Before being in the private sector, Arch. Henry Yap was tasked with an enormous project in his managerial role at the Bases Conversion and Development Authority: awarding the control of one of the biggest military camps back in the day, Fort Bonifacio, to the private sector.
Eventually, he played a key role in creating the masterplan for what is now known as Bonifacio Global City. From a simple, open area that served as a military camp, he and his team kickstarted the land’s transformation into a world-class township widely admired today.
This was just one of the incredible projects Yap would see in his professional career. Joining Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC) in 2007, he embarked on a journey that took him to greater heights in his real estate career.
The RLC Journey
Entering as the head of RLC’s Office Buildings Division, Yap chaired the department from 2007 to 2014. In 2014, he was invited by the late John Gokongwei, Jr., the founder of JG Summit Group, to supervise the business operations in China.
“At that time, his company had started developing projects in China, so he invited me there initially to be the CFO. After a month or so, he decided to name me the country head and take the rein of the company,” Yap said.
He added, “Fortunately, we were able to grow that business in China. We are in five cities in China, with headquarters in Shanghai, and in the following cities: Xiamen, Chengdu, Chongqing, and Taicang.”
In late 2016, Yap went back to the Philippines and assumed the role of General Manager for the Residential Division. Until now, he’s serving as the department head.
Life Beyond Real Estate
Passionate about teaching, Yap holds lectures at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
“I teach once a week at the College of Architecture and every Saturday at the School of Urban and Regional Planning. I’ve been a senior lecturer for 14 years,” he said.
When he’s not managing company operations or teaching, he’s focused on his family. He acknowledged that he sometimes struggles to maintain the work-life balance given the demands of his job, but he strives to give undivided attention to his family as much as possible.
“When I [come] home, I make sure that I allocate my time to my family,” Yap said.
Wisdom from Mentors
Although already an expert in the real estate industry, Yap has mentors he looks up to. He named the late John Gokongwei Jr. and the current president of RLC, Frederick Go. Thanking them, he recognized the trust of his bosses.
“I like to thank them because they allowed me to join the company on the strength of my reputation, but they gave me the liberty to choose the position I would want to do for the company,” he said.
He added, “They trusted me more for my background, rather than the skill set that I would be using for that job they were going to assign to me.”
Aside from the trust, Yap is grateful for these mentors’ guidance. “I have never run an office building or country operations. I had to get their wisdom so that I can be guided, as I navigate and run the operations of those companies,” he said.
The Right Attitude Towards Crisis
Armed by the wisdom he got from mentors and his experiences through the years, Yap said that crises are meant to be faced head-on.
“If we believe that the crisis will just end without any intervention, that will not happen. We shouldn’t put them aside. We should confront them and react accordingly,” he said.
Another piece of advice he emphasized in dealing with crises is looking back at the last few years and taking stock of the wealth of knowledge one has gained. Being in the industry for a long time, Yap has witnessed how the Asian and global financial crisis unfolded.
Thus, he encourages people to take to heart the learnings and best practices from those hardships and apply them in the present in addressing the current crisis.
Emphasizing the need for collective, collaborative work, Yap added, “The solution to any crisis cannot rest with one person. We need to think that this is a team effort. We have to rally the team to work together to address it.
“For me, the best is to get everybody aligned, for everybody to understand what needs to be done, for everybody to have a buy-in with the program that we have to do, and to work together to achieve that goal.”
Demonstrating the mentioned principles, he referred to industry analysts’ reports on previous financial crises in offering a sense of encouragement to people. According to him, there was a strong rebound after the problems in those economic emergencies dissipated. For this reason, analysts urge people who have extra cash to invest.
Yap echoes those sentiments now, saying that this is the best time to invest. He said, “One, you have more opportunities to choose from. Second, investment opportunities are bigger, provided you’re willing to take a risk. Then, the rebound is much, much better.”
Move Towards Digitalization
Even before the crisis struck, RLC was already on the way to digital transformation.
Yap admitted, “The COVID pandemic actually made us realize that we did the right thing because we planted the seed to go digital.”
