Exclusive: Urban Link CEO I-Fei Chang Talks Foreign Investors
When it comes to a glass ceiling, Urban Link founder and CEO I-Fei Chang doesn't see one. The former leader of Greenland USA has made her mark in the industry. I-Fei is among the all-star panelists at Bisnow's LA Annual Foreign Investment Forum event Thursday at the LA Athletic Club.
SPREADING HER WINGS
I-Fei refers to her departure from Greenland USA as "a happy early graduation." She says her value is in providing a vision for projects, establishing a team and introducing capital, so it is her passion to lead "when there’s no team, no direction, no vision, and when the land has yet to create its value."
She is proud of her accomplishments, saying she initiated major, mixed-use, "multiple function" projects in both LA and NY for Greenland. Both projects were fully entitled and Phase 1 was "fully permitted and topped out," according to I-Fei.
Phase 1 of Metropolis LA (pictured above) was more than 70% pre-sold under escrow, she says. Phases 2 and 3 were under construction. I-Fei says more than 4,000 jobs were created just in the Phase 1 hotel and condo projects.
Greenland has since assigned some Chinese VPs to operate the team I-Fei established and continues with new projects.
A NEW CHAPTER
I-Fei is now focused on using her 20 years of international development experience to drive the success of her own company, Urban Link, which she started back in January. Her goal is to discover more urban areas in the US, including satellite cities.
The idea behind Urban Link is to initiate the "learn-work-live-play environment in urban areas," helping local city officials and project partners reach out to Asian capital, I-Fei says.
Urban Link works with cities and project owners as a consultant team, or as a General Partner to bring in new capital and move projects forward. The Urban Link team, as I-Fei mentioned, "gets to choose those projects we believe will, in the long-term, be very meaningful, and we want to be able to initiate those changes and deliver those transformations" once the strategy is envisioned.
Satellite cities she has in mind include Oakland and Jersey City. She says satellite cities are "equally important urban living components" and help to drive their regional economies forward. They often have nearby airports which help attract businesses.
INVESTING FOREIGN CAPITAL IN LA
When it comes to LA, foreign investors have their sights on the city because it is a large metropolitan area with "such diverse business opportunities, great entertainment, excellent higher education and world-class financing/consulting services," she says. Thanks to new investments such as Greenland's, she says parts of DTLA, including South Park and the Arts District, have transformed themselves. She is convinced LA "will continue to transform and amaze visitors" whether traveling for business or leisure.
Despite those who may have, in the past, questioned whether DTLA is livable, I-Fei says investments are now proving it is, including AEG Group's in the neighborhood surrounding Staples Center.
The Metropolis will be an added attraction to DTLA with its retail offerings as well as a 350-key hotel and three residential towers adding more than 1,550 residential units, which should help draw Millennials and Baby Boomers, I-Fei says.
She believes foreign investment should be more diverse since most investors seem to be interested in the same types of properties: hotels, condos and residential, she says. "We certainly don’t want to overbuild and then flood the markets," she says. Instead, there should be a focus on what might be missing in certain parts of the city, including DTLA.
ON BREAKING BARRIERS
When it comes to working in a male-dominated industry like real estate development, I-Fei says she has never thought of being a woman as a hindrance. Born in Taiwan in 1965, she says women had equal opportunities to get an education. As one of five daughters, she says her parents gave all of their children "equal rights" and worked hard to support her as she got double Master’s Degrees from Yale University.
Professional women should aim to be as determined as their male counterparts in order "to prove there’s really no boundary," according to I-Fei.
"There’s really no glass roof," she says. "Do what you believe. Always get ready to step up to make a difference."
During I-Fei's tenure as CEO of Greenland USA, the company had around the same number of male and female teammates in both LA and NY, which was not intentional but "just happened," she says.
"Whoever has the qualification, whoever does it right, whoever dares to push barriers to make it work, that is how I put together a winning team," I-Fei adds.
When she's not traveling for business, I-Fei likes to visit different cities for pleasure while still keeping her work in mind as a way to get to know different communities.
Looking ahead, I-Fei says LA must and will "continue to evolve." She hopes an increasing number of top business players join to lead the transformation.