To coincide with the celebration of the Group’s 60th anniversary, Hang Lung Properties is about to welcome the company’s first large-scale commercial development in Central China – Heartland 66 in Wuhan. Billy Ip, the General Manager of this project, has not only witnessed its construction from the ground up, but has also fought a tough battle with his team in 2020.
Billy joined the Hang Lung family in 2016 and became the General Manager of Heartland 66 in March 2017. He has been stationed in Wuhan ever since, watching over the project’s progress alongside the Project Management and Leasing & Management teams. When asked why someone born and raised in Hong Kong, like himself, would go to work in the Mainland, he smiles and says, “The story began 26 years ago... At that time, working in the Mainland came with an impressive salary package. I earned three times more than I did in Hong Kong, and the benefits were also excellent. That was why I decided to further my career there. I worked in places such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing, the latter being where I met my wife, who is from Wuhan. It so happened that Hang Lung was recruiting staff for a new project in Wuhan, so I decided to apply.”
Billy is no stranger to the city of Wuhan. One could even say that he knows it quite well, because he often accompanies his beloved wife there to visit her relatives. “Wuhan is known as the ‘Chicago of China’. The city’s wharf used to be a distribution hub for inland freight transport. It has developed rapidly in recent years. I believe that Heartland 66 will definitely write a new chapter in the city’s commercial development,” says Billy.
Billy and his team faced numerous challenges during the project’s preliminary stages, including fending off the competition. However, the biggest test was the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the entire world in 2020. Work came to a complete standstill in Wuhan in late January, and the construction of Heartland 66 was no exception. During the work stoppage, which lasted more than two months, Billy stayed in Wuhan and led his team to emerge from the crisis stronger having faced the adversity. He also prompted the resumption of the project in coordination with Wuhan’s post-epidemic recovery. He says, “I’m responsible for leading the team forward as a whole. I insisted on staying in Wuhan to weather the storm together in the hopes of providing support and encouragement to my colleagues.”
Billy recalls, “During the lockdown period, tasks that were usually very simple became extremely difficult. For example, I couldn’t go to the hairdresser’s, nor could I shop at the supermarket every day, because the government stipulated that each family could only send one member out to buy daily necessities once a week.” However, Billy also benefitted slightly from these extraordinary times. He says with laughter, “I managed to quit smoking during the lockdown, because there was no way of buying cigarettes.”
The lease negotiations for Heartland 66, which were in full swing, were forced to a grinding halt when the city was put under lockdown. Some tenants who had planned to rent also withdrew from their agreements. Billy reveals, “The mall’s occupancy rate dropped by more than 10% after the epidemic. It was a huge blow to us. Fortunately, we have an outstanding team and it took just two months to recover most of the losses. I really appreciate the efforts of the Leasing teams in Wuhan and at the Head Office. They remained dedicated to their work and did everything in their power to fight this battle with us.”
Billy frankly admits that he could indeed have left Wuhan with his family during the epidemic. However, the thought never crossed his mind. He says, “I’ve overseen the entire development of Heartland 66, from when it was just a construction site to its impending opening. I’m emotionally attached to this project. I won’t give up easily before accomplishing some results or achieving a certain standard. This is not only my responsibility to the company, but also an obligation to myself. One must be accountable for everything that one does!”
As the Group’s 60th anniversary approaches, Billy hopes that the teams managing each of Hang Lung’s projects can contribute to the company by making good use of local wisdom and playing to their strengths.