Property / Construction

Finger on the city pulse

by Martin Williams

Emmanuel Farcis
general manager - development
The Link Management Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Major property and facility management company invests in revamps to keep up with customers' retail appetite and aspirations

Hong Kong people enjoy shopping as a recreational activity and many spend much of their free time browsing in malls.

Recognising this, Hong Kong Stock Exchange listed Link Real Estate Investment Trust (The Link REIT) continuously looks at ways to enhance shoppers' retail experience.

"As the city's biggest real estate investment trust with 180 shopping facilities and car parks under our management, we impact on 40 per cent of the Hong Kong population and are at the core of community life," says Emmanuel Farcis, general manager—development, The Link Management Limited, which manages the Link REIT.

An important aspect of the Link REIT's business growth is the refurbishment of some of its 150 malls and the company has a dedicated project and development team responsible for this work.

Mr Farcis notes, "We aim at improving the layout, circulation, trade mix and the overall environment for shoppers and tenants. Completed renovation projects now boost higher efficiency, better shop distribution, variety and visibility, as well as increased customer flows."

Ongoing enhancement

Refurbishment has a number of facets to it, from design and feasibility studies to retail issues and project management.

While mall overhauls often include aspects such as installing new escalators, air conditioning systems and disabled facilities, the company steers clear of a "cookie-cutter" approach, so every project is unique. "We look at what's right for the community, taking into consideration a property's characteristics, trade mix and architecture," Mr Farcis says.

The Link REIT's tenant portfolio is varied, encompassing a vast range of businesses and retail sectors. Each refurbishment project therefore starts with detailed market research, followed by a feasibility study covering issues such as trade mix, overall layout, access to the premises, costs and appropriate rent levels.

After a financial model has been submitted to the board for approval, the project and development team embarks on a detailed design and planning phase to gain statutory authorisation. A project's duration depends on its size, but the construction period is usually about one to two years.

Once the job has been completed, the Link REIT conducts market research to gauge the community's response. "Feedback on issues such as shopper traffic and patterns has been overwhelmingly positive," Mr Farcis reveals. "So far, we've completed about 17 renovation projects. There are several more in the pipeline, with additional feasibility studies to commence this year."

Moving up

Since its establishment in 2005, the Link REIT's staff numbers have remained relatively constant. The challenges and variety of the job ensure a high level of job satisfaction among project and development team members.

"Renovation work differs vastly from developing a brand new construction project, and this aspect of the job attracts people who love a challenge," Mr Farcis says.

Since the company has a strict promote-from-within policy, high-performing professionals can expect to move quickly through the ranks. "We are a professionally managed, publicly listed company. There is plenty of scope for rising to the top," he adds.
People who perform well as part of the team can expect to move into a management position such as senior project manager. "Project managers oversee an entire project, from market research and feasibility to completion. They must be able to see the big picture and be excellent trouble-shooters," stresses Mr Farcis.

A relevant educational background, ideally in design, architecture, surveying or construction management, is important. Other key qualities include strategic thinking skills and the ability to be a good team player.

The company targets experienced professionals that have previously worked in project management, and particularly in the retail sector, but also accepts applications from fresh graduates. "We consider all applications and aim to recruit people with the drive to excel in a multi-disciplinary environment," says Mr Farcis.

The Link REIT is about to launch a two-year management trainee programme aimed at identifying high-calibre individuals to start off as graduate trainees and gradually progress to senior management positions.

Building blocks

  • Renovation projects offer challenge and job satisfaction
  • Internal promotion policy ensures high performers move quickly through the ranks
  • New trainee programme to foster graduates en route to management positions

Taken from Career Times 5 March 2010, B6

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