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True to his heart’s designs
Luisa Tam
update on Friday, April 29, 2011

Alan Liang is undeniably one of a kind. Trained as an engineer and armed with a much-coveted MBA degree, he now works as a project manager for ACLA, a leader in landscape architecture, regional planning and urban design.

Liang doesn't think his engineering background has gone to waste just because he is in a different field. Professional training is, of course, important, but the 40-year-old has proven that following one's heart when setting a goal is equally important.

He specialises in co-ordinating design-stage tasks and managing subsequent tender and construction phase activities. He has more than 10 years' experience in contract administration and budget control for public and private projects.

At ACLA, his work focuses on liaising with consultants, government departments, major developers and contractors, and taking care of design co-ordination, administration, claims issues, and monitoring programmes and quality control on site.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path?

I studied for my MBA while I was with Dah Chong Hong. I think the field of landscape architecture sort of picked me rather than the other way around. After working with Dah Chong Hong for several years, I wanted to do something different. Then I saw a newspaper advertisement that ACLA was looking for a project manager.  My impression was that not many people knew a lot about landscape architecture at that time. I knew I was not trained for the job, but I was confident that I could learn on the job. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity by the company. 

Landscape architecture and landscape design are different from what I learned at university, but it doesn't mean I can't apply my knowledge and skills to the job. I can resolve technical issues and offer my knowledge of dealing with related financial matters. I can apply my engineering skills to the technological aspects of my work to find practical and realistic solutions.

Landscape architecture and landscape design are different from what I have learned in university, but it doesn’t mean I can’t apply my knowledge and trained skills to the job. I can resolve technical issues and offer my knowledge to deal with related financial matters. About one-third of my past 10 years with the company was spent on dealing with financial matters in terms of budget control, etc.

I think my logical mindset, which comes from my engineer training, and my business administration knowledge help me with my job. I can apply my engineering skills to the technological aspects of the job to find practical and realistic solutions.

What does your daily work involve?

I have to deal with marketing, meet with work partners and offer consultancy services, if necessary. I have to make sure that the work flow of each project runs smoothly.  I also have to deal with problems, find solutions and take care of the administrative side.

What is the best part of your job?

To be able to work on interesting and challenging projects, get them done and see good results years later. For example, if I completed a project, and then after a number of years, I came across that project again and found that it has improved the lives of others, that’s a huge bonus for me. The feeling of satisfaction is indescribable.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

The biggest reward for me is to know that I have raised the quality of life for others and the fact that I can provide more open spaces and build more green facilities for people to enjoy. I think it is important to help people reclaim their right to enjoy open spaces in our city.

What are the challenges of your work?

To be able to finish a project on time and within budget is one of the many challenges.  This company has a very good system under which we need to complete time sheets so that we know how each project is progressing and how we are performing. That way we can have a better grip on quality, performance, as well as budget control. It also helps with spotting problems early to keep things under control.

The awareness and demand for landscape architectural services have risen in the past five years. The challenge now is to have enough expertise to satisfy the rising market demand.  There are only about 300 landscape architects in Hong Kong. These professionals are in short supply at a time when there is a need for such expertise.

Another challenge is to raise awareness. But it’s not about the business, it’s about people. Landscape architecture is about people and about creating a more pleasant living environment for people.

What's your advice for young people?

They must learn to be patient. Many of them want to see results in a very short time. They are too eager to succeed. There's nothing wrong with having that kind of attitude.  But if you want to push ahead too quickly and go beyond your ability, you could miss out on a lot of things or end up failing.

If you are working with a team, always think about the big picture and not just focus on personal achievements. Teamwork is important so you must think wider. 

What are your secrets to success?

I personally don’t mind getting my hands dirty if I can learn and gain from the experience. To be a good team member one must understand the needs of other team members such as your clients and colleagues. Another point is you must learn to strike a balance between client expectations and your own principles and then find the middle way forward.

My motto is – think what others think and do it with all your heart.

I think having good EQ is vital because this job requires me to deal with people at different levels and on a regular basis. When I manage a project I get involved in design, tendering, construction, consultation, and throughout the various stages of the project I need to communicate with a great number of people and have to tackle many different challenges. I always try to train my mind and raise my EQ so that I can be fair and reasonable in dealing with others. It’s all about getting the right balance.

Balancing act

  • Liang's motto is “think what others think and do it with all your heart”.
  • He believes having a good EQ is vital because he has to deal with people at different levels and tackle many challenges.
  • Liang says he always tries to train his mind and improve his EQ so that he can be fair and reasonable in dealing with others. “It's all about getting the right balance,” he says.

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