It’s hard to describe exactly what a ‘typical’ day for Sharon Yang looks like.
She speaks four languages, takes regular international business trips and, as a trusted advisor, compiles complex and detailed analyses to help her clients make critical investment decisions worth millions of dollars.
But what’s clear after just a few moments speaking with Sharon is that a sincere passion for the real estate industry, dedication to hard work and service excellence are the values that are central to her success as an agent.
Invested in real estate
There was never any doubt in Sharon’s mind that her career would be in commercial real estate. She nurtured her keen interest in corporate finance and economics while completing a business management degree at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, but her passion for commercial real estate never wavered.
“I chose real estate because I think it’s more fun, but also challenging,” Sharon explains. “I studied business management, economics and investment. Real estate lets me combine all that knowledge, but also pushes me to keep learning because every investment is very different. I enjoy dealing with each different situation to find the right outcome for my clients.”
Sharon joined CBRE in Sydney in 2015 as Senior Director in the International Investments Team and her focus is on helping Chinese investors in the Australian and New Zealand market. Prior to that, she lived in Shanghai and worked in the Chinese investment market for more than 11 years, including three years with CBRE’s Shanghai business.
While she loves her new home in Sydney, Sharon also enjoys the international focus of her work because it plays to her strengths and interests.
“I travel to Asia every six to eight weeks, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, to meet with offshore investors and clients,” Sharon explains. “It’s important to meet with people in person as it helps to establish trust and positions me as an advisor, not just an agent.
“My knowledge of corporate finance and legal issues is a differentiator for me when it comes to working with offshore investors. They don’t have the local knowledge, so I can help them every step of the way. I have experience working in both China and Australia, and can provide clients with detailed analysis, connect them with local banks and give them the information they need.”
Being fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese and English also makes Sharon a valuable asset to her international clients. Her strong focus on building relationships combined with her specialised knowledge of corporate finance, financial modelling, tax and legal compliance are also critical to positioning her as a leading agent in her field.
Leading with impact
Inspired by Richard Branson’s famous statement “no one is successful alone”, Sharon dedicates a significant amount of her time to learning as much as she can from those around her, as well as sharing her expertise with her peers and up-and-coming agents.
CBRE has a range of programs aimed at encouraging diversity, including supporting women to take on leadership roles, particularly for those involved in brokerage. As one of the few female leaders in CBRE’s Capital Markets Team, Sharon was selected to take part in CBRE’s specialised training program called ‘Leading with Impact’. The year-long program is designed to enhance leadership skills, so leaders like Sharon can better support other female members of staff.
She says CBRE also has a range of support programs and professional development initiatives, such as internal ‘women in leadership’ events, which provide a platform for women to share knowledge and exchange ideas about all areas of commercial real estate.
“It’s sometimes not easy being a female agent in capital markets – it’s a part of the industry that’s dominated by males, but it doesn’t need to be that way,” Sharon explains. “I do wish there were more female agents in my field and I think there can be more, but we all need to encourage women so they want to take on these roles.
“I’d say to any woman thinking about working in capital markets, investment or commercial real estate that they should just go for it. Don’t be afraid and don’t listen to people who tell you ‘it’s a man’s industry’, because it’s not. There are lots of opportunities and lots of companies, like CBRE, that will support and encourage you to achieve your best.”
Sharon is also an active participant in CBRE’s in-house learning and development program to hone her skills in pitching, presenting and creating effective business submissions.
As well as being committed to her own ongoing education, Sharon also understands the importance of sharing her expertise.
“I’ve introduced an education program at CBRE about the difference in approaches taken by Chinese and Australian investors,” Sharon says. “The sales process, culture and business dealings are very different, and understanding this helps you to navigate what can sometimes be long and complex negotiations. Sharing the knowledge I have helps my colleagues better understand how they can work with Chinese investors and how to overcome any issues when completing transactions.”
Sharon has also been a mentor to an up-and-coming agent in CBRE for two years.
“I think mentoring is very important, because as leaders we need to encourage and help others to develop the tools and skills they need to succeed in their careers,” Sharon says. “As a leader, I believe I have a responsibility to share my experience and knowledge so others can grow in their careers.”
"If you're a source of expert knowledge, do good work for your client and become a trusted
advisor, they'll remember that. They'll want to work with you again and they'll tell other people
about working with you. That's invaluable."
With her obvious passion for learning, it should come as no surprise that Sharon firmly believes that knowledge is the key to both longevity and prosperity in any real estate specialisation.
“Every client is different and they want different things from their advisor,” she says. “But the most important things they always seek are the knowledge, experience and expertise you can bring to the work. If you have that, you’ll be able to make your client happy.”
Sharon also believes that education will always be a key element in success.
“When the market is good, there are lots of agents who think this is an easy career. But when the market becomes more challenging, that’s when education and experience can help you navigate through the tougher times and differentiate yourself.”
Her number one tip for anyone who is considering specialising in commercial real estate or investments is to always have the answers to your clients’ questions – and the best way to do that is to focus on developing your knowledge.
“To be helpful to your clients, you need to always be looking for ways to improve your market knowledge and you must be prepared for every meeting,” Sharon explains. “Your clients will always have questions, so you must be able to anticipate what they might ask and have the answers for them, because this is how you’ll show them you are their trusted advisor.”
Formalising the education requirements for agents is just one of the many benefits Sharon sees in the real estate industry becoming a profession.
“It’s very easy to see the benefits of becoming a profession in the future, but you don’t need to wait – you can behave like a professional now,” she says.
“If you’re a source of expert knowledge, do good work for your client and become a trusted advisor, they’ll remember that. They’ll want to work with you again and they’ll tell other people about working with you. That’s invaluable.”
Sharon also believes professionalism will result in more mentoring opportunities and better development of leaders, which will inevitably have a positive impact on the industry overall.
Investing in her future
While her achievements, including winning the 2017 REINSW Award for Excellence in the Commercial Salesperson category, certainly add up to an impressive career to date, when asked about the key to her success Sharon says that it isn’t as simple a question as it seems.
“I am half Australian and half Chinese, and in Chinese culture being humble is very important,” she says. “I really don’t think I can say my career has been a ‘success’, but I do set myself lots of goals and I keep working towards achieving them and always improving. Expanding my knowledge, always doing the best I can to keep my clients happy and working with my colleagues at CBRE is very important to me.”
And her future plans? “I want to be known as a leading commercial agent, develop my management and leadership skills, and finish my MBA, which I’m working on at the moment on my weekends. And I want to take every opportunity to apply everything I’ve learned to build my career, help my colleagues and, ultimately, benefit my clients.”