“Suntrust Properties, Inc.: Live, work, play and learn among happy hearts and smiling faces”
In the midst of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Suntrust which was then known as Empire East Properties Inc. was born from its parent company Empire East Landholdings Inc.. Its purpose then was to serve the affordable real estate market segment or what others loosely refer to as low-cost market. This was pursuant to the vision of its Chairman Dr. Andrew L. Tan to roll out a property supermarket that would not only serve the real estate needs of all market segments but also contribute to the nation’s recovery. Even during those challenging times, Dr. Tan fully believed that the real estate industry must take the lead in spurring the nation’s economic growth. He thus inspired his people to rally behind this innovative vision of building a wide-ranging property supermarket.
Now, this vision of Dr. Tan has seen the light with his growing conglomerate leading all facets of the real estate industry.
Megaworld pioneered the township development concept in the metropolis with Eastwood City, Forbestown Center, Mckinley Hill, Newport City, Manhattan Garden City and Cityplace, among others. Its residential developments are primarily for the higher-end market and its commercial stores, malls and hotels brought class to these township projects. It has also built offices and in fact is now the biggest provider of floor space for the business process outsourcing industry.
Its first subsidiary Empire East Landholdings has distinguished itself on its transport-oriented city developments primarily serving the middle income segment. Among these are San Lorenzo Place in Magallanes, Makati City and Pioneer Woodlands in Mandaluyong City both along EDSA. And then its newest affiliate Global Estate Resorts Inc., which was recently acquired through Dr. Andrew L. Tan’s holding company Alliance Global Inc., is now focused on integrated tourism estate developments such as the Tagaytay TwinLakes, Boracay Newcoast, Nasugbu Harbourtown and Southwoods.
Meanwhile, Suntrust, fully controlled by Megaworld Corporation, has risen from the label of being the low-cost development arm of the Megaworld group into a much more meaningful distinction. It has solidified its position among horizontal developers in the CALABARZON with pioneering design and themed concepts catering more to the middle and higher-end market. It has also ventured into significant vertical or condominium developments in the Metropolis. It is now transforming Sherwood Hills Golf and Residential Estate in Cavite into a prime golf destination and country club community. And it is now venturing into industrial park development to which it will integrate residential, commercial and institutional developments in furtherance of the township concept introduced by its Chairman Dr. Andrew L. Tan.
As Suntrust now celebrates its 15th year anniversary, its President Atty. Harry M. Paltongan shares some insights about the company’s modest achievements in growing its sales and putting multiple projects on stream. He emphasizes the efforts that have transformed it into the force it is today attributing much to their Chairman Dr. Tan who has been the Company’s inspiring beacon in his self-effacing yet energizing leadership. He also credits what Suntrust is today to his fellow Suntrustees (employees and sales force) who responded to the clarion call and lived the Suntrust’s family culture which trumpeted among others the value of “malasakit”. While Suntrust may be enjoying many modest successes as it now celebrates its 15th anniversary, the first 10 years of the company weren’t as rosy.
Change is a good thing
In 2007, as Atty. Harry assumed his new position as president, his team of new leaders realized that things in Suntrust needed overhaul. They weren’t daunted, however, as they saw the then circumstances a “challenge that would be sweet to overcome.” Even the company was renamed from Empire East Properties, Inc. to Suntrust Properties, Inc.
Atty. Harry recalls how they set in motion an ambitious vision that Suntrust would one day be the yardstick in the housing industry and be the homebuyer’s first choice. They needed to define the north star that would give meaning to the herculean efforts that each Suntrustee was asked to unleash. So they launched a simply crafted employees’ creed that spelled out the family culture at Suntrust inevitable for such vision. Even now, this creed is not only memorized and lived out by each Suntrustee but also played out in various activities and programmes. The idea is for each to view work at Suntrust not as a burden but a fun-filled part of everyone’s life perceiving Suntrust less as an employer but more as their home.
The new team refers to those challenging times as the “dawning of the new era.” Back then, the rough roads seemed overwhelming. There were issues about the product designs and marketability, the slow progress of the projects, the under-performing Suntrustees, and the unsatisfied clients. “We then needed to get every person be involved in the changes to make them realize their importance and make them feel that they all played a part in Suntrust’s exciting journey forward.” Each Suntrustee then pushed for each change adopting it as a personal crusade to contribute to a shared goal. Everyone was summoned to work beyond ordinary expectations.
The new team spent the first weeks personally talking to every employee to hear their expectations, to ensure their “best fit” in the organization, to make them understand the new directions. While there were few who weren’t keen on being part of the changes planned and hence let go, most of the original employees stayed on and have since found fulfillment in their jobs.
