It may happen that a guard responsible for the security of a luxury housing estate in mainland China beats up a resident over a minor management dispute. However, such behaviour would be rare in well-managed properties in Hong Kong, says Kenneth Lau, assistant director of Hsin Chong Real Estate Management Limited.
Mainland China clearly still has a long way to go to catch up with Hong Kong's property management skills and standards, notes Mr Lau, who has managed Hsin Chong's mainland business development as well as its mainland China property management operations since 2002.
After obtaining his master's degree in Business Administration and armed with a pile of property management training certificates, opportunities and destiny lead Mr Lau to 19 eventful years in this industry.
Although his early years of work were spent in relatively junior positions, starting as a clerk with Hong Kong Island Development Limited before joining the Mass Transit Railway Corporation as an estate assistant, he explains that his career took off like an express train once he joined Hsin Chong in 1989 as an estate officer. Rapid promotion led to his becoming assistant director in July 2000 and his appointment to look after the mainland market in 2002, incorporating Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
"You need to be extrovert, caring, enjoy meeting people and possess good communication skills"
In order to provide services to large enterprises and international corporations in Chinese Silicon Valley, last November the company set up a joint venture - Beijing Strong Hsin Chong Property Management Company Limited - with Strong Science Park Management Service Company Limited, to manage the Beijing Zhong Guan Cun Technology District as its core business.
The service culture in mainland China still adheres to the traditional concept of carrying out the leadership's instructions blindly - and invariably turning a blind eye to anything that happens beyond their responsibilities, says Mr Lau, who designs training courses for over 200 Beijing workers. Workers participate in two different workshops, in which they discuss their work and challenge each other on how to address problems and face crises. "There is inadequate training for the profession in China," he points out. "Mainland staff rarely have a chance to exchange ideas and share work experience among themselves."
Although Mr Lau suggests that those considering careers in this sector start as early as possible, as there is much to learn, he advises school-leavers first to consider if their character fits the job. "Property management is not just [about] maintaining building facilities. It is very much a service-oriented business. Our main target is to achieve customer satisfaction," he stresses.
"You need to be extrovert, caring, enjoy meeting people and possess good communication skills," he adds. "In commercial property management, you have to deal with office and shopping mall tenants; but, in residential properties, you [assist] residents."
Mr Lau also notes that job satisfaction is derived from the variety of daily encounters. Maintaining a high standard of hygiene during the recent outbreaks of SARS and Dengue fever has also boosted work morale.
For those interested in housing management and real estate administration, Hong Kong offers substantial degree and diploma training programmes at various local universities, including the University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong.
With regard to the improvement of property management, Mr Lau says that, in order to understand clients' needs better, he hopes to make better use of advanced computer technology to compile survey-sourced statistics.
He also notes that many new buildings have been completed, thanks to redevelopment projects launched by the Urban Renewal Authority in old districts, and comments that the government also requires owners of old buildings to better maintain their properties. However, while such policies offer property management opportunities, he believes that Hong Kong's property supply will gradually be shrunk in order to prop up the market.
With China's entry into the World Trade Organisation, more foreign firms have set up offices on the Mainland. Modern sports facilities are also likely to mushroom in Beijing when it hosts the Olympic Games in 2008. The demand for high standard property management is extensive, adds Mr Lau.
In his opinion, Hong Kong's real estate management job market has been saturated. However, opportunities are available in mainland China, which currently only has a handful of qualified local professionals.
Nonetheless, Hong Kong executives wishing to break into the Mainland must be experienced, well trained and ready to face the challenge of convincing hundreds of workers to accept their management style. "In China, there are many university graduates. As foreign employees, Hong Kong executives' ability must transcend theirs," he says.