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Luo Zhaoming: Developing Property, and Ideals

By Zhang Rui

 

“To do this well, you have to have a worker bee mentality”

 

After several years of working in a high-profile role at one of China’s biggest property developers, Luo Zhaoming (EMBA 17th intake), 48, still hasn’t quite gotten used to being in the spotlight. When a photographer asks him to strike a “cool” pose, he looks bewildered. But get him talking about his work and he quickly turns enthusiastic.

 

Luo, who earned his Ph.D. in management science at Tongji University, had already served as CEO at a property firm and overseen a number of high-profile developments before joining Greentown Holdings. But he was attracted by Greentown’s innovative approach and the idealistic spirit of its leaders. The work was compelling enough that he was willing to take the number-three position at the company, assuming the post of vice chairman.

 

“Greentown is not like most development companies. They think in a more creative way. That interested me – I thought the work here would be fun.”

 

Since its founding in 1995, Greentown, which builds apartments for China’s urban middle class, has expanded from its headquarters in the southern city of Hangzhou to Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities. The company, which trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, has already developed millions of square meters of land.

 

Luo’s assignment: to build up the company’s operations in northern China, using Beijing as a base. Within three years, he reckons, this area will account for some 30 percent of Greentown’s market. “That’s an ambitious goal, but I’m confident,” he says. To that end, he has busied himself working to promote the Greentown brand and purchase more developments.

 

Given his post-graduate studies in management, it’s perhaps no surprise that Luo is especially passionate about Greentown’s comprehensive training system. “The company is actually also a school,” he explains. “Greentown has two brands: one is Greentown China Holdings Limited, and the other is what we call ‘Greentown University.’ I would say the training for Greentown employees is the best in the industry.” In fact, the company’s human resources department styles itself as the “growth department,” highlighting its mission to promote employees’ professional development.

 

Luo says Greentown has closely studied standardization and employee training policies at fast food chain KFC, as well as management practices at Odyssey Elevators (a division of United Technologies). Case in point: Greentown once asked members of its marketing staff to take a leave of absence and participate in national-level hiring at KFC, so they could see firsthand how the restaurant chain implemented standardization. Upon the employees’ return, Greentown outlined a “standards engineering” branch to promote a culture of standardization. Greentown has also adopted some elements of KFC’s employee training plan, with the goal of eventually developing some of its front-line employees into upper-level managers.

 

In another major shift, Luo says that over the next five years Greentown aims to remake itself from a company focused on operations to one more oriented towards real estate services.

 

“To do this well, you have to have a worker bee mentality,” Luo says. “Others are landlords, and we are hired hands. We’re willing to provide clients with individual attention, take care of all their needs, and give 100 percent to the job.”

 

This attention to detail is reflected in a number of services designed to promote the health and welfare of the residents of its developments. For example, it offers free swimming lessons for children in its communities and special services for the elderly. Also, each family member in a Greentown complex has a free health file stored in Greentown’s property management office. Based on a given individual’s needs, office employees can make house calls to check up a person’s health. They can even send text messages reminding residents to “drink less” or to “go for a walk outside.”

 

“To date, we’ve been able to store sixty or seventy thousand healthcare files,” says Luo. “If one day we are able to publish a report that says people who live in Greentown homes live three to five years longer than people in other communities, that will be our biggest achievement.”

 

Luo says Greentown is motivated by a genuine desire to help its customers. “We cannot change society as a whole, but we can change our communities. We hope to build homes that allow more people to have a better quality of life within their residential communities.”

 

“A lot of developers come to the job thinking that they are superior,” he adds. “But they can’t deliver the kind of results we can.”

 

Q&A with Luo Zhaoming

 

CKGSB: After you joined Greentown, its Chairman Song Weiping said during a media interview, “He is the same as I – a man with ideals.” Do you think that you’re an idealist?

 

Luo Zhaoming: You could say so. We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of urbanization and social progress. We also hope to allow all employees at Greentown to live in homes that they themselves have built. This can be realized step by step – we can do it.

 

In the course of managing more than one hundred projects in more than forty cities, we have always firmly believed that even if we can’t change a city’s appearance, we can make neighborhoods better, safer, friendlier and more convenient.

 

CKGSB: Greentown once said it hopes to catch up with and surpass [number-one Chinese property developer] Vanke within three to five years. How do you view the situation?

 

Luo: Regarding closing the gap with Vanke, it is only a matter of time. Moreover, Greentown has recently moved into commercial real estate development. In the future, we expect to see compound growth from that.

 

CKGSB: If you could describe yourself in brief, what would you say about yourself?

 

Luo: I am a Sagittarius, and blood type B. The traits of people with blood type B are that we are frank, honest, and do not like to deceive people.

 

My strongest characteristics are that I persevere and am very devoted to what I do. I am also very optimistic. As I see it, the difference between tap water and boiling water, even if the temperatures are 99 degrees and 100 degrees, is still just one degree. So whether it’s something big or small, if you persevere, you can make a difference.

 

CKGSB: What did you learn while studying at CKGSB?

 

Luo: My goal at CKGSB was crystal clear, and that was to study, so I was extremely absorbed in my classes. I brought a lot of questions to my studies, as well as personal observations and reflections. While I was a student, I devoted myself completely to self improvement.

 

This article has been translated from the original Chinese and edited for length.