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A star in the east: meet RICS Young Surveyor of 2020

Hong Kong’s Ryan Ip is no ordinary surveyor, having worked for the region’s central bank and advised its government. He talks about the island’s problems, protests and the secrets of his success

Author: Alex Frew McMillan

08 March 2021

Photography: Virgile S. Bertrand

Ryan Ip MRICS, 31, is the assistant research director and head of land & housing at Our Hong Kong Foundation. In December 2020, he was named the RICS Young Surveyor of the Year.

Young people are generally enthusiastic, even idealistic. As Young Surveyor of the Year, why is this profession meaningful to you?

I was trained as an economist, so I’m always looking for inefficiencies, and ways to improve society. In my first job, as an analyst at the commercial real estate giant JLL, I was giving advice not only to commercial clients but to government clients too. It really gave me a sense of how the industry works, and how to serve the industry, the community and society as a whole.

Real estate combines a lot of different professions. Take RICS, as an example. You have valuations, general practice, planning and development, fellows, engineers, consultants, planners, architects. All of these professionals work together to create buildings, the foundations of our cities.

This industry connects everyone to everything, especially in Hong Kong, where we have very unaffordable housing and an extreme lack of supply [in February 2021, Hong Kong topped a global index of unaffordability for the 11th year in succession]. We all need a place to live, a place to work, a place to shop. It is the most fundamental part of how we live.

 

The thing about public policy and government policy is that change takes not just years but often decades.

 

How has your career progressed?

After two years at JLL, I switched gears and joined the Hong Kong Monetary Authority where I worked as an economist for about a year. I was advising government officials about the local real-estate market, to help them to set interest rates, stamp duty and so on.

In 2017, I joined an NGO focusing on public policy. I have taken a unique path as a surveyor, it’s not always a straight and easy one.

Do you have any advice for younger people considering this profession?

I have three tips.

First, be passionate about what you do. It may sound crazy but it’s definitely true. You need to love what you do.

Second, believe in yourself. You don’t have to always follow in the footsteps of others, you can make your own way. Don’t be afraid to try.

Third, be creative. The work itself can be quite fun. You have a chance to shape policy, to shape the industry, to shape strategies for our society. We are surrounded by great people and there are a lot of chances for young surveyors to interact with seasoned professionals.

 

The Hong Kong government has faced a lot of criticism and there have been many protests against it. How do you think it is faring?

I think the government is trying very hard. The thing about public policy and government policy is that the changes can’t be made overnight. It is a continuous journey - change takes not just years but often decades. But we are moving in the right direction. We need to inspire the next generation to continue this journey.

 

Is it difficult to advise on policy when the government doesn’t have general public support?

When we are talking about non-political issues such as quality of life, there are a lot of things where there is a consensus in the community. Regarding the lack of land supply and unaffordable housing, for example, we need discussion about the best way to solve this. That’s when the value of think tanks’ work come into play - we provide a direction as well as facts and figures that give people a foundation for discussion.

 

You don’t have to always follow in the footsteps of others, you can make your own way. Don’t be afraid to try.

 

Our Hong Kong Foundation was founded by a former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa. How independent of the Hong Kong administration can its advice be?

We present neutral, fact-based, evidence-based research. What we do is give a true picture of the problems, and list different options.

Our suggestions are based on interactions with different people in society. It is up to the government whether our policy advice is then taken. We would have liked the government to relaunch the tenant-purchase scheme [which allowed tenants in public housing to buy their homes at a discount], but that was not adopted by the government, so not all our polices are accepted.

I would encourage young surveyors to participate more in public policy. Our work is about trying to make our voices heard by government and by the general public.

 

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