When Raymond Li's newly founded mobile phone trading company failed in 1996, the young and indebted go-getter decided it was no use crying over spilt milk. He picked himself up, moved on and found a job in real-estate sales.
Today, Mr Li is a successful senior sales director for Centaline Property Agency Limited, serving clients in the affluent Mid-Levels West district of Hong Kong island.
"When I first tapped into the field, property prices climbed sky high, driving many buyers to speculate. But, while the speculative market was a major business focus, I was assigned to work on the more demanding user market," he recalls.
He notes that working in the industry is almost like running his own business but without the monthly rent and utility bill payments. For this reason, a certain level of self-discipline is paramount.
His initial years in the industry were tough, but he continuously canvassed potential clients. "My first days in the industry often stretched beyond typical office hours," he adds. "Sometimes prospective clients were too busy to talk during the daytime, so I stayed late and called them up in the evening, when they were usually more relaxed and responsive."
Learning the ropes
The property market has had a challenging 13 years, with the 1998 Asian financial crisis, the 2000 burst of the dot com bubble and the 2003 SARS outbreak being particularly testing times. "The financial storm broke straight after I started my career as a property agent," Mr Li says and stresses that career success does not depend on timing, but rather on work attitude.
He advises, "You mustn't just sit there in the air-conditioned branch office waiting for customers to come to you. Go out on the street and reach them."
"Diligence and client relations bring in the most business"
Over the years, Mr Li has had his fair share of ups and downs. When the Hollywood Terrace apartments came on sale in 1999, he was the property agent with the biggest number of potential clients, but he was down on his luck. "Although I had 99 clients, I failed to draw an early lot," he sighs.
Fortunately, he is not one who dwells on failures. "Our district alone contributed HK$60 million of commission in October alone in 2007. The record in residential sales still stands today," he says, attributing the achievement to his "never-give-up" attitude and a genuine interest in the industry. "I have always been passionate about meeting people from all walks of life. If you love your job, you enjoy it in spite of adversity."
During the tough times of 1998 and 1999, Mr Li had his first taste of triumph —b ecoming the company's top salesperson. He was subsequently promoted to branch manager in 2000.
Although it was not unusual for real-estate agents to make zero sales in times of economic difficulty, Mr Li's branch brought in monthly commissions of about HK$3 million in September 2003. "Since we knew that buying sentiment was at an absolute low, particularly when it came to second-hand apartments, we immediately turned to new properties, targeting the user market. Developers were prepared to cut their prices," he remarks.
Mr Li soon moved further up the ladder, becoming district manager in 2003 and, in 2005, sales director in charge of 12 branches and 20 frontline teams.
When he took up his current role last year, his focus shifted from the frontline to mapping out business directions, liaising with property developers and helping to consolidate the company's brand image.
"Even now, I still call up my clients personally to find out what their needs are," Mr Li says, describing himself as a hands-on manager. "The point I want to demonstrate is that diligence and client relations bring in the most business."
The minimum academic requirement for property consultants is a Form Five education, but additional qualifications can be an advantage in an upmarket area such as Mid-Levels. Mr Li emphasises that it is also important to step into customers' shoes. This also helps to forge a good reputation among customers.
Maintaining a hectic work schedule, Mr Li finds rejuvenation in his family life or an occasional game of golf. "More often I just spend time having fun with my sons," he says.
There are massive opportunities presented by the mainland China property market. Mr Li expects a general trend towards investing on the mainland. He explains, "Considering Hong Kong's efficient finance and legal systems, we're in a strong position to capitalise on the market prospects across the border. In order to do this, we must familiarise ourselves with the mainland China legal and banking processes."