He, however, said that because of the health emergency, the transition had to be agile. Instead of shifting in one big sweep, they had to do it in small bits, with improvements done every day. This was RLC’s strategy when they were developing the Sellers Portal and Buyers Portal.
The former, according to Yap, is a tool that allows sellers to have access to all the necessary information pertaining to the products they’re selling. “Wherever they move around, with the availability of a tablet or a cellphone, they can connect with the information in our company’s servers and can share that information with the buyer,” he shared.
Aside from providing information, the tool has the capability of tracking seller activity, as the interactions with the buyers can be documented in the portal.
The buyers portal, meanwhile, enables buyers to monitor their own data, particularly the investments they made with RLC, at the convenience of their own home or wherever they are.
“If you paid us, you can check it there. If you’ve been issued receipts, you can see them. If you forgot about your billings, you can download a copy of the statements of accounts,” Yap shared, adding that buyers can see the status of their checks right at the platform.
Meanwhile, during the pandemic, RLC developed the Homeowners Portal, a digital channel that allowed Robinsons property owners to connect with the building administration. Using the agile principle, Yap said that their team started with two residences first, and then expanded to more. At the launch, basic features were present, adding more over time.
The tool is very useful for homeowners amid the pandemic, as it offers timely information, gives a copy of statements of accounts, and allows ordering of services, such as water delivery and laundry.
Changing Buying Behavior
While there’s a concern about buying real estate in the middle of the crisis, there’s a segment of the population eager to get into the property market.
“In the luxury market, the general sentiment is still high. These are people who take challenges in this type of crisis. They’re the ones who are willing to invest because they have the extra disposable income.
“They know that, based on experience, once the economy improves, they will earn a lot from them,” Yap shared.
As for the middle to low market segment, he said that buying real estate depends heavily on the employment status. People will prioritize basic necessities when they’re under the threat of retrenchment.
“Only if they have that will they start investing again in residential,” Yap said.
Put simply, the buying behavior depends on the background of a particular market segment. As for location preferences, RLC sees greater interest in horizontal residential projects outside Metro Manila.
Promising Deals on the Market
As mentioned earlier, investment opportunities abound during crises. For those looking to buy RLC properties, the company offers plenty of promos.
Yap announced, “This September, we are going big on a lot of our projects. We have substantial promos. We have big discounts, 10 to 15 percent discounts on selected, limited units of our ready-for-occupancy units. We also have, although smaller, for pre-selling units.”
RLC is likewise offering loyalty discounts for repeat customers.
Launching an innovative Early Move In program, the company allows home buyers to pay their down payment over a period of three months. They hope to assist low to mid-income buyers to realize homeownership, especially those who are still renting. Ultimately, this eliminates the need to pay two sets of housing expenses.
“The idea is that what they will be paying their lessor, they will pay directly to us already,” Yap said.
RLC Moving Forward
Maintaining market share is one of the core priorities of RLC, Yap said. “At the same time, we have to continue to share the good news with our buyers. I know the daily news is still about the pandemic, but there’s a lot of good news we can share with them.
“It’s important to uplift the sentiments of our fellow Filipinos to be able for them to feel better so we can survive the crisis.”
Motivating his team to pursue excellent work amid the pandemic, Yap said that open, honest communication is key.
He shared, “It’s important that they are aware of the current state. There’s no sugarcoating. Otherwise, we are deceiving them.
“Secondly, they need to know market realities. There’s no point in telling them, this is good when it’s not. Only if they know what we are going through will they be [able to] empathize and work together to achieve the goal we want for them.”
As for fighting the lack of motivation, Yap reiterated the value of collective work. Each member of the team should strive to inspire each other, creating a “bandwagon effect.”
Internally, RLC holds various regular meetings to discuss strategies. According to Yap, town hall gatherings are meant to inform the team about market realities and allow them to ask direct questions.
Encouragement for the Market
As a final word, Yap urged the market to look beyond the hurdles at present. “The crisis should never be a hindrance. In fact, we should look at crises as opportunities. If we’re more determined, we’re resourceful, then it will allow us to overcome these challenges,” he said.
Echoing Jim Rohn, he said, “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”
An academic, Yap had the learning caliber. Yet it was his journey through the years, immersed in the real estate business, that made him who he is today.
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