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In terms of market value, Link REIT is now the largest real estate investment trust in Asia. Stepping into Link REIT’s double-storey headquarters in Kwun Tong, I was immediately struck by the spacious common workspaces, comfortable seating of all types and sizes, exercise bikes, board game tables, and stylish pantries. That a company is willing to invest in comprehensive office facilities in one of the world’s most expensive cities is impressive. Lorraine Chan, Director of Corporate Affairs of Link REIT, enters and tells the tale of this building winning numerous green architecture awards with its eco-friendly design.
Curiosity Doesn’t Kill the Cat
Lorraine joined Link REIT in January 2019. Prior to that, she had been Head, Managing Director of Corporate Communications of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX). The seasoned corporate communications professional confessed at the start of the interview, ‘I used to be introverted and shy when I was young.’
Then what inspired her to break from her comfort zone and become the deft communicator among corporations, media and stakeholders that she is today?
‘I have a big appetite for knowledge, always looking for answers,’ Lorraine shared. ‘When I was doing an experiment in an integrated science class in my junior secondary years, the teacher demonstrated how chemicals mix to become sodium chloride crystals when heated, which is what we call salt. I dipped my finger in at once and tasted the crystals to see if they were the same as the table salt we eat every day.’
Of course, the teacher told her those sodium crystals were not the same as table salt, but this hasn’t stopped her from exploring more. In her teenage years around age 13 or 14, she was determined to become a journalist, because she wanted first-hand knowledge of how things happened. Walking the talk, Lorraine started to learn to initiate conversations with strangers and practiced opening up.
Know What You Don’t Know
Unsurprisingly, Lorraine landed her first choice of CUHK journalism and communications. She also wished to declare double minors in government and public administration as well as Japanese language, but she eventually gave up the latter due to an overload of course credits.
When recollecting her university life, she said, ‘Young teachers such as Joseph Chan and Paul Lee would bring us to the lawn outside New Asia College for class. It smelled of freedom.
‘In my third year, I was given the opportunity to be the only student who could go on overseas exchange in my class. I spent a year in Asia University in Tokyo, the affiliated institution of New Asia College.
‘CUHK taught me to appreciate the nature of things, to think critically, communicate effectively and identify what I don’t know. These are more important than knowledge per se, as knowledge quickly becomes obsolete in this age of information boom.’
Stepping into Finance
Upon graduation, Lorraine worked, as she aspired, as a business reporter for Oriental Press Group. Why specializing in business news? ‘I wanted to be trained as a political reporter at first, but I am also a quick-tempered person who likes to see concluding results, so business news was a better fit.’
After four years as business reporter, Eastern Express closed down, and Lorraine was invited to manage marketing communications by a new insurance firm that she had reported on before. ‘As a reporter, I stayed tuned to all developments of corporations. Isn’t it a good opportunity to go in-house and experience how it works from inside the organization? If it doesn’t fit me, I could always turn back to my journalist profession.’ Curiosity opened yet another door for Lorraine.
After more than a year, Lorraine moved to the pre-merger Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. This posed another challenge for her, ‘leaping from a corporation to the heart of the Hong Kong stock market.’
‘My first day of work was the Monday after the financial crisis in 1997. Everyone was buried in work and didn’t mind me.’
Nevertheless, Lorraine didn’t wait for work to knock on her door. She grasped the opportunity to learn all about listing and trading rules by heart to prepare for her new role.
The crisis led to the closure of many brokerage firms and financial difficulties of listed companies. In the following year, the market was hit yet again the Hong Kong dollar was under attack from abroad.
‘That period was very tough,’ Lorraine smiled, ‘but it was intensive training for me.
‘With challenges come opportunities. This led to the merger of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Futures Exchange and the Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company in 2000 into the HKEX today.’
Since 2000, the stock market has seen numerous major events, challenges and growth opportunities. The most memorable episode for Lorraine was the listing of PRC state-owned banks in Hong Kong. She was also involved in the launch of Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Connect and the reform of the listing system, which enriched her career and gave her a strong sense of mission bearing witness to history. Drawing from her broad experiences at HKEX, she understood the importance of execution.
One may think the longer one stays at a certain position in one’s career the harder one can have the next breakthrough, but Lorraine proved it wrong. In late 2018, Lorraine resigned and enrolled in an executive certificate programme in strategy and innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A headhunter contacted her to oversee corporate affairs at Link REIT.
Comparing with the HKEX’s deep roots in finance, the businesses of Link REIT are more grounded in everyday life, and the latter’s stakeholders encompass a broader spectrum from regulatory authorities, investors to business partners. ‘I can observe Hong Kong more fully through these neighbourly facets.’
Another interesting project is to lead the company’s Charity and Community Engagement Programme—Link Together. ‘It’s a new experience and lesson for me.’
Key to Public Relations
Lorraine has navigated numerous crises in her public relations career over the years. What is her secret to success?
She kindly offered the following tips:
Reported by florencechan@cuhkcontents
Translated by Lesley Cheung
Photos by Eric Sin