After the re-organization tasks, everyone worked on improving their existing products and projects. Atty. Harry shares: “Most of our products underwent a change in design, size and building technology.” Such was a collective effort of Suntrust’s technical team and front liners as well as its sales people, who compiled customers’ suggestions, comments and complaints about the company’s products and services. Everyday seemed to be a constructive critique day. Taking the market’s feedback to heart allowed the company to learn from past deficiencies and improve its way of doing things. Atty. Harry admits though that they still have a lot to learn and improve even to this day.
On the road to success
“When people started to realize their potential and appreciate their role in the organization, they discovered that they could do more,” said Atty. Harry. “So despite the rough roads, there was a new-found energy in Suntrust. Everyone felt inspired by the series of little successes the company was experiencing. And each of these was shared with everybody in brief general assemblies and various clustered and departmental pep talks”. Even now, Suntrust has its monthly assemblies for recognitions, and it has its Monday recitation of its vision and creed.”
As Suntrust’s operations kicked into high gear, the company was soon ready to market even more real estate projects. For this aspect of the company’s growth, Atty. Harry attributes Suntrust’s momentum to chairman Andrew L. Tan, whose support fueled the team to work even harder.
“Our chairman believed that we could take this company to greater heights so he allowed us to do things at our best discretion and just supported us all the way,” said Atty. Harry.
The happiest days of your life begin here
With the company’s solid foundation firmly in place, Suntrust enhanced its image by acquiring the tagline, “The happiest days of your life begin here.” It was not only Suntrust’s statement of what it wanted to achieve for its customers, but also a message to the market of its commitment to giving families quality and value-rich lifestyles.
Armed with a brand-new direction, Suntrust started to develop and sell horizontal communities that would give residents a better way of life without breaking their budgets. All these projects would showcase central locations, safe environments, spacious homes and recreational and retail facilities.
More happy days
Suntrust’s track record has extended beyond horizontal developments. The company is also a proud developer of various condominium projects in the metro, a portfolio that came about from the demand of existing clients.
Satisfied with the horizontal projects that Suntrust was able to put out since its “new era,” buyers expressed their interest to invest, this time, in vertical projects. Atty. Harry said, “Some clients asked if we offered projects in the city. They wanted to invest in second homes in the metro where they worked. There were also clients who were looking for a safe place for their children studying in the city.”
It was another new opportunity for Suntrust. In 2008, the SPI team got the green light from their Chairman to venture into the vertical development. Given that Suntrust’s sister company, Empire East Land Holdings Inc., offers real estate products in a similar segment, Atty. Harry is quick to point out that “the ocean is so vast for everyone to fish.” Besides, Suntrust intends to have a distinctive “Modern Asian” theme in its condominium development.
Live, work and play
Suntrust’s long list of projects shows a truly forward-thinking approach. But it’s not all the company has in store for those following its growth. Atty. Harry is proud to share that its latest project, Suntrust Ecotown Tanza, is the company’s first venture toward creating an industrial community. According to him, this will complete the four components Suntrust envisioned for the townships that it would develop. With the project, the company will not only bring in desirable jobs for residents but also satisfy the current demand for eco-friendly homes.
Suntrust Ecotown Tanza is slated for completion in four years. The project has an elaborate waste disposal system as well as a golf green and numerous trees meant to “soften” the appearance of the warehouse-type buildings that will soon rise in the complex.
“At Suntrust Ecotown, we want to provide all the necessities for those who will call the project both home and workplace,” said Atty. Harry. “Here, people don’t have to leave the community, spend on transportation and contribute to traffic, because everything is located inside the development. It’s designed to be a true live-work-play setting.”
Moving forward, Suntrust has its hands full tapping other possible locations to develop. Atty. Harry shares that in the next years, Suntrust will continue building horizontal projects—admittedly the company’s bread and butter. Once the company’s ecotown development takes off, Suntrust hopes to bring the concept to other municipalities to meet a surge of investors from China, Japan, Korea and Europe.
“We’re looking to develop prime properties in other regions,” said Atty. Harry. But first things first. “In the next five years, we aim to complete our golf community, Sherwood Hills. It will be simultaneous to our industrial park development.” he said.
In the celebration of Suntrust’s 15th anniversary, Atty. Harry deems it a moment of thanksgiving.
“All the good things that Suntrust is reaping would not be possible without our clients, who are our best teachers and advertisers; the Suntrustees who stayed with us through thick and thin, especially during those times when we were re-establishing ourselves in the industry; and of course, our chairman, Mr. Tan, who gave us every opportunity and leeway to continue creating beautiful communities and happy homes.”