Property / Construction

Property developer opens door to China market

by Anna Tong

Lau Ming-wai, executive director, Chinese Estates Holdings Limited
Photo: Johnson Poon

Large residential and commercial projects underway in Macau and Sichuan

The Zenith, one of many luxury residential property developments by leading developer Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd, is often cited as an example of the company's strong position in Hong Kong's high-end residential market.

Over the past 20 years the company has built its reputation on property investment and development plus property management. Chinese Estates, currently going through transformation, boasts a rich portfolio of projects, and recently acquired a desirable site at mid-levels east to redevelop into luxury apartments.

The company already holds or manages various prime shopping locations in Causeway Bay, particularly many of its best-known shopping malls. However, Lau Ming-wai, executive director, Chinese Estates Holdings Limited explains, the company is always on the lookout for potential development sites in Hong Kong.

While the bulk of its activities will remain in Hong Kong, the company's strategy is to slowly expand elsewhere in the region. For example, it acquired the land for a major property development project in Macau yielding 3,500 apartments, on a site near the Cotai strip. This is one of Macau's largest residential developments, and is intended for buyers wishing to enjoy a superior lifestyle. "Our target is to be a sector leader with our apartments aimed at the high end of the residential market," Mr Lau points out.

Bold move in Chengdu

Around 20 years ago, China Estates entered the mainland's property market with a project in Beijing. It was one of the earliest Hong Kong property developers commenced businesses in China. Now it has made a bold move by acquiring three lots in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, with one lot measuring three million square feet and already planned as the site of a commercial-residential complex combining apartments, offices and shopping malls. "From a human resources point of view, we are in need of hiring more talented individuals to manage various projects," says Mr Lau.

Repackaging and rejuvenation of old malls also makes up the company's other successful line of business. As Mr Lau points out, "Besides overseeing the operations of current malls, leasing managers face an exciting challenge when a rejuvenated mall is opened. They must start from scratch in signing up new lessees, driving home the new concepts and better business opportunities provided by the new premises."

It follows that the company's culture is quite entrepreneurial, specially with the founder still managing the business himself. But there is scope for originality and initiative within the guidelines and regulations. "On the management level, there is no rigid structure, so this allows flexibility within the guidelines for employees," Mr Lau notes. Furthermore, Chinese Estates has a structured programme in place to ensure that employees enjoy welfare privileges and other benefits such as staff discounts.

All-round development

As a middle-sized company, it has a sizeable workforce of talented staff who work to a high degree of efficiency and productivity. The company fully supports staff development and often sponsors them for further training and education, keeping them up to speed in technical developments so they remain elites in their fields. "By sponsoring our employees in further education we are adding value to our company," says Mr Lau.

Chinese Estates often organises group activities to enhance the culture and relationship among staff. "We hold contractual bonding sessions which include annual dinners and participation in social activities like the Community Chest," he adds. The company will take part in more public events to raise its already colourful corporate image, and aims to have a team in the 100km Oxfam trailwalker.

Besides that, a range of activities has also been held to enhance staff loyalty while fulfilling the company's responsibilities as a corporate citizen. For example, the company offers vacant offices or shops to Hong Kong Red Cross for blood donation. Staff are encouraged to take part in organising such events or make a contribution by giving blood. High-traffic spaces at some of its prime properties such as Windsor House or the Excelsior Plaza are also offered to NGOs for road shows and exhibitions.

Staff remuneration is at the market rate, and retention of gifted staff is regarded as important. "Although the property development field is very competitive, it all comes down to the individual in judging how much he or she values the company and vice versa." For promotion, the company generally selects somebody from its own ranks who has accumulated a wealth of experience. "This enables us to capitalise on their inbuilt knowledge of how the company operates," he adds.

In hiring newcomers, they look for potential achievers who are willing to socialise. "Candidates go through two or three rounds of interviews as we believe that thorough screening reduces the subsequent attrition rate involving dropouts," says Mr Lau.

The bottom line to working with Chinese Estates and staying ahead of the competition is "getting it right" at the execution stage of any venture. "It's easy to do the maths and get the general ideas right, but it's at the execution stage where the hiccups can happen," Mr Lau stresses. He is optimistic about the industry's future, and even more positive about the company's growth. "The industry here is still a profitable line of business despite the competition, and of course there are more opportunities for expansion into China and Macau."


Taken from Career Times 09 February 2007
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