James Wong has come a long way since being one of the founder members of Jones Lang LaSalle’s property management division in Hong Kong back in 1982. He is now international director, overseeing the firm’s property and asset management services in Greater China, helping to run a portfolio that today includes everything from 100-storey skyscrapers to purpose-built sports stadiums. Wong travels frequently around the mainland to assess opportunities and support the needs of the fast-developing China market. He holds a BSc from the University of London and a master’s degree in housing management from the University of Hong Kong. He talks to Jan Chan.
Which aspects of your career have you found most enjoyable? Seeing the company grow has been a real source of satisfaction. When I first joined, there were only two people on the asset management team and I set up the property management division. Back then, we managed just two properties in Hong Kong, but today we are responsible for more than 25 million square metres and have an expanding mainland presence. I’m very proud of that, because I particularly like to create new products and develop new markets, rather than just trying to compete on price, which can harm the whole industry. For instance, we provided management services for the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, as well as for sports facilities for the upcoming Asian Games in Guangzhou. The requirements for such properties are very different in terms of security, maintenance, evacuation and fire drills.
During your career, which experiences taught you most about leadership? My former boss set me a very good example by working hard and being very self-disciplined. He didn’t instruct me to do things, but believed that if he did something the right way, I would follow and learn. It worked. The other important thing I have learnt is that a leader should give a free hand to colleagues. You must show trust and confidence by delegating projects, while also providing clear guidelines and sufficient support.
Which part of your job is generally most difficult? To attract and retain talent is definitely the biggest challenge. If you are looking for qualified people in our sector, demand is well ahead of supply.
Whenever a major new building opens, we need at least 100 staff to manage it and, once you find them, it takes time to train them as well. Some people unfamiliar with the industry may think property management is just about providing security. That is only one of jobs we do, so I recognise we also need to do more to inform and educate people about the profession.
What are the differences between training people in Hong Kong and the mainland? Basically, the core training relating to industry knowledge and the fundamentals of the business is the same in both areas. We need to make sure the quality and standard of our services is consistently high. However, we also take due note of differences and, therefore, include some local elements in the programme, which can involve the hiring of local trainers or specialists.
Do you expect any changes in your current corporate role? Hong Kong will remain the base for our company and we will continue to develop the mainland market from here. At this point, though, it is still not easy to find mainland-trained professionals and most staff working for us in cities in China were transferred from the Hong Kong office. I don’t expect this situation to change for the next two to three years. It means there are a lot of excellent opportunities for employees in Hong Kong. They can gain more exposure and experience, which will be great for their overall career development.
How do you deal with day-to-day pressures and unwind? I am not the kind of person who wants to take everything on my own shoulders. A leader should be looking at the big picture and not trying to manage every little thing himself. If someone is always too busy, it tells me that person may have a problem with time management or setting priorities. To overcome stress, the first thing is to identify the source and then deal with that. You should tackle it at once and not hope the problem will solve itself. This is a “one-minute manager” theory.
Nowadays, what should young people focus on if they want to succeed in business? I suggest they should work hard and be keen to take on new projects, but not concentrate too much on short-term rewards. They should also be ready to push for opportunities to prove their abilities and strengths, as a way of widening their horizons.
Wong does regular site visits to monitor progress, talk to colleagues and thoroughly understand what his people are actually working on
Gives young colleagues more exposure by inviting them to attend client meetings and giving responsibility for projects
Sees people as the company’s most valuable asset and the foundation for further development