Career Path

Quantum leap to self-actualisation

by Charles Mak

James Law, senior director
building consultancy services
CB Richard Ellis Limited
Photo: Johnson Poon

It takes more than just hard work to build a career that really means something in life — it's passion, dedication and a burning ambition to go far that most often are required to turn aspirations into a reality. James Law, senior director, building consultancy services, CB Richard Ellis Limited, is a case in point.

After graduating in 1977 from the Hong Kong Polytechnic (now Hong Kong Polytechnic University) with a higher diploma in building surveying, Mr Law found himself working for the Buildings Department as an assistant building surveyor.

"After 18 years with the government, I was still unable to view the full picture of the profession," Mr Law says. "I was involved in about 30 per cent of the profession's work but I wanted to be able to see things from a different perspective and I knew I could do something about it."

In 1995, Mr Law, then senior surveyor, left the government to join Multiple Surveyors Limited, and later David C Lee Surveyors Limited before taking even greater responsibilities as senior director of CB Richard Ellis Limited.

"Preserve your professional integrity and let your capacities show"

New horizons

"Nowadays, I get to provide direct service to clients and am able to deal with all aspects of the building surveying profession," he says. These include condition surveying, compiling building inspection and defects analysis, acting as an expert witness, carrying out building conservation plans, working on regeneration studies, as well as offering project management consultancy services.

The subsequent job satisfaction, he emphasises, is as immense as the pressure. "We deal directly with clients. Any mistakes can cost both the client and the company a great deal," he remarks.

Currently, Mr Law works from 8am to 7pm, with 30 per cent of his time spent meeting with clients, 20 per cent performing administrative work, another 30 per cent supervising staff, and the rest working on his own assignments. Preparing for court appearances requires doing some "homework". "I enjoy spending time at home and would only take my work home when it's absolutely necessary," he says.

According to Mr Law, there are extremely good prospects for fresh graduates. "Since 1995, there have been many government schemes, projects and consultancy packages, as well as major renovation projects from the private sector," he says. "The mandatory inspection scheme has also opened many opportunities. Even though authorised persons registered under different categories such as architects and engineers can perform such tasks, building surveyors are most appropriate for the job because we have received exactly the professional training required." He cautions though, that all-round skills are expected from professionals in any fields. "If you only specialised in one aspect of the profession, your career options are limited," he says. "I was very lucky to have started a career in the Building Department." For a good start, he suggests, young graduates must look for jobs with sizeable companies or government departments, and take into serious consideration a company's business infrastructure and client profile. "Only then can you learn comprehensive skills and knowledge," he notes. "And as you progress in your career, a reputable firm can also help you build a people network."

Professional capacity

Like many professions in Hong Kong, building surveying has evolved to become multi-dimensional. "The most challenging task is to apply expertise and experience to help clients solve problems," Mr Law stresses. For this reason, good communications skills are vital. "First off, you need to make your clients feel comfortable and trust your professional attributes," he says.

The nature of the job also calls for some sales techniques. "You'll need to work hard to develop such skills," Mr Law says. "The higher your position, the more you're involved in the company's strategic development." To those who look for a career breakthrough, Mr Law offers a word of advice: "Preserve your professional integrity and let your capacities show," he says. "Only top-calibre professionals can reach the top."

China Opportunities

Despite the ample opportunities in mainland China, Mr Law points out that only some of Hong Kong's expertise in building surveying can be transferred into the China market. He says, "At the moment, mainland surveyors haven't reached Hong Kong's professional standards in areas such as due diligence and surveying services. On the other hand, our experience in building renovation will not be of much use in China because the fees are much lower than that here in Hong Kong." He also stresses that there are plenty of opportunities in Hong Kong and as yet there's no need for budding professionals to look elsewhere for career development.


Taken from Career Times 26 May 2007, p. B18
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