Xie Meng appears to have led a charmed life - given a Western education, he has been groomed to take over his well-connected father's mainland property empire. But the young Xie was not so keen to take up the family mantle when he returned from his overseas studies. As the only child of Xie Tieniu, owner of China's biggest shopping centre, he was expected to rough it with the workers as he learnt the ropes of the family business. Educated in Singapore and the United States from the age of 15, Xie felt uneasy in his new working environment that required him to deal with mainland construction workers as they built the family's mega Grandview Mall in Guangzhou. 'I put on helmet and boots and headed for the construction site in Guangzhou's Tianhe district every day during this time,' recalled Xie, now the vice-chairman of the Guangzhou Grandview Enterprise. Being immersed in the mud and dirt of a major building site meant the young manager soon grew up. The 30-year-old's first job was with the company's planning department. His job was to develop a good relationship with the construction workers, and make sure they could complete the mega shopping mall before 2005. That was the year the government ordered an end to new construction of shopping malls as part of austerity measures to regulate the property market. With a total gross floor area of 420,000 square metres, the development includes a 30-storey office tower and a 48-storey apartment-hotel tower. It also has a mega shopping mall with 300,000 sq metres of leasable area - the biggest in the country. The project was initially taken on by Thailand agribusiness Charoen Pokphand Group, which owns the Superbrand Mall in Shanghai. But the group walked away from the project in 2000, leaving a big hole in the city's central business district. Xie's father - a Beijing-based retired army officer - took up the challenge to fast-track development of the four billion yuan (HK$4.54 billion) project. Things were far from trouble free, with obstacles ranging from tight deadlines and financial difficulties to finding tenants. At one time, there was speculation that the company's loans had been called in by mainland banks, which planned to foreclose on its Da Peng International Plaza. Now called Heyin Plaza it is located next to Garden Hotel in Guangzhou. His father's strong military background reportedly kept the company together. Thanks to Premier Wen Jiabao's four trillion yuan stimulus package improving liquidity and speeding up the property market recovery, the company has passed the worst time. The shopping centre and the office tower have been completed and construction work on the residential-hotel tower will be completed by the end of this year. With that project out of the way, the young man groomed for the top is preparing to take on further challenges. One of them is going up against Swire's soon-to-be completed shopping centre across the road in Tianhe district. How do you see your role in your family's company? I was not assigned as vice-chairman from day one. I started at the bottom, from vice-president of a department and from president to my present position. I have been involved in different departments, and I know my company well. I worked. Why was the shopping centre completed in such a rush? In September 2004, the central government imposed measures to regulate the property market. Re-approvals were needed for all big scale commercial centres of more than 10,000 square metres if they could not be completed by the end of 2004. [Not completing the centre in time] would have required us to pass through some complicated procedures. So we ran against time to complete the mall, which was eventually opened in January 2005. What were the difficulties in building and running the mall? We did not have much experience in running a big shopping mall even though we had experience in investing in some small-scale developments in the city. We learned by doing and by failing. Another issue was the big investment required. The total investment cost was more than four billion yuan. It was so huge that we stopped all our other projects, including the 130,000-sq-metre Heyin Plaza. ( At one time, we stopped paying the salaries of all staff for about three months in a move to save capital for the development. We got good support from staff. Now, Grandview Mall is a very popular shopping place in Guangzhou with sales turnover up 50 per cent year on year in 2009. Your family is from Beijing. Why did it pick Guangzhou in southern China to invest? My father was in one of the first batches of civil servants that shifted into the business community, taking advantage of economic reform in the early 1990s. At that time, Guangzhou was well developed in terms of the business environment when compared with other cities. That's why we chose it as our base. There was a rumour that your father came from the National Security Bureau and his background meant the company's assets were not foreclosed by mainland lenders. Is that true? It was totally groundless. My father had served in the armed forces, but I will not disclose anything further. We got offers from some investment funds and other investors to buy Heyin Plaza. But we were not moved by the offer. We were not in that difficult a situation at the time. Construction work on the project will be resumed next month and we will turn it into a serviced apartment building. Grandview has appointed JW Marriott to run its hotel at the Grandview Mall. When will it open and are you worried that at least 12 five-star hotels are under construction in main districts? Grandview Plaza plans a 'soft' opening on National Day, October 1. It is located in front of the Asian Games stadium and will attract enough guests to fill the rooms. I am also confident in the city's economy and business activities that will attract sufficient guests to the city's CBD in Tianhe. Swire Properties' 121,000-sq-metre retail centre will open later this year as part of the hotel-commercial-office Tai Koo Hui development across the road from your development. Does it pose a threat? Swire's retail centres cater for very high-end international brands but our shopping mall is targeted at middle income groups and our local and international tenants are mid-market brands. I believe there is no direct competition. What is your ambition? I hope Grandview Mall can become a popular name not only in Guangzhou, but very famous in the entire country, or even outside China. I also hope the family business can be inherited continuously. How will you make it happen? Improve the quality of the mall. For example, the general comments from customers are Grandview Mall was too big so that many people get lost. I will think about how to improve the signage in the mall. Are you planning to seek a listing for the company? This could happen, but it will come many years later. You are young and smart-looking. It was said that you have many girlfriends. Is that true? What I can say is I am not lacking female friends. But I have no plan to get married at the moment.