Despite being at the helm of one of the world’s largest property companies, Mike Wong has a strong belief in being humble and staying close to the hearts of those who work and live in the many buildings he has constructed. The deputy managing director and executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP), Wong says that success is built on an ability to deliver to customers. Instead of seeing the millions who buy and rent the company’s properties as a group, he prefers to think of them as individuals, each of whom must be served by his team.
“I would never make a decision based on my ego, or my so-called professional knowledge,” says Wong, who joined SHKP in 1981 after a stint as a building surveyor for the government. “It is always about the people. At SHKP, we believe in being truly market-driven.”
This philosophy has led to breakthroughs for the company. For example, in the 1980s, SHKP won a bid for a piece of land on Old Peak Road to build the street’s first-ever luxury residential project: Dynasty Court. Without any prior experience in the luxury housing industry, Wong spent his weekends with the company founder’s sons, knocking on the doors of luxury homes on the Peak. Sometimes they would be greeted with scowls and verbal insults – and even the odd door slam – but Wong recalls that some of the friendlier residents, still in their morning gowns, would invite them in for tea and a chat about life in a luxury apartment. They also went on regular field trips to other luxury homes. “We were able to get first-hand information on what works and what doesn’t work for residents,” Wong says. “This is how we thought of incorporating a five-star service level, seen only in hotels at the time, into luxury housing projects — something that no one had ever thought about before in the market. And now this has become the benchmark for all up-market projects.”
He also believes that one can learn anything if they put their mind to it. This is how SHKP gained the courage to bid for the International Finance Centre project in Central in the late ’90s. The IFC was as technically and commercially complicated as it could get. The second tower, reaching 415 metres, was the tallest building in Hong Kong at the time, boasting 4.5 million square feet of high-end office space. The IFC also sought to attend to the needs of people in the area, adding dining, entertainment and shopping facilities to the list. Again, the project was the first of its kind. In preparation, Wong flew to other international financial centres to gain insight from corporate tenants, building experts, facility managers and property agents. His itinerary included a stop in Chicago, the latter of which was considered the world’s centre of excellence for high-rise construction at the time.
The tremendous success of the IFC led to the International Commercial Centre project in Kowloon. The ICC tower, at 484 metres high, was even more technically challenging. This was compounded by the addition of the Ritz-Carlton hotel to the upper floors, and the integration of environmentally-friendly elements to tie in with the company’s sustainability agenda.
“If you love to learn, you will always stay on top of the game,” says Wong, who began a master’s degree in international real estate at his alma mater, Polytechnic University in 2002. “‘The man who knows is not as good as the man who wants to know; the man who wants to know is not as good as the man who loves to know.’ This is one of my favourite Confucian quotes and it inspired me to keep on learning.”
Wong grew up in a public housing estate, where he shared a room with his siblings. “I was from a poor family, and my training was in building surveying. But today I am able to give directions to hundreds of people who are lawyers, bankers and architects on how to build and manage projects,” he says. “I want to tell young people that as you continue to educate yourself, work hard and take on new opportunities, life will take you to places that you have never imagined before.”
He also wants young people to know that there are always opportunities for those who are well equipped – despite market uncertainties in the property industry. “Buildings are like living organisms. They have their physical and economic lives within society,” he says. “It is up to us to manage their longevity and well-being, and make them flourish.
“There are always different needs in society, and new ways to meet those needs.”
This article has been reprinted courtesy of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors and appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Limitless learning.