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Alumni Interview: Charlotte Au - Development

Want to learn more about Real Estate Development? Charlotte Au tells us more about how she got into this field, and what makes it unique.

Charlotte Au, Finance & Development Analyst at Townline Group of Companies

Interviewed by Serena Huang

Hanny Au is a Finance and Development Analyst at the Townline Group of Companies. She graduated from the Sauder School of Business in 2014, with a double specialization in Real Estate and Marketing.

1. In a nutshell, what exactly is development?

Real estate development is an all-encompassing field that is involved in buying land, financing deals, designing a building, getting approvals, construction, sales/leasing, and property management. Typically, developers take on the greatest risk but we are rewarded with innovation in teams and projects, a role in shaping our communities, and financial returns.

2. What was your first exposure to real estate development, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career stream?

My first exposure to real estate development was working for a large BC-based residential developer part-time while I was in my final year at Sauder. That was really good experience because I got exposure to working in a refined team with very established reputation. It was valuable for me to see how an established company did things and set the standards high. I was and still am very excited by the fact that as a developer, you have a role in shaping cities by not only shaping how the skyline looks, but also in how people interact with spaces.

3. Are there any particular classes or extra-curricular activities that have helped prepare you for this career path?

I was very proactive in reaching out to my network who introduced me to their networks while I was still a student. Meeting professionals while I was still a student was one of my greatest advantages in figuring out what field of real estate I wanted to work in. The real estate professors were also very generous in offering their guidance and support. I am very grateful to Tsur Somerville, Tom Davidoff, and Mark Monroe for pointing me in directions to explore, and I encourage all students to take advantage of their wealth of knowledge.

4. Is there anything you didn't do that you wish you had?

Not really. I would say that because I was eager to learn as much as I could about different facets of the real estate industry, I tried all sorts of things with no regrets. Your network and your network’s networks are the most powerful tools you have. Students have such an advantage here because Sauder and its student clubs do a great job of hosting networking events and connecting students with professionals, that it’s so easy to meet new people.

5. Is there a current development project that you are excited about?

I’m currently working on a project in Burnaby that has both a tower and church component to it. We are working in collaboration with the church to redevelop their building into a new and modern facility for future generations. And we are also building a new residential high-rise that will provide homes for people in the community. What makes this project different and exciting is that we have a great and fun team. The residential tower is going to be a great collection of luxury homes, and this is the first church project that I have worked on. I have never built a church before so this is definitely a new and interesting experience with lots to learn.

6. How are you involved with it and what are the biggest challenges you face with projects like this?

I am the analyst and coordinator on this project. I am involved with all aspects of the project including project management, design development, municipal approvals, finance, legal, marketing, and construction. It is quite a fluid role and I like the breadth of exposure. The biggest challenge is trying to keep all of the pieces of the project moving together to advance the schedule, so that sales can begin, so that financing kicks in, so that construction can start, and so forth. Each piece of the project is complex in their own way with varying processes, timelines, and stakeholder expectations, so it is critical to manage each piece well.

7. What qualities do you think make the most successful developers (hard skills/ soft skills/ personality/ attitude)?

People skills are very important. This is the case in many industries, but especially so in real estate. The community is relatively small, and almost everyone knows everyone. Your reputation is paramount to your success. So, be smart about how you work and who you shape yourself to be. Be humble, be insightful, be hardworking, be kind.

8. Are there any additional certifications/credentials that would likely be considered an asset for a student pursuing consulting?

Development consulting is typically a third party – consultants that developers might hire or investors might hire to advise or manage a development project. Many people choose to take the Diploma Program in Urban Land Economics at Sauder to further their knowledge, but it is not mandatory. Any additional certifications and credentials would be specific to the field you choose to work in.

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