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COVER STORY: From Blueprint to Building, Developing the Modern International Finance, Interview with C M Kwok, Deputy General Manager of Modern Group
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From Blueprint to Building

Developing the Modern International Finance

Interview with C M Kwok, Deputy General Manager of Modern Group

By Annie Ly

BT 201604 050 10 Cover 97A8003a

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Mr. C M Kwok has accumulated in-depth expertise in the real estate management industry. As Deputy General Manager of Modern Group, he is now leading on the positioning, planning and leasing operations of the Modern Group’s latest complex, the Modern International Finance Center (MIFC) located in the core of downtown Tianjin. This month, we sought his insights on the property development and real estate market in the city and what lies ahead for the Modern International Finance Center building...

How did you end up in your current position as Deputy General Manager at Tianjin Modern Group?

Around two thirds of my working life has been spent in Hong Kong and the remaining time spent in Mainland China. I started out in property management and later had the opportunity to become a leasing representative for some major projects in Hong Kong. Some colleagues made the move to Mainland China and offered me a role in Shenzhen. I felt it was time to explore a new area under a different role so began working for international real estate service provider CBRE as a Department Head. I found the role of negotiating the best rental prices for potential tenants particularly interesting. Later, I pursued another opportunity to work on a 3.5 million square meter mixed-use project in Kunming, which was the biggest development I had ever worked on. It offered the chance to work on residential, retail and office property development. Although the work was challenging, it was a good opportunity to experience the differences between working for an international firm and a local company.

When I heard about the opportunity to work in Tianjin on a landmark building based in a prime location, I saw this as another way to expand my career going from the South to the North. The North is totally different and presented a new set of challenges.

What are some of the differences you have experienced working in these different locations?

The difference in weather was an obvious difference. Kunming is known as the 'Spring city' but Tianjin by comparison is quite windy. This makes construction of projects difficult in some cases because some of the work cannot be completed under certain weather conditions.

Another difference I have found is that in Northern cities, the leasing process is also different. Clients in the North prefer to see physical results before they can have confidence in signing a leasing contract. But I have been lucky to work with a very supportive team here in Tianjin to help secure tenants.

You are in charge of the leasing and sales operations for the Modern International Finance Center building. How would you summarise the main aspects of this building to attract potential customers?

It is a prime office tower and a landmark building. Many cities have an 'IFC' but our differentiator is the 'Modern' twist. We hope that the building will attract top tier office tenants to use our building, both locally and internationally. We understand that international clients are looking for the best office option to provide the best business environment for their employees so our building must satisfy their needs and wants.

BT 201604 050 15 Cover story 97A8029We will provide high quality 'hardware' facilities in line with top-tier city offices as found in places like Beijing or Shenzhen. This includes things like air conditioning, sufficient luxe lighting and so on to satisfy the needs and expectations of international clients. However, this is something that all prime offices should provide so in terms of 'software', we have paid considerable attention to ensure the best for potential tenants. Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) will run the office management side and with special expertise in managing super high rise buildings in first-tier cities, tenants can have confidence in the software the MIFC will provide.

Lastly, we know that factors such as environmental protection and CSR is also of high importance to international firms. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has been taken into account during the design process to ensure that the MIFC is a green building.

BT 201604 050 11 Cover story 97A8020International Financial Center is located in the core area of Nanjing Road which is surrounded by many high-end buildings, such as the Exchange, Metropolitan Tower. Compared with the neighboring competitors, what are the main advantages of IFC?

We are located at the intersection of Nanjing Road and Yingkou Road, the central core of Tianjin city. We have an all-round community being surrounded by shopping malls and luxury hotels. In terms of entertainment and accommodation, we can fulfil client needs who want to provide their employees with quality amenities. Also, travel links to Tianjin Train Station or the airport are also easy; so it is convenient to access nearby cities.

One of our competitive advantages is that compared to our surrounding competitors, we are a local company. Being local, we can provide a quicker response to our potential tenants. This makes decision making very effective.

Furthermore, our leading team have been working in the Chinese property market for over 20 years, so we really understand the wants and needs of clients and are all to provide the best office solution to our tenants.

How do you envisage the future of the city with important architectural buildings such as the Modern International Finance Center being built and where do you see Tianjin in ten years' time?

When I first came to Tianjin, to me it felt similar to how it was in Shenzhen around 8 years ago.

I believe Tianjin's city planning has great potential. However, what Tianjin needs to do is focus on how to position itself. With the Jing-Jin-Ji initiative linking Tianjin with Beijing and Hebei Province, I think this is a strong opportunity for Tianjin to reposition itself for the future. I hope that at least, Tianjin will be considered the regional centre of the North for financial and economic institutions and continue to attract these types of companies.

What are some of the challenges you faced when taking on this project in Tianjin and how did you overcome them?

For the office market in Tianjin, the supply is greater than the demand. As one of my main tasks and challenges it in my role is to find tenants to secure satisfactory occupancy for the developers, this made things challenging. To do this, I think it is important to diversify the client base beyond Tianjin and find companies from cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Some things we do to capture their attention is emphasise travel times and the good travel links to other cities, as well as factors like rental price difference as Tianjin is considerably cheaper to rent from than other top-tier cities.

We also work in collaboration with Tianjin based commercial chambers, providing sponsorship to particular events, working with members and promoting what the building can offer for them. Thinking of new activities and events to increase exposure is something we are looking to do more of in the near future.

What are the main changes to the industry you have seen and experienced over this time? Can you talk a little more about any current trends or new developments you see arising in this sector?

China has seen the construction of many great buildings in the last few years - especially high rise buildings. China has a tendency to build very tall buildings but I don't think that this trend is something that considers the client's ultimate needs. What the industry needs in the future is to be more tenant focused the fundamental such as safety, security and advance technology.

BT 201604 050 14 Cover story 97A8029What are some of the key lessons you have learned during your time in the role of Deputy General Manager of the Tianjin Modern City Office building projects?

To make a project successful, particularly for office development, you must focus on the construction teams so that the project can be completed on time. Secondly, government support is important to line up the needs of an organisation with local conveniences. Lastly, strong communication between the management team and the clients is essential so that we can provide quick responses. This builds confidence with the client and commitment towards signing a leasing contract.

BT 201604 050 13 Cover story 97A8029

Your job role requires you to handle many aspects during a property development project. What is the secret to your success in ensuring you can juggle a range of tasks?

I think there are three main steps; listen more, watch and feel. To listen, you must hear what your clients are saying. To watch, you must go beyond simply scanning the surface, but go deeper. To feel, you must be considerate of all those involved and remember you are working in collaboration. You must understand everything that is going on in order to find the right approach to make them fulfil what you want them to do. With these three points together, you can get the full picture and this makes managing a project more successful.

What will be the future of real estate in China?

Real estate is undoubtedly an important industry for the Chinese economy. We will need to keep an eye on Central Government as they will be the most influential body in the real estate industry. Policies will dictate financial costs, rental prices and will also direct where in China will receive most attention. But in the current world economy, it is hard to predict the future of the industry.


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