The Outlier: Live Outside the Box
圖：Andrea Eng、Paul Joseph、Robert Kwong、Ben Oliver
Ordinary and extraordinary of the Canadian Chinese Socialite
Interview with former Miss Universe Canada representative Andrea Eng
By Brian Yeung
Photographs by: Andrea Eng, Paul Joseph, Robert Kwong, Ben Oliver
“Many people believe beauty pageant is all about ‘beauty’ but I think intelligence carries more weight than beauty,” says Andrea Eng, Canada’s first ever representative at a global pageant contest during the interview. Never an admirer of her own charm or glamour, Eng referred to her pageant journey as a mere accident. Eng was in her early twenties then but never got carried away. Instead she dedicated herself to a career in the real estate business, and became the advisor to a number of Asian tycoons, specializing in overseas investment.
Wisdom is more important than beauty
Born and raised in Canada, Eng is renowned in the real estate market for bringing the East and the West together, thanks to her vision and connections. During the 80s and 90s, Eng brokered investment projects worth $3 billion Canadian dollars annually in Vancouver for Hong Kong investors. In the wake of Asia’s rise, global enterprizes nowadays also hope to attract Asian investments. As early as 30 years ago, Eng had already been identifying investment projects for Asian investors.
“I believe every person is born with a gift. You just have to find your gift as quickly as possible. Business is my gift – I’m able to see opportunities differently from anyone else,” Eng said.
Although gifted, Eng admits "you need luck in life," and her pageant journey is a good illustration. Being a shy person since childhood, she had never thought about participating in a beauty contest, only to be encouraged by her mother to enter Miss Vancouver Chinatown beauty pageant in 1977.
Eng faced opposition from her father initially, who believed that women should stick to their family duties as housewives. Though his attitude softened later, Eng’s father never watched the final of the contest.
Business network developed from pageant contest
“I was not a preferred winner. I wasn’t the most beautiful candidate.” Eng said with a smile. “My dad didn’t even buy a ticket and come probably because he thought I wouldn’t do too well.”
Looking up the related reports at that time, Eng won the plaudits of the judges and audiences with a Chinese modern dance performance, as well as her wit and eloquence. “To win a beauty pageant not only requires beauty, but also intelligence and knowledge.” she added.
Eng went on and became the first runner-up at the 1978 Miss Canada contest, and then stepped in as the replacement to represent the country in the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico, because of Miss Canada Catherine Swing’s subsequent marriage. Eng became the first ever Canadian Chinese pageant to represent the country.
Reflecting on her pageant experiences, Eng said that she not only expanded her personal network, but also changed her shy personality since. However, her passion was never away from real estate.
All in for real estate business
"My family ran real estate business. As early as 5 years of age, I went to open houses with my father. Real estate is like part of my blood.” Eng said.
Following the beauty contests, Eng’s parents wanted her to go into the family business, but she insisted on challenging herself in the market, and entered the field of real estate business investment.
Eng recalled the Vancouver real estate sector then as very “male dominant,” and it was hard for a female to breakthrough.
At that time she decided to take a job with Colliers International, where she was assigned to the office in West Vancouver at first, instead of the downtown Vancouver office dealing with more high net worth clients. Nevertheless, within the first three months she managed to sell a shopping centre as well as two warehouses, and became one of the top brokers of the company.
Thinking it through, one day she decided to stop by Colliers’ downtown office on her way home, asked to meet with the department head and made a request to transfer to downtown.
She said: "I am such a persistent person."
Winning the trust of Asian tycoons
Getting the nod from the department head, Eng became the first female broker ever in the downtown office. She recalled only being given a table and a phone at the beginning, and that no broker wanted to work with her. She admitted having moments of self-doubts during the first few days, but then still managed high-end property sales in the city within a week, reaching a monthly turnover of 20 million Canadian dollars (based on the currency rate then). Eng subsequently sold 57 apartment buildings in West End of Vancouver, which made 70% of the sales of the area.
Since she established her own brand in the real estate sector, more and more brokers reached out to work with her. Eng noticed that most brokers weren’t interested in serving clients from Asia, and her Chinese background gave her a big advantage.
While many others thought Eng’s Chinese appearance and limited Chinese proficiency won her the trust of Asian tycoons, she believes her way of thinking and working were the essence.
As the third generation of Chinese immigrant, Eng studied in Chinese schools during her childhood. Majoring in Urban Land Economics during university, she also took courses in Asian Studies.
“I was born and raised in Canada. I got well along with the Westerners. And yet, the way I think is closer to the Asian. I evaluate prudently about the risk and returns of projects, whereas my strategy and style fit in perfectly with Chinese people.”
Finding gold from desert
Even now, Eng still researches for information and analyses the market trend systematically. Taking advantage of the time difference between Vancouver and Hong Kong, she also makes sure her clients receive useful information in a timely manner.
Eng went on to run her own business as an independent broker and provide advices to Asian tycoons on oversees investment. The scope of projects she worked on even went beyond Canadian market and real estate projects, including preparations for the Internet project – Tom.com.
As she put it: “I travel around the world and identify ideas that fit my clients. My work is like finding gold from desert.”
She was once described by The New York Times as the “first woman to broker commercial real estate to Asians in North America,” and despite all her success in the business world, fortune has never been her source of happiness.
When asked about the kind of life she pursues, Eng said she enjoys the surprises life brings to her.
“I don't have a bucket list. I find interesting people fascinating. I want to surround myself with that,” she said.
Olds photos with love
“I was always my fathers’ ‘little girl’ in his mind, and we were really close to each other. I inherited my father’s social skills and my mother’s high order thinking. Since childhood I would follow my father to the open house and witness his sale of new house in Vancouver for $12,500 (Canadian dollars, based on the currency rate then). My father was also a teacher. He had taught me to pronounce ‘heart and effort’ in Cantonese. I learnt from him to be diligent, earnest, thoughtful and detail-oriented. As one of the Chinese community leaders, my father was the chairperson of The Chinese Times, the Chinese newspaper with the longest history in North America.” -- Andrea Eng