20s, is proof that anyone can overcome adversity as long as they have the determination to succeed.

In the year 2000, I started (my) real estate career on a bicycle, doing it part-time while completing my degree in UOL-SIM and juggling national service, he said in an exclusive interview with The PropertyGuru.

It was tremendously tough. I had barely enough for three meals, recalled the 38-year-old, whose family was in dire financial straits at the time. He was just 21 when he became the guarantor for his parents debts. But given the huge amount involved, his parents were forced to declare bankruptcy. As Cheang was the sole guarantor, he also went bankrupt.

Starting from the bottom

To address their money troubles, Cheang decided to become a property agent at Dennis Wee Group as he needed a job that could pay out a sizeable commission in a short time. His first client was a woman trying to sell her walk-up apartment. Despite the poor condition of the property, he succeeded in selling it in three months.

Even though working as a property agent meant long, unstable hours and overly demanding clients at times, he persevered in restoring their finances. He committed to working up to 20 hours a day so that he could provide for his father, who had fallen ill and suffered a stroke during that period.

The desire to make a name for himself helped Cheang to close more deals and he was quickly promoted at Dennis Wee Group. During his stint there from 2000 to 2003, he also received numerous accolades and won at least one major award each year, including Top Rookie, Top Manager, Top Career Manager (Recruitment), Top Commission Earner, Top Commercial Agent and Top Producer of the Year.

Cheang subsequently landed a directorial position at PropNex Realty, where he quickly climbed up the organisational ladder. In fact, he won the Top Director award after a few months of working there. He then clinched the Top Senior Director award in 2004 after just one year, thanks to his teams stunning results. In his final year at the property agency, he claimed the Top Senior Division Director award.

Managing 800 agents

In 2006, he joined HSR and took up the challenging task of managing 800 agents, a far cry from leading an 80-man team at PropNex. Despite the daunting duties, he surpassed the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and helped transform the company into one of Singapores most successful property agencies in less than two-and-a-half years.

After leaving HSR, Cheang served as the Chief Executive Officer of RE/MAXSingapore Empire Property Group, the local franchisee of the US-based real estate giant with a presence in more than 100 countries. Although he only held this position from 2009 to 2011, he was able to grow the companys manpower from fewer than 100 agents to about 1,000 in under nine months.

Cheang moved on to become Chief Executive Officer at SLP, a relatively small player in Singapores property market. He led the company for a year before being appointed as principal consultant, prioritising the companys macro-level growth.

Today, the agency has grown into a medium-sized business that has ventured into real estate investment and property development. In fact, it has participated in the Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme and marketed several projects, such as the 219-unit Nin Residence near Potong Pasir MRT station.

Building dreams

In spite of these successes, Cheang still resolved to start his own property development and construction firm in 2013, and called it DC13 Development. Currently, the company owns two bungalow-sized land plots in Pasir Ris which it plans to develop into four landed properties with individual designs. DC13 is also involved in the development of a condominium in the Balestier area named Neem Tree. Ultimately, Cheangs goal is to boost the companys gross development value to over $100 million within the next two years.

Having already achieved many accomplishments, he and his family have reversed their financial situation. At the beginning of Cheangs real estate journey, he was riding a bicycle. He now drives a convertible Lamborghini.

Today, I count my blessings that after 13 years, I have managed to build dreams (houses and condominiums) for people as a property developer. For all those in sales, marketing and business, continue to believe in your vision and strive harder each day. Your dreams will be realised too in no time, he concluded.

Image: Dato' David Cheang of DC13 Development.

Romesh Navaratnarajah, Singapore Editor at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories email

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