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17 Dec 2023
Building a seven-day place
As Swire Properties’ Senior Portfolio Manager, Taikoo Place, Francis Lo looks after a portfolio of office and retail clients at Taikoo Place, one of Hong Kong’s best-planned business hubs. During the pandemic this was no mean feat. From conceptualising new restaurant offerings, to creating innovative pop-up workspaces and winning a coveted award, we hear what fuels her passion for her role each day.
 

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For readers who don’t know you personally, please tell us what you do on a day-to-day basis.

My days vary tremendously, but typically I spend most of my time engaging with prospective tenants and current ones on issues ranging from multimillion-dollar contract negotiation to a malfunctioning pipe. Current tenants come from a range of industries, and include prestigious law firms and banks, as well as up-and-coming tech startups, so you can imagine their needs can be very different. To me, it is important to establish a relationship and build trust early on, so tenants have a familiar point of contact to cater to their requirements and resolve any issues.

Another aspect is understanding how we can better serve our tenants’ business needs. This requires researching, conceptualising and expanding what we already offer. Typically, business areas are vibrant during the weekdays but are rather quiet during weekends and holidays. Ultimately, I want to create loyalty and what we call “stickiness”, meaning clients will spend more time in our community even when not in the office – for example, exploring dining options, taking part in wellness activities and appreciating art installations and other cultural activities – thus making Taikoo Place a lively and enjoyable “seven-day” place.

Tell us about the project of which you are most proud.

Undoubtedly it is “Plug and Play”, a pop-up agile workspace located in Oxford House at Taikoo Place. This came about in response to a survey showing our tenants wanted a “third” space between the traditional office and a café, where they could have productive yet relatively casual business conversations.

I teamed up with a furniture company that provided us with long community tables for group discussions, meeting pods, phone booths and even ergonomic chairs – all for free. We also partnered with a coffee shop and a restaurant to offer discounted refreshments.

Feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so, in fact, that “Plug and Play” is now a permanent fixture in our portfolio.

Last year you won the 2022 Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (“RICS”) Young Achiever of the Year Award. What was it that impressed the judges most of all?

As a Swire Management Programme Executive, every few years I’ve rotated across different roles depending on what our businesses require. This diversity of experience has equipped me with hard and soft skills, such as professionalism, the ability to innovate, leadership qualities and cultural sensitivity. I think this is what stood out to the judges.

It also helped that our latest building, Two Taikoo Place, is our most technologically advanced, sustainably built property and has the highest environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) credentials. This allowed me to demonstrate the professionalism and leadership abilities the judges look for. Since receiving my original RICS qualification, I have sought to give back by serving as the founding member of the Diversity & Inclusion (“D&I”) Professional Group and in other capacities, which also contributed to my winning of the award.

What are you most passionate about in your current role?

Oh, definitely meeting people and understanding their wants, needs, dreams, hopes and fears! It gives me immense pleasure knowing that I am able to assist clients, either on the real estate side or the asset management side. An example of this in action was when we leased six-and-a-half floors to an anchor tenant during the height of COVID-19, which was the biggest deal on Hong Kong Island at that time. For me it was a case of being in the right place at the right time to pitch a great product – Two Taikoo Place being the next-generation office building with amenities and top-of-class ESG specifications – to likeminded clients. Aligned with this is our Green Performance Pledge, which is an agreement between us and our tenants, as well as our Green Kitchen Initiative for F&B clients. I also love curating new F&B spaces. It is incredibly satisfying. 

Francis stands in front of an artist’s impression of how the Pedestrian Piazza will look upon completion.
Francis stands in front of an artist’s impression of how the Pedestrian Piazza will look upon completion.

Looking ahead, tell us a bit more about any more exciting projects you will be leading.

At the moment, I am focusing on curating new dining options at Taikoo Place’s brand-new Pedestrian Piazza. Currently, it is still a construction site, but it will be completed this year! Without giving too much away, you can expect contemporary Chinese and Middle Eastern cuisines, a gastropub, an edgy all-day café, a keto and vegan-friendly bakery and a hearty salad-bowl concept from Singapore. We want to provide our tenants with more dining and lifestyle offerings, as well as cultural activities to build up our seven-day place. On a personal level, I completed my part-time MBA this year and now feel more equipped to continue to drive changes and make an impact. The future is going to be very exciting indeed.