Opportunities to grow even after 14 years

If you are a long time resident of Toa Payoh Central, you have likely seen his face. You may even know his name or have spoken to him. As Property Manager of the Toa Payoh Central Division, Mr Zulkiflee Bin Ismail, 37, spends most of his time mapping out the work for the six Property Officers (PO) and attending to issues that require his intervention.

For Zulkiflee, he started out as PO 14 years ago in 1999. He has spent many years working on the estate, forging friendships with residents. Even today as he walks around the estate to carry out the spot check for maintenance and technical issues, he is greeted heartily by the residents at the void deck.

Inside his office, the affable man cheerfully recounts how some friendly residents would stop him for a chat or even phone him to ask about his day. “Of course, many of them tend to end the conversation by telling me about some estate issue, albeit in a pleasant manner,” he laughed.

That sense of satisfaction from being relied on by residents, along with various factors, has encouraged him to stay in the same job for more than a decade. Zulkiflee had not even set his mind on Facility Management when he studied for his Diploma in Architectural Technology.

He joined the Town Council with zero knowledge about property management, gradually learning the ropes from his peers and the management, who provided him ample learning opportunities. Throughout his career, he has continually enrolled in courses touching on a wide-range of subjects including technical know-how, inter-personal relationships, communication and management.

Having ascended the career ladder with three promotions under his belt; Property Executive in 2001, Assistant Property Manager in 2007 and now Property Manager in 2010, Zulkiflee’s responsibilities have increased significantly, but he still fi nds that he is able to count on his higher-ups for support and direction.

He described his work environment as a positive and encouraging one. “Simply put, they don’t leave me hanging when I experience difficulties in the course of my work,” said Zulkiflee.

His daily work, often a challenging and dynamic affair, remains a constant learning experience and eye-opener. Aside from working closely with his POs, he has to personally solve problems with residents, contractors and external agencies like HDB when there are thorny issues that require his attention.

Recalling a particularly memorable project two years back, when he had just become Property Manager for the Toa Payoh Central division, he said it was a two-year long Neighbourhood Renewal Programme for the whole Toa Payoh Central. This proved to be an uphill battle, considering that many shops and pedestrians were affected.

One of the most diffi cult upgrading works was the retiling of the whole pedestrian mall with anti-slip tiles for aesthetic and safety purposes. Concerned about losing their income, the shop owners objected. They only relented, although grudgingly, only after many long drawn meetings. But efforts on all sides paid off as businesses were improved as more customers were attracted by the refurbished shop fronts.

Indeed, the Bishan Town Council takes pride in improving the environment of residents in their respective estates, including commercial entities.

“The problem is, residents think the Town Council handles everything under the sun,” Zulkiflee mused. He explained how residents would submit inquiries and complaints about problems that are not related to property management, like lack of bus services, security problems such as illegal gatherings at the void deck and installation of CCTV, and neighbour disputes. To set the record straight, these are managed by Land Transport Authority, Neighbourhood Police Post, and Community Mediation Centre respectively.

“Obviously, we can’t turn them away. Regardless of the notices we provide about useful phone numbers, residents still consider ours the easiest number to call, so we try to help them by referring them to the relevant bodies,” he said. Unfortunately, this leads to the notion that the Town Council doesn’t do anything, which is of course a gross misunderstanding.

Apart from his daily work, Zulkiflee is also needed at the monthly CCC meetings with grassroots members and external agencies, MPs’ door-to-door visits, events and corporate dinners, where issues about property management are usually brought up or discussed. Much of this is performed outside
his working hours, which are typically 8.30 am to 6 pm on weekdays, and alternate Saturdays.

With so much on his plate, it is almost a miracle that he is able to squeeze in time to do a part-time degree at UniSIM (or SIM University) on Facilities Management. A variety of work benefits have helped him accomplish this, including exam and study leave, and permission to leave early on certain days to attend his evening classes.

For all its demands, the job offers great flexibility; the superiors don’t believe in micro-management, which affords Zulkiflee freedom to perfect his style of management. He also gets access to Flexi-benefits, a system whereby employees are allotted a certain amount of monetary allowance which can be spent on personal needs, including leisure and relaxation to help an employee to de-stress.

Zulkifl ee’s parents and younger brother are supportive of his long-lasting passion for his job. On his days off, he enjoys spending time with his family, shopping, exercising and catching up on sleep. These days, much of his free time is invested on school assignments.

“One of the greatest perks is that you get to learn many things on the job, and these are things that will stick with you for the rest of your life,” quips the man with a visible thirst for self-improvement.

– This article first appeared in a Town Council newsletter as part of a recruitment advertorial.

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