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Occupier Insights: 20 minutes with Li & Fung

“Savills Worldwide Occupier Services (WOS) APAC is pleased to bring you this inaugural edition of Occupier Insights, the first in what will be a regular series of publications engaging with Real Estate leaders from various industry sectors across APAC.

L&F is a home grown APAC business success story and Savills is pleased to collaborate with L&F on this, our inaugural edition of Savills Occupier Insights.

May has over 25 years of commercial experience beginning her career as a finance and accounting professional and later becoming an expert in work environment, real estate portfolio management and facilities. May joined Li & Fung in 2014 and is based in its Hong Kong global headquarters where she manages the corporate real estate portfolio for the company globally, providing an end-to-end service delivery across transaction management, project delivery and facilities management. Prior to joining Li & Fung, May was Regional Head of CRES, Greater China at Standard Chartered Bank.

May holds a Bachelor Degree of Economics and Administrative Studies from York University in Canada and is a qualified Canadian Chartered Professional Accountant."

Q: Throughout APAC what would you consider to be your most challenging market/s and why?

ML: We have 250 offices and distribution centers in over 40 markets. Each market requires its own approach to transacting and delivering effective real estate solutions. Some markets have a higher risk profile than other markets, so in those locations market cycles, timing of entry and exit and other commercial factors play much more of a support role to the safety and wellbeing of our people and ensuring that proper due diligence and governance has been followed from start to finish.

Whether it’s India, China or the United States, our main priority is the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues. No matter where they are in the world.

Q: What factors make delivering real estate solutions in your industry sector unique?

ML: The real estate choices that we make reflect our strategy and company values. Alongside the need for our real estate decisions to show us as a prudent business, we also need to attract and retain the type of creative and innovative talent that are fundamental to the success of our business.

Balancing these priorities is something we are always challenged with as a real estate team. Part of Li &Fung's answer has been the strategic acquisition or lease of old industrial buildings located near transport connections, and restacking those facilities using cost effective, modern, creative and interesting commercial office workplace design concepts.

Q: How would you rate your industry sector in terms of being a driver of workplace innovation and efficiency and are there any developing workplace trends that point the way forward?

ML: The sourcing industry has not necessarily been a key driver of workplace innovation in the way new start-ups and brands have been. In many respects the workspaces have followed a very traditional office layout and approach to workspace planning and design. For example, a typical workplace in the sourcing sector would consist of a high proportion of fixed desks, storage areas, meeting rooms and closed offices.

However, the landscape is changing. Businesses are starting to recognize the benefits flexible workspaces can bring in terms of agility, team collaboration, employee wellbeing, and engagement.

Q: What do you look for in your real estate partners? 

ML: Li & Fung looks for companies and individuals that are invested in taking the time and effort to understand our business and who are able to work with us as an extension of our own real estate team. We want real estate partners that are prepared to be challenged and to challenge us, who are able to think outside the box and bring us opportunities that we might not have otherwise have considered.  They will always be more valuable to us than those companies or individuals that simply manage a process.

In the corporate real estate world it can be easy to fall into the habit of simply managing a process. Taking a broader approach and looking at problems and opportunities with fresh eyes is something that we encourage within Li & Fung and we expect that of our real estate partners as well.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your real estate career?

ML: I really don't think there is any one thing. I learn something new every day. The experience of doing something for the first time, learning from my mistakes and my successes has all been part of my growth as a corporate real estate professional. I wouldn't replace those experiences for anything because I feel that it makes me better able to do my job today and better prepared to face the challenges of the future.

As with a lot of other industries, the impact of digitalization, technology and speed to market drivers are expected to have a growing impact on how we will do business into the future. We have been around for 110 years and the ongoing challenge for me and the rest of my team is to ensure we continue to be open minded and embrace these changes as positive developments that can play to our advantage and help position us for another 100 years of success.


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