Daring to Start

Lilliana Choi – Corporate Development and Real Estate Investments Director, Jebsen Group

There are times when I would slip out of the daily grind and sit in front of the piano. Although without professional training, I had learned to play classical pieces on my own, playing the instrument one key at a time.

In my fifteen years of working at Jebsen, I have learned that all it takes to do something you’ve never done before is just that: the courage to begin.

This confidence has certainly helped me traverse unfamiliar territories in my line of work, including Real Estate, an area I am managing at present – and a novel path in my career.

I joined Jebsen Group’s Corporate Strategy and Development arm in 2005 from Surveying background. Since then, the department’s role expanded to seize business growth opportunities in the region. With Jebsen Motors becoming one of the fastest growing business lines at Jebsen, we also needed to make sure that we have ample and well-structured service centres (4S centres) set up in the right locations. To help set this in motion, I officially took on the role of General Manager for Corporate Development.

The task of establishing a professional real estate team to support the expansion projects in China was similar to attempting to read musical notes for the first time.

It was a new function to me, with many structural issues to fix, and Real Estate became a learning ground that kept me working hard, expanded my knowledge, and forced me to reach beyond myself. It was challenging in many ways, especially since we had no existing policies, guidelines, and processes to begin with. 

Fast forward to today, my team has successfully completed a total of 13 projects in Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China, with three more 4S centres under way.

How did I do it? I simply began, and then I learned along the way. I took on the challenge, backed by the trust and support from the Group Management, and persisted on the mission to build a great, specialised real estate team.

As the demands of the projects were high, I needed people who were not only competent but were also comfortable with change. At the beginning, I was unsure about how to build the right organisation structure and culture, and how to manage such a professional team at Jebsen. But by consistently valuing integrity as Jebsen always does, finding the right people soon became easier, as was adapting the team structure to the changing needs of the business.

Practice, indeed, makes perfect. The experience helped me harness my skills in people management, and led me to achieve incredible milestones together with my team, including the first green field project in Shenzhen.

The management’s confidence in my work fuelled mine, enabling me to coach people while advancing my know-how in end-to-end real estate management. I began this new role mostly playing by ear that even I am still surprised at how we were able to grow our capabilities as a team! Our competencies have stretched so much that we are now able to provide M&A, properties acquisition and project management support for new partners, including our recent self-storage company investment in Mainland China.

I’m glad to be part of a company that empowers me to keep learning and tackle challenges together with my team—and all the credits of project achievements should go to my team members, who are competent and outstanding, which is a big blessing to me. Sharing these achievements, I am reminded of the grateful feeling I often get when playing the last note of one of Chopin’s Nocturnes. It may have taken me tremendous time and effort to learn the pieces, but I am a better person because of it. In the same way, my work at Jebsen inspires me to begin, press on with excitement, and hopefully set the same tone for others to follow.