Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Surveyor and executive Dr Lesly Lam Lik-shan has many strings to his bow

Lesly Lam Lik-shan, Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors vice-president of council, year 2016-2017 and deputy general manager – property investment, of Logan Property Holdings, is a well-rounded surveyor who demonstrates how professionalism, people-centredness and a positive attitude result in remarkable synergies. As one of the first surveyors to join mainland real estate group, Lam elaborates on the importance of seeking opportunities and overcoming challenges.

From Chek Lap Kok airport’s “prehistoric” days to the recent record-breaking bid in Ap Lei Chau; from full marathons to band jamming, Lam shows a can-do attitude in living life to the fullest.

Yet, as a high-school graduate in the early 1990s, Lam had little idea about surveying except that it was a profession worth pursuing. Upon completion of Polytechnic University’s BSc in surveying and geo-informatics, he was excited to join the Airport Authority and help build the new airport, Hong Kong’s milestone infrastructure project.

“From pebbles to bridges, I stepped on every inch of Chek Lap Kok Island. With the aid of ropes, we climbed to the rooftop of the airport terminals, the arch-shaped roofs we see today,” Lam recalls, with great satisfaction. “To facilitate safe flight landing, we had to ensure that every onsite measurement regarding the runway-to-be was conducted with the utmost accuracy.”

Shortly after the new airport opened in the summer of 1998, Lam left the Authority to join the Lands Department. Already then chartered and qualified, he was responsible for West Rail’s land acquisition. The job involved dealing with radical demonstrators and heated disputes – really tricky situations which he now looks back on with ease and humour as eye-opening experiences.

After a job transfer to the Civil Engineering and Development Department, Lam won a government sponsorship to pursue a master’s degree at University College London, where he specialised in hydrographic surveying. “My year in the United Kingdom widened my perspectives,” he says. “I acquired intercultural experience, problem-solving skills, and learned to see beyond the surface.”

Back in Hong Kong, his overseas training enabled him to effectively negotiate with contractors about claims about underwater measurements during reclamation. Perhaps more importantly, he introduced to the government new technologies ranging from 3D multibeam bathymetry to 3D laser scanning, the latter being instrumental in the Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier projects. “Introducing 3D laser scanning to Hong Kong, we were able to scan various types of data to enable the restructuring, reassembling of the demolished structures, if needed.”

Later posted to Hong Kong Island, and then Sai Kung for the Lands Department, Lam had to communicate with large developers about land leases and grants, with pre-IPO Link Reit to provide land information of housing estates, as well as with protesters in the New Territories.

As a dedicated surveyor, Lam never stopped serving HKIS or enriching himself professionally. Starting from being an HKIS student representative back in 1995, he has served in various positions, including as the Young Surveyors’ Group chairman, the Land Surveyor Division’s chairman, and HKIS vice-president.

“I first joined the HKIS to meet other surveyors, and soon learned that there were many more exciting areas in surveying,’ he says. “Through active participation in HKIS, I became connected to all surveying divisions, as well as to other professional fields. As honorary secretary, for instance, I had to coordinate HKIS consultative documents sent to the government concerning the definition of saleable areas and sales of first-hand residential units – areas not necessarily related to land surveying. To do these well, I engaged in self-learning by thoroughly reading related materials, and considered criticism a chance to learn and improve.”

With such a positive attitude, Lam’s long-awaited opportunity came when he was invited to join mainland real estate developer Vanke in 2013, becoming its vice-president. “People asked me how I had stepped out of my comfort zone after 14 stable years in the public sector; in fact, I was finally stepping into my comfort zone by entering private enterprise,” he says, half-jokingly.

At Vanke, Lam’s variety of experience acquired over the previous decade fitted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. “I enjoy meeting challenges, making decisions, and developing my potential. This was exactly what Vanke promised,” he notes.

Reciprocally, Lam had a lot to offer to the industry key player. Thanks to a sound knowledge of geo-informatics, he was able to solve profound questions posed by mainland corporations about site demographics, culture and dialects, needs, transport, and finance. After years in the Lands Department, he was able to master the details of land lease to facilitate bidding. Responsible for the HKIS’ consultative documents, he had learned the gist of old-building acquisition, compulsory sale for redevelopment, building ordinances, the handling of illegal structures, sales procedures, planning and development, valuation, and so on.The results were spectacular. Lam helped Vanke beat off 17 other competitors to successfully bid for a residential site at Sham Shui Po at a land premium of around HK$4,200 per square foot, which was considered to be at the low end of market estimates. Just 18 months later, another corporation bid for a site at nearby Cheung Sha Wan with a land premium of about HK$17,000 per square foot, i.e. 400% higher.

Now, as deputy general manager of Logan Property Holdings, Lam scored another phenomenal success earlier this year when he and the corporation hit the headlines after achieving a joint-venture bid for a premier waterfront residential site at Ap Lei Chau. With a land premium of around HK$22,000 per square foot, this marked the most significant bid in Hong Kong’s history regarding a government lump-sum sale at the time. The HK$16.86 billion investment has broken all records in Hong Kong, exceeding the previous record, held for two decades.

“The key to successful bidding is to do your homework – conduct thorough research and investigation, make concise calculations, identify our competitors, and think about their potential strategies. Speak the language of real estate industry such as cash flow, return on investment and valuation, rather than own terms only,” Lam says.

When Lam was still working for the government, he spent five years completing a doctor of business administration qualification at the University of South Australia. His thesis, “Knowledge Transfer in Public Private Partnership”, was published in the British Journal of Economics. “Now that I have joined mainland corporations, I find doctoral degrees extremely important – not just because corporations like to hire doctors, but because the knowledge learned is extremely useful at work,” he says.

Apart from seeking professional advancement, Lam is an enthusiast for marathons, Oxfam Trailwalker’s 100km hike, and winter and water sports. As an active organiser of HKIS sports teams, he coordinates joint professional competitions among surveyors, medical doctors, dentists, and other professionals. He is also into music, as the lead vocalist of a pop band, lyricist, and a member of the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong. He counts among his circle of friends other music-loving professionals who have formed bands in the legal and health care professions.

Now working in real estate, Lam continues to give back to the surveying profession. “I aspire to help the HKIS enhance surveyors’ branding and recognition,” he stresses. “To young surveyors: I hope that you will actively participate in HKIS activities. Be flexible, step out of your comfort zones, network with others, and learn the most you can. Widen your horizons: you may end up having careers with a broader range than you had expected.”