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News & opinion

22 OCT 2019

Way to go: Josephine Lee

Josephine Lee is the regional business development director for Knight Frank Singapore, and the winner of the Property, Infrastructure and Construction category at the Women of the Future Southeast Asia Awards 2019. After joining Knight Frank six years ago she spent two years in China before returning to Singapore to oversee the property portfolios of global brands.

How did you get started in the industry?

It was around 2002. People were telling me that real estate was a sunset industry. I'd dispute that – no matter whether the economy is going up or down, you still need a roof over your head. I thought: why not give it a go? I'm very fortunate that I made the choice to study real estate at the National University of Singapore, graduated in 2007 and discovered an industry that I truly enjoy working in.

You were seconded to China as Knight Frank interim head of the Beijing office services team. What was that like?

It was exciting but challenging. Running a brokerage team that was hired by my predecessor was a steep learning curve. I had to adjust to a very different business culture. There were a lot more social engagements and meetings with governmental officials. I have learnt that one has to be consistent, flexible and appreciate that you are in a foreign land. It was daunting, but I've grown tremendously, both professionally and as a person.

You've now returned to Singapore to lead Knight Frank's regional business development across Asia Pacific. What's been your most rewarding project to date?

I recently finalised a 1m ft2 (92,900 m2) deal in the Suzhou Industrial Park near Shanghai, which took 26 months to complete. We have been thrown many curveballs and there's been a lot of government hoops to jump through. I'm really glad to be part of this team; we've worked very hard to close this deal and it's proof that having the right people in place is vital to the successful delivery of a project.

Singapore
Josephine Lee is now thriving in Singapore, leading Knight Frank's regional business development across Asia Pacific

How do you get the best out of your team?

By harnessing each other's strengths, empowering the team by giving them responsibility and trusting them to deliver. In the face of challenges that a team member cannot overcome, they should be comfortable enough with each other to be open about it so we can all work together to address the matter. It's never a solo effort.

What is the most important skill or personal quality needed to succeed in a job like yours?

You have to lead by example, and have integrity and humility. Arrogance will not serve you well in the long term. Being a great listener and being open to others' perspectives is key.

As a woman who's progressed to high levels in the industry, do you feel like an outlier? Or is it becoming more the norm?

I do feel like an outlier. On the whole there are still very few female leaders, particularly in our industry. The current crop are strong women who have paved the route for people like me, and I am grateful that we are having this conversation to increase awareness.

Where do you feel the built environment is in terms of diversity and inclusion?

It's great that corporations are looking closer at these issues and announcing more female leadership. Places that you would assume are male dominated, such as China and Japan, are making efforts to support upcoming female leaders. But how many corporations are actually implementing the structures that allow the middle managers to develop these leadership qualities? Diversity and inclusion is not only about gender, it must also ensure that people of any sexual orientation, race and age have equal opportunities.