How Lynn Hsu took Macdonald Realty from one office to 20

Taiwanese immigrant and real estate dynamo Lynn Hsu overcame the odds, one smile at a time

Even when talking about the mountain of obstacles she faced as an immigrant from Taiwan in the late ’70s—poor English, no family or social connections, the racism of the era—you’ll find Lynn Hsu upbeat.

“I was a top student in Taiwan, but when I came here I couldn’t get a job and it didn’t feel great,” reflects the 60-year-old CEO of Macdonald Real Estate Group Inc. over seabass and gnocchi at Senova Restaurant in Kerrisdale. It’s close to her office and the home, on UBC’s Endowment Lands, she shares with her accountant husband. “I probably had an ulcer,” she says, peeling off in laughter. “Canadians were generally tolerant and kind, and although I encountered a little discrimination, I didn’t focus my energy on the negative, and it didn’t stop me from going forward.”

After moving to Vancouver in 1979 (to marry her first husband, a Canadian studying Chinese in Taiwan), Hsu dabbled in importing gifts from her family’s business until she found her calling in 1985. She attended a few open houses and quickly became interested in real estate, which she thought would offer her “flexibility” then as a young mother of two. She joined brokerage firm Canada Trust and rose to become one of its top three salespeople in Western Canada. In 1990, wanting to branch out on her own, she bought Macdonald’s sole Vancouver office—a business that she has since grown into a 20-office, 1,000-person operation that stretches across B.C.

Hsu believes her upbringing helped her positive attitude. As the youngest of five sisters and one brother, her name in Chinese, she explains, means “zero—no more”: “They were hoping for another boy, but my father treated girls exactly the same as he treated my brother—and that was really forward-thinking in those days.

It formed my personality.” In those early days selling real estate in Vancouver, Hsu used Mandarin—relatively rare compared to the then-predominant Cantonese spoken by the Hong Kong diaspora—to her advantage, targeting a growing wave of Taiwanese immigrants. “It was right time, right place,” she says. “I came from a crowded country with lots of people while everything in Canada was laidback, clean, nice, so I could also convey my genuine love of the place.”

Flash forward 30 years, and Hsu sees local house prices levelling off after a frothy six or so years—although she quickly brings up the topic of immigration from China. (Indeed, Macdonald recently established a Shanghai office to offer a “one-stop shop” for interested Chinese buyers.) The cancellation of the federal immigrant investor program hit the market for a few weeks last summer, says Hsu, but she doesn’t foresee any lasting damage: “The number of detached sales may slow down in certain pockets of Vancouver a little bit by the end of the year, but I don’t think it will affect the value because the stock of detached homes is very small—and there are still enough people who want to be here.”

While there has been backlash over investors leaving homes vacant in Vancouver, Hsu’s firm encourages buyers to rent them out (Macdonald has a property management arm). “It’s a different culture,” she says of offshore buyers. “Social responsibility and community involvement are fairly new concepts, so there needs to be some education. I believe most immigrants want to be good citizens.

“Of course, it’s a free society, so it’s up to whatever people want to do. But it’s also important to be a good neighbour and to keep the home and yards clean.”

Lynn Hsu’s favourites

1. “At Gramercy Grill (2685 Arbutus St., Vancouver;, I go for their fresh catch, such as the halibut and quinoa. Duck is a good choice in winter.”

2. “Sometimes I indulge in the tiramisu at Francesco’s (860 Burrard St., Vancouver; Good food is important to me, but so is parking.”

3. “Le Crocodile (Ste. 100, 909 Burrard St., Vancouver; has excellent food. I love their ‘free’ appetizer quiche tart and crocodile chocolate after the meal.”