With 20 years of industry experience in Canada and Hong Kong, Alan Cheung, founder and managing director of GreenAcre Group Limited, finds that Asian practitioners in the property and construction market are often trained in accordance with areas of specialisation. For example, architects, interior designers, general practice surveyors, building surveyors and quantity surveyors are all specialists, and their expertise and experience may be further categorised into types of building, such as hotels, residential or commercial buildings. From the perspective of job functions, people tend to focus on one area throughout their career, like property management, leasing or sales.
In spite of the economic tensions and intensifying competition in the property market, Mr Cheung believes in the potential of "development executive services", which is an innovative one-stop-shop business concept that he coined.
He explains that all the resources and expertise for property development are readily available today but the market lacks people who are versatile enough to manage and oversee every aspect of a project. GreenAcre, a real estate development and planning specialist, aims to provide a full range of consultancy services, covering strategic planning and positioning, feasibility assessment, negotiations, resources sourcing, project management and marketing. Target clients include local and overseas developers, investment syndicates and property funds. GreenAcre acts almost like the client's in-house development team to create optimum value while minimising risks through the effective use of land and property.
Mr Cheung says "GreenAcre" carries many meanings. While "green acre" can mean a green field site, green is also associated with creative ideas and balance — commercial balance in a project and human balance in a team. He is currently leading his team on a 1.4 million square feet home textile centre project near Hangzhou in China. The first phase of the project will house more than 600 tenants and is expected to complete in the middle of this year.
Keep an open, flexible and self-driven attitude, everything else can be learnt as you go along
Thorough industry experience, entrepreneurship, the courage to accept new challenges and adaptive market insights motivated Mr Cheung to set up his own business at a challenging time. His previous experience in Canada has built a solid foundation and led him to a new career level.
Born in Hong Kong, Mr Cheung moved to Canada in the early 80s and completed his tertiary studies in finance, obtaining an MBA qualification in real estate and new venture creation.
He took his first job in corporate banking, which enabled him to establish contacts and a professional network. In the mid 90's, Mr Cheung started a management company to help various clients look after their properties. As it was a small company he needed to manage all aspects of the business, such as property management, leasing, development and land allocation for residential and commercial buildings. "It was an invaluable opportunity to broaden my skills and knowledge in the real estate market," he notes.
Seeking more exciting opportunities Mr Cheung returned to Hong Kong in the late 90's and joined Swire Properties in 1998. There his diverse skills enabled him to excel and move up in his profession.
During the past decade, he has played a key role in property planning and development, grasping many business opportunities such as bidding for new land, negotiating with sellers, partners and the government for a range of top-notch projects including Taikoo Place, Cityplaza, and more recently One Island East.
All in the mind
An industry veteran, Mr Cheung believes that a proactive attitude and entrepreneurship help people stand out from the crowd.
"The business cycle in Asia is volatile and a project's life cycle can be as long as two to six years, therefore we bear higher risks in a project's return as the market may change rapidly," he says.
"To be able to succeed in such a competitive market, people needs self-motivation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and the ability to collaborate with other people," Mr Cheung adds. Along with the requisite qualifications and work experience, jobseekers are expected to demonstrate the ability to think independently and be prepared to go the extra mile.
"There are a lot of well versed and qualified people in the industry but it is always the attitude that makes a difference. If you keep an open, flexible and self-driven attitude, everything else can be learnt as you go along," he concludes.
Economic change and investment are quickly transforming the skylines of China's cities. Mr Cheung encourages young people to broaden their horizons and know more about the world, especially China, if they are keen to develop in the real estate industry. "The pace of the Hong Kong market will become steady in the long term, whereas the demand for real estate in mainland China is still accelerating. As people's living standards continue to rise and more overseas companies enter China, the demand for housing, offices, hotels and shops will increase. China definitely projects higher growth opportunities than Hong Kong," he says.