How long have you worked at Westbank and what do you do?
I started in January 2009. I was Ian’s executive assistant for two years and now I’m the managing director of Asian operations for our Westbank business in China.
Why did you choose to work at Westbank?
At the time I was deeply attracted to its products. I knew Westbank was the developer of Shangri-La Vancouver and I had always wanted to work in a really high-class Canadian company to learn how it operated differently from Chinese companies. I felt really lucky and grateful that Ian chose me at that time and I am really proud to be part of the company.
Do you remember a moment when you realized this was not just another ordinary company?
It was when I realised that there are two dogs in the company. The whole office feels like a family and we can listen to music while we work. Staff can manage their time freely such as going to the gym in the middle of the day etc., since health is a very hot topic in our office.
What is Westbank best known for?
I would say we’re well known for mixed-use real estate developments such as Shangri-La Vancouver and Toronto, Fairmont Paciﬁc Rim, Woodward’s Redevelopment etc.
What makes Westbank the kind of company that it is?
I think much of it comes down to our boss Ian. He is a very casual person who wears jeans to work everyday and he’s very down to earth. Westbank is very quiet on the marketing side compared to other developers. Ian loves dogs and children and so he allows them to be in the office. If our boss was Chinese, I don’t think that would ever happen.
What is the motivation that drives people at Westbank?
Passion is the ﬁrst thing that comes to mind. Ian is very passionate about contributing a great piece for the city, one which can truly help people. That’s why we have 60 W Cordova and the Woodward’s project as well as public art for almost every project. On the other side, his own personality is to make everything perfect and he wants to make sure that every product has a spotlight. That’s how we have Shangri-La Vancouver, the tallest building in the city and Fairmont Paciﬁc Rim, the best five-star hotel now in North America. Altogether these are great achievements for Westbank and for the city as a whole.
The working title for this book is “Building Artistry”. What does that mean to you as someone on the inside?
Ian is an art lover. There is a lot of emphasis on the artistry of things. To me, the title speaks to building artistry not only for himself, but also for Westbank and for the city. He’s built the culture of Westbank from an entrepreneur to a company and ultimately to a globalised company. He’s building the artistic skyline for cities and the beautiful environment for people to live in.
What has been your most memorable experience at Westbank?
The most memorable experience is of course being the assistant of the boss. I can honestly tell you that when I started, I knew nothing about construction and so when Ian asked me to have meetings with him and the construction people in the ﬁrst month, I was totally confused about what they were discussing (I’m not sure whether Ian noticed). But luckily with the help of my colleagues and Ian, I picked up fairly quickly and gradually understood how things worked. Working with Ian is very challenging and you have to work up to his speed, but I really like it because you can learn things more quickly and efficiently. I’m still in the process of learning and I ﬁnd it most precious when you can talk to your boss as a friend who can also at the same time give you guidance.
You are representing Westbank in China now, what is that like?
It’s very different from what I did at Westbank as an assistant. I had to start from scratch here since I have never worked in China before and the most important thing is that I don’t have relationships or connections. I have to work on everything on my own and manage the whole process. But Ian and my colleagues are very supportive. Also my father has been in the real estate business in Shanghai for almost 30 years and so I have used a lot of his relationships to help me get started. Plus, I’m Chinese so language is no problem for me.
Now I am also starting to build our Westbank China team to further expand and assist with the business. At the same time, I am creating a coordinated line of services for our potential clients in all major cities in China, including immigration, banking and real estate. So in the future, once there is a client who is interested in purchasing a condo in Canada, I will be informed.
When I left Canada in January, our ultimate goal was to make everyone in China know about Westbank so that whoever wants to buy Canadian condominiums would go to our China office and ask for help. I don’t see that as a 10 year goal any more. I think that within three years or even shorter, that will be the case for us. I was really conﬁdent about the Chinese market before and I still am.