Well worth putting up with hassle
"There are so many construction projects across the mainland involving Hong Kong companies that firms tend to look for people with the right type of attitude rather than specific skills," says William Glover, international director for Macdonald & Company, a recruitment consultancy for the property industry. He says that compared with the large-scale projects on the mainland, similar projects in Hong Kong are few and far between and, as a result, it takes longer for people working in the construction industry to progress up the career ladder. The situation changes when Hong Kong professionals take up management positions on the mainland.
"Hong Kong people are good at working out the potential and balances. They realise their career opportunities are accelerated if they choose to work on the mainland," Glover says.
While Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are considered prime locations, property professionals working in second- and third-tier cities can expect to receive compensation for operating in an unfamiliar work and living environment.
"Hong Kong construction companies are aware of the challenges their employees face and factor in extra allowances or a higher salary," Glover says.
Typical considerations include living comforts such as type of accommodation, the availability of Cantonese food, access to electronic and branded goods, transportation, education facilities for those who relocate with their families, and flight connections with Hong Kong. Glover says some people may find it hard to adjust to living and working on the mainland, but that generally speaking, Hong Kong people are good at fitting in and making friends.
"The areas they generally find they need to fine-tune are learning to be patient and spending time building personal relationships while being sensitive to internal politics to get the job done smoothly," he adds.
Gordon Ongley, CEO - mainland China at Swire Properties, says by applying the same formula of integrated planning, long-term value creation and management strategies used in Hong Kong, the company has found the key to successfully managing mainland projects.
To cater for the overall business needs and individual development needs of staff, Swire Properties offers a range of training programmes and familiarisation trips to help them adapt to and cope with the new environment. For example, Hong Kong employees are equipped to communicate effectively and receive training in Putonghua before relocating to the mainland office.
"The ultimate goal is to offer the chance for staff to grow with the company and to develop a strong talent pool that understands our corporate culture and share our goals," Ongley says.
He adds that the company accelerates its knowledge base by establishing joint ventures with local developers who bring in new skills, while introducing to local partners what they do not have.
"It is a genuine exchange of skills to make a better whole and overcome any challenges we may have," Ongley says. The company's mainland activities are mainly focused around mixed shopping and residential properties located in first-tier cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Ongley says the main challenge Hong Kong employees face are understanding local practices and the way of doing business.
"The legal system is different, so is the policy and procedure within government. It takes time to understand local practices and during the learning phase local developers have an advantage," he says.