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Great jobs for shopaholics

Published on Friday, 25 Jan 2013
Malls such as The Link’s Stanley Plaza are driving management opportunities in the “MBA programme of the property sector”.
Photo: The Link
Maureen Fung
David Martin

The future is bright for mall managers, especially with new training opportunities.

A new postgraduate course developed by The Link Management (The Link) and the Institute of Advanced Executive Education at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) claims to be the first postgraduate diploma focusing on shopping mall management in Hong Kong.

The two-year, part-time Executive Diploma Program in Shopping Mall Management covers every discipline a prospective mall magnate needs to master, such as property law, accounting, corporate real estate asset management, property management, real estate valuation, operations and maintenance management.

The Link has invested HK$3.8 million in developing the programme and funding the first class of around 40 employees, a commitment its CEO George Hongchoy says is vital for the company’s asset-enhancement plans across its 150-plus malls in Hong Kong.

“If we renovate a shopping centre and make it nicer to look at, but provide poor service to both shoppers and tenants, then people will very soon go somewhere else,” Hongchoy says. “Service is part of the product and for this you need the hardware and software.”

For now, the diploma is only for employees of The Link, but this is something that may change in the future. “We are partners with PolyU, but we are also guinea pigs. I think if things go well, PolyU would like to develop the diploma for open enrolment at some stage,” Hongchoy says.

Graduates have not traditionally considered shopping mall management to be the most glamorous of careers, says Maureen Fung, chairman of the Institute of Shopping Centre Management and general manager (leasing) of Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency, which manages the IFC and APM malls.

“It’s not the top pick for surveyors – they don’t understand the shopping centre business. For marketing graduates, they can choose the consumer product sector,” she says. With a strong outlook for retail demand not only in Hong Kong, but also in China and across the region, however, Fung says retail property is thirsty for new talent.

“We do have experienced staff in Hong Kong but there is a large gap,” she says. “The retail landscape has changed here over the last 10 years. Malls have become a big part of life, so we need to get more people into the profession.”

She adds that there are extensive opportunities in shopping centre management, with retail property offering a far more interesting and challenging career than traditional commercial or residential sales.

“Shopping centre management is a multi-disciplinary sector,” she says. “Sometimes we call it the MBA programme of the property sector. It is quite a stimulating job as the sector is very sensitive and retail-driven.”

There are few formal requirements for a career in shopping mall management. Fung says many people come from surveying or marketing backgrounds, but neither is a requirement.

David Martin, head of retail (leasing) for Hongkong Land, says a surveying degree is not a prerequisite, although Hongkong Land supports staff wishing to take surveying qualifications. Entry-level positions at the company take the form of property analyst or commercial surveyor.

“We start potential managers off at that level for a couple of years, at which point they might be finishing off a professional surveying qualification such as an RICS [Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors] or HKIS [Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors],” Martin says.

“The next step is assistant manager and then asset manager, who would typically look after one building, say Princes Building or Alexandra House. Then there are senior asset managers who may look after a few buildings.”

Fung says the opportunities in shopping centre management are huge, with retail property offering a far more interesting and challenging career than traditional commercial or residential sales.

“Shopping centre management is a multidisciplinary sector,” she says. “Sometimes we call it the MBA programme of the property sector. It is quite a stimulating job as the sector is very sensitive and retail-driven.”

Managing the three-dimensional relationship between landlord, tenant and shopper is key. “There are so many stakeholders,” Hongchoy says. “Everyone uses the malls and the tenant is not the ultimate consumer.

“For an office you might just provide a box. But retail is a very dynamic market. Fashions change, and if you don’t react to it as a landlord, if your tenants don’t react to it as a product provider, then people don’t shop. All of that is very exciting.”

For Martin, the distinctions between commercial and retail property are subtle. “The real estate and the property side are more fundamental to a retailer than to an office occupier, so you have to have a good sense of that,” he says.

For example, while office tenants may compromise on floor plans in exchange for rent discounts, retail tenants are far more picky. For mall managers, the upside of this, at least at the top of the industry, is a higher-profile status than commercial or residential property agents.

“When we deal with retailers, we tend to get the attention of the CEOs or chairmen of those brands,” Martin says. “When the chairman of Gucci is in town, we meet him, whereas we wouldn’t generally meet the very senior managers of our office tenants. So it’s a very exciting place to be.”
 

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