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A young migrant comes home

Published on Friday, 07 Oct 2011
Catherine So
Regional general manager, GoHome.co.hk
Photo: May Tse

In many ways, Catherine So typifies the new face of traditional business in Hong Kong. Schooled overseas, trained in finance, and with a decade in fast moving tech-savvy media companies, she is three months into her first role in the property sector and looking to drive change.

"With experience in strategic planning and development, I can see where opportunities are and how to take business to the next level," says the regional general manager of leading property website GoHome.com.hk.

"When I first came in, I spent a lot of time with the team to understand the detail and history of the business. But now the focus is more on high-impact initiatives."

That, of course, presents no small challenge. Established in 1999, the company's platform provides a listing of over 100,000 residential and commercial properties available to buy or rent. There is extensive information on sizes, layouts, comparative prices and recent transactions, along with street-level maps and interactive functions. Since last year, the site has been attracting as many as 500,000 unique visitors and 7 million page views per month.

Ascending to the next level is about building on past successes and making use of the latest media technology to boost site traffic and increase advertising.

"It is a simple model with a dual revenue stream," So says, referring to the income from ads and listings. "We connect supply and demand, but don't get involved in transactions."

With her media background, which includes stints with Star TV and Tom Group, developing various digital, internet, mobile and e-commerce projects, So sees enormous potential. An early move was to revamp the homepage with the new design drawing on heat maps of the old site to identify what interests users most.

"The first thing people now do when they are in the market is go online," So says. "It allows them to simplify the search process, and we can see the type of information they want."

Now leading a 30-strong team of sales, marketing, finance and information technology specialists, So sees her role as a chance to blend training, experience, ambition and personal interest.

She returned to Hong Kong in 2005 after an economics degree at Harvard, a couple of years with the Merrill Lynch media investment banking team, and a spell doing corporate development for Time Warner.

"I've been very lucky with the timing of moves and opportunities available," says So, who originally migrated to Boston with her family to complete high school. "The plan was always to acquire experience in America and return to Asia armed with a good understanding of culture and business overseas."

She notes that the decision to take a banking job first was very deliberate. Investment banks are known for providing comprehensive financial training, useful in other roles. And being part of the media-related team was a chance to work on big initial public offerings and make contacts.

"I have always been very self-motivated," says So. "I am very focused and committed. If you really enjoy what you do, it is part of you - there is no line between work and personal life."

She is quick to emphasise, though, the need for a system that allows sufficient time for family, friends and activities such as regular swimming and tennis.

"My husband, who is in finance, has always been very supportive of my career," So says. "We are both very modern in the sense of not necessarily upholding traditional husband and wife roles."

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