Day in the Life of: John Liang

The Xinyuan executive on middle-of-the-night calls to China, eating fake duck and avoiding</br> Metro-North’s “quiet cars”

John Liang
John Liang

typical day for John Liang often feels like two in one. Liang, Xinyuan Real Estate’s managing director of U.S. operations, begins work at 9 p.m., with a series of conference calls with China, setting the stage for the next day in his Midtown East office. He refers to the former as his “China day.” Xinyuan, a publicly traded Chinese development firm, is about halfway through construction of its first New York project: the 216-unit Williamsburg condominium dubbed the Oosten. The project, which Xinyuan invested $270 million in, is more than 50 percent sold and is expected to open in mid-2016. In addition to U.S. development, the 45-year-old Liang also oversees the company’s operations in Malaysia, where the firm is planning a $1 billion mixed-use project over the next 10 years. Before joining Xinyuan in 2012, Liang served as senior director of real estate for the parent company of A&P Supermarkets in New Jersey and worked for development firm China Oumei Real Estate in China. Liang returns to China about six times a year, often to visit his parents in Beijing. He lives in the Westchester County town of Greenburgh, with his wife and two daughters.

7 A.M. I get up and grab breakfast before heading to the train. I eat whatever is in the fridge or my wife makes for me. She is really big on soy milk. Coffee for me starts in the afternoon and lasts through midnight. My stomach would turn if I drank coffee empty-stomached.

7:45 A.M. On the train to Grand Central Terminal, I avoid the last two cars because those are quiet cars. I need to be on my phone and I talk loudly. Sometimes, I try to catch a few winks.

8:30 A.M. Twice a week, I go to the job site [in Williamsburg]. I have a walk-through with our production manager and head of construction. We hold an all-hands meeting in a construction trailer with 20 people, and plan out the next week for a few hours. If I’m in the office, I do a lot of management and administrative stuff.

12 P.M. I schedule my meetings during lunchtime, probably most frequently with Stephen Kliegerman and Roberta Benzilio from Halstead [New Development Marketing]. Brokers bring in important customers from China who buy some of the larger units. A favorite place of mine is Nippon, one of the most authentic Japanese places in New York City. If I’m with an investor or senior management people from China, I take them to Bobby Van’s for a steak sandwich.

1:30 P.M. We have our acquisition meeting. Xinyuan is not what they call a one-trick pony. We want to do more [U.S.] projects and build a continuous business. One of the advantages we have over the other New York developers is that we also have a market in China that we can reach to [for financing]. In New York, it’s more and more challenging to buy land and it’s getting more expensive. It’s a very fast-paced acquisition environment. Our project pipeline keeps changing. You spend two months negotiating on a deal. You spend a lot of money hiring lawyers to draft out the contract and before you sign the contract, someone could come in and snatch your deal, which happened to us a few times. We’re in pretty close negotiations on a potential deal now.

3 P.M. I take this time to hold a sales meeting or an internal full-staff meeting. I also do some interviews with the media.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

4:30 p.m. We support a wide range of social initiatives. For example, we sponsor China Art Foundation and are a member of the China-U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We have projects on the West Coast, so we’re members of the California-China Advisory Board for China trade. I dial in with the mayor of San Francisco and the governor of California to talk about trade issues. Although not necessarily related to what we do, it’s important that we support the U.S.-China trade relationship.

6 P.M. I hop on the train and go home to see my two daughters. They’re 9 and 2. Fortunately, my wife is the full-time CEO of the homefront. We like our children to grow up in an all-Chinese environment, so we only speak Chinese at home. On the weekend, I take my family to the beach or Central Park.

7 P.M. I have a vegetarian meal because my wife is a vegetarian and she’s very careful about what I eat. At lunchtime, I try to eat meat as my indulgence. She makes tofu that tastes like meat — fake duck, lamb and fish. I’m the only animal eater in the house.

8 P.M. I take turns watching CNN and Fox News. I’m pretty balanced. I like CNN
because they’re more up-to-date. What I like about Fox is they have a more logical, rational approach to arguments. I call myself an independent.[As far as the kids,] my oldest daughter is a big “Harry Potter” fan, while my youngest is all about “Dora the Explorer.”

9 P.MIn my home office, I start conference calls with colleagues from China. We discuss updates on projects and financing, and issues with accounting and reporting to investors. What makes this job a little unique is it’s almost like 24-7, because China has a 12-hour time difference. When we go to sleep, they start working.

11 P.M. After those calls, you need to talk to the big bosses, like the CEO. We procure some building materials from China, so also I talk to the factory people.

12 A.M. I brew some coffee for myself. Nobody drinks coffee now. I do. Sometimes on a call, I have to drag some of my New York colleagues out of bed. They have to be ready on very short notice.

3 A.M. After these calls, there will be emails to respond to. Then, I go to bed.