OCTOBER 29, 2017 | BY EKIM BUYUK AND SHRUTI RAO
Gini (Bingwan) Li is a Vice President in Hodges Ward Elliott's Los Angeles office and focuses on investments and business development in Asia and the Western U.S. Previously, she worked on an originations team at CCRE, a commercial real estate finance company, where she was responsible for underwriting various commercial real estate debt financings and managing transactions. Gini graduated from Duke University with distinction and holds a B.A. in Political Science. In her free time, she loves gardening, reading novels, indulging in Italian food with red wine, meeting new and interesting people, and traveling.
What was your favorite part of being in BOW?
My favorite part of being in BOW was definitely the events. Growing up, my parents owned a small business so I never got corporate exposure. I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in and what employers liked. I specifically remember one event where the speakers was formerly in BlackRock Asset Management. She talked about how she shifted careers and started her own fashion boutique. She explained how her skill set translated from BlackRock when she started her own business. I definitely learned a lot from the BOW events, specifically that there is no one clear path and it is okay to change the direction you are headed in.
Could you talk a little bit about your summer experiences while at Duke and how they influenced your career path?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I first got to Duke. I interned at a tech startup after my sophomore year and found out that I didn’t really like the specific start-up I worked for. The next summer, I decided to focus on something I knew I enjoyed, travel. That summer I interned with a hotel owner and operator in New York in Times Square. I did the rotational program through all the different departments. It was at a cool boutique hotel called the Paramount and throughout the internship I rotated through human resources, front desk, housekeeping, reservations and really got a good sense of how the hotel operated. My experience at the operational level made me decide to work in hospitality after graduation.
Could you talk a little bit about your role as VP of Investments and Business Development for Asia and Western US for Hodges Ward Elliott?
I work on bringing outbound capital from Asia (China and Hong Kong mostly) to invest in hotels in the US. I now work for a hotel real estate brokerage company, which means we sell hotels. My internship in the operations part of the industry was tremendously useful because I learned how value is added and the jargon of the industry. What I do today still deals with hotels, but at a much higher, corporate level. I travel a lot to Asia and I’ve found that the job is a lot about people skills and building trust. My job is more about building relationships than it is about the hard skills you learn in school, though you need those hard skills as a foundation. Out of college, I was in a finance role doing a lot of underwriting for commercial real estate properties. However, the older you get I’ve found that my career is about listening, empathy, and dealing with people.
What interested you about working in real estate and hospitality?
After I realized I didn’t want to go into tech, I was completely lost. I didn’t know my skill set or path, but I got the advice that you’re never going to know for sure what’s right for you by thinking about it, and that you just have to act. I made a list of things that generally interested me and travel and hotels were really high on that list. I met a lawyer at Duke who came to speak and he connected me to a company in New York that I interned with. That summer, in addition to interning, I networked with lots of other people in the industry. I learned that most people in hotels either go through a corporate or operational path. I later went into real estate finance to gain a skill set so I could later go back into hotels in a corporate capacity.
What was the most difficult obstacle you faced in your career?
One of the big challenges I’ve faced is transitioning from my old role to my current role. I used to be an analyst in the finance industry where I was told what to do. Now I have a lot more freedom and I have to set my own goals which requires a shift in mindset. You really have to set your own expectations, strategy and schedule which I struggled with in the beginning.
What is something interesting you’ve learned along the way?
The best way to combat self doubt is just to act. You can think forever about whether something is the right decision and you’ll never do everything perfectly. Set your goals, start working towards them, and then the motivation and momentum will start snowballing.
What advice do you have for current Duke students trying to navigate their job search?
I would advise students to really define success for themselves. Prestige and financial success are really important at Duke, but as you get older you see that people become successful in a variety of industries, even ones that you don’t know exist. I think the most successful people are the ones who love what they do. I think self-reflection is something I should have done more during college and being open to failure and starting over.