While Vanessa Cheung may have only joined the business in 2013, it’s been part of her psyche her entire life. As the granddaughter of Nan Fung’s Founder, Dr Chen Din Hwa, Vanessa came into the business with not only a deep understanding of its values, but also ideas about how she could drive the company forward.
She started by incorporating her passion for community. “When I joined, the company had been around for 60 years and so was already well established. What I wanted to do was bring in a way for us to create a bigger impact on people’s lives,” she says.
“I wanted us to be doing more than just providing shelter.” Since becoming Group Managing Director in 2017, Vanessa has seen Nan Fung create meaningful projects and initiatives. She has also been the key driver in advocating for the company to embrace the global values of sustainability and innovation.
“As a business, we’ve focused on enhancing the environmentally sustainable elements in our real estate projects,” she shares. “And not just through obtaining the usual certifications, but really implementing improved processes and exploring innovative products to create a sustainable and safe environment for people to live and work in. To us, it’s about putting the user first. Our customers spend so much money on their home that it’s our responsibility to really create a space for them that’s secure and happy to be in. We want to make their lives better.”
Vanessa’s vision for the company is not too dissimilar to that of her grandfather’s. He built the company around the motto ‘Care for others as well as you would care for yourself’, and she continues to take that sentiment incredibly seriously.
“Whenever we work on a project, we keep my grandfather’s motto very close to our hearts,” Vanessa says. “It’s something that drives our company values of quality, innovation and social responsibility.”
These values proved to be a guiding light for Vanessa as the company worked on its newest development – The Mills. A collection of three buildings, The Mills is situated on the original site of Nan Fung and, since it opened in 2018, has proved to be a real destination for Hong Kong locals and global visitors.
The Mills is not just another real estate project. Vanessa and her team have created a business incubator and a retail experience, and housed a not-for-profit cultural institution in The Mills, bringing a hybrid of revitalisation and heritage to an industrial area of the city.
“When I joined the company, I was looking at our property portfolio. I saw that our former textile factories were once six buildings and the first three were redeveloped in the mid-80s, but mills four, five and six were being used as a warehouse, which seemed like a huge waste of property to me,” she says.
“I created The Mills project to not only expand the company’s portfolio but because I also wanted to celebrate our heritage. “We started life as a textile manufacturer and so when we began to redevelop the building, we decided to incorporate the future of textile manufacturing into the plans. This idea was brought to life through The Mills Fabrica, which sits within The Mills development and is a platform and business incubator for the textile industry.”
As well as Fabrica, The Mills is also home to an interactive museum and retail and entertainment hub, making it a unique space in what is, traditionally, an industrial part of Hong Kong. “The project has been a great success and evolved into something bigger, something we refer to as The Mills spirit,” Vanessa smiles.
We’ve created relationships with people who are willing to help us out when we need it, and vice versa.
“It’s become a very special place for the company, and has also helped us elevate the focus of the business. Through developing The Mills, we have learned how to build communities and now, whenever we start a project, we’re always looking at what the community and environmental connection of that build can be.”
There’s no doubt Vanessa leads from the heart and keeps her grandfather’s legacy close. It’s an admirable quality and one she looks for when choosing who to work with. “We hold our relationships and partnerships very close and remain fair and open with whoever we choose to collaborate with,” she explains.
“We like to work out solutions to problems together with people rather than giving mandates and instructions. I think this is the way to earn mutual respect rather than following a traditional client and boss relationship style. It certainly works for us.” For Vanessa it all goes back to her grandfather’s motto.
“I believe that his motto can really apply to any situation and it’s certainly helped us when our partners needed support during the global health crisis,” she says.
“When things weren’t going according to plan, we had a team of partners and advisers who we could count on for support and advice. It showed us what we already knew, that we’ve created relationships with people who are willing to help us out when we need it, and vice versa. The best thing you can do in business is to surround yourself with people you can share your joy and success with, and those who are there to support you when times get tough.”
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