Strolling around a shopping centre is an everyday experience for many people, but as we hunt for bargains or admire the latest styles, few of us are aware of the complex coordination it takes to run such a property. Everything from daily maintenance and periodic renovations to dealing with tenants and members of the general public must be efficiently handled by the property management team working behind the scenes.
Angela Chiu, senior asset manager for The Link Management Ltd, knows exactly what goes on. Although she studied literature as an undergraduate and worked initially as a teacher, her interest in personal interaction and desire to tackle a career with broader business exposure soon led her to switch to property management. "It was a relatively new industry in the late '80s, and I learned about it through friends who were working in the field," Ms Chiu recalls. "The nature of the work seemed tremendously interesting, so I took the initiative and started applying for jobs."
Starting as an estate officer, Ms Chiu worked with senior colleagues to manage a portfolio of industrial, residential and commercial buildings. During the period of apprenticeship, she was introduced to the basics of the business, including day-to-day building management operations, negotiating with contractors, and dealing with tenants and property owners. Within two years, she was promoted to the rank of assistant property manager and took on additional duties like financial management, human resources and maintaining good relations with clients, such as owners, residents and government departments.
Wanting to learn more, Ms Chiu opted to specialise in the management of shopping centres and joined Hutchison Whampoa in 1993, soon moving up to the position of estate manager. This phase of her career coincided with a new era for shopping centres in Hong Kong and, in the following 11 years, Ms Chiu got involved in many aspects of design, developing multi-functional synergies, and promotional strategies. Prior to joining The Link in early 2005, she was the senior estate manager of Hutchison Whampoa Property Group.
Never give up no matter how difficult the situation
"My current job, which also involves managing shopping centres, is nevertheless remarkably different from my previous experience," she says. "I now have to understand things more from the perspective of tenants, shoppers and public housing residents, with a view to improving our customers' shopping experience and the tenants' businesses." The daily routine requires close communication to understand the needs of existing tenants, as well as maintaining regular contact with prospective new tenants for retail units. Ms Chiu also oversees the management performance of her portfolio of property assets including security and maintenance, enhancement and renovation, budgets and accounting.
She expects her role to grow as the company introduces initiatives to add new sophistication to their local shopping centres. "We operate in a highly dynamic and stressful environment and occasionally encounter clients with extremely demanding expectations," Ms Chiu notes. "My motto, though, is never give up no matter how difficult the situation; we must always aim to achieve customer satisfaction."
There are now many openings for graduates who want to become assistant property officers, but they should be aware that advancement depends on obtaining professional qualifications. To be eligible for membership of the Hong Kong Institute of Housing (HKIH) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), candidates can take various courses. Primarily, these are the Diploma in Housing Management at the School of Professional and Continuing Education at the University of Hong Kong (HKU SPACE), the Master of Housing Management offered by the Centre of Urban Planning and Environment Management and HKU SPACE, and the Bachelor's degree in Housing Studies from the City University of Hong Kong.
Ms Chiu emphasises that a successful long-term career in the profession requires great resilience and dedication, and that people must be prepared to start with the basics. A high level of emotional intelligence is necessary, while an outgoing and cheerful personality is seen as a prerequisite. Good communication and presentation skills are also essential, since property officers often have to negotiate with tenants and attend meetings and forums. "However, the most rewarding aspect of the profession is that we get to meet people from all walks of life," Ms Chiu says. "It broadens our horizons and contributes to personal growth."
With the sector expanding, there have been calls for enhanced professionalism. Public expectations regarding services are now higher and the government is imposing stricter regulations. "It is an increasingly competitive environment, so property management companies are offering value-added services and realise the need to keep up with market trends and regulations," Ms Chiu adds. "This ensures we continue to learn and develop our professional expertise."
According to Ms Chiu, property management became more prominent in China about 10 years ago, as Hong Kong developers began to establish and expand their businesses in the mainland. There is steady demand for experienced managers from Hong Kong, who can also provide training for local personnel. Salaries are generally on a par with levels in Hong Kong.
For more junior staff who want to test themselves in the China market, Ms Chiu advises first acquiring sufficient experience before looking for a move and being ready to encounter significant differences in salary levels, the working culture and industry regulations.