As a young intern in the United States, Karen Chan spent a lot of time doing mundane tasks such as handling faxes and serving coffee at top American firms. Now she is running German Pool, a well-established electrical home appliances firm in Hong Kong. The family-owned company was originally a manufacturer of water heater and has added different product lines in recent years.
When did you decide to join the family business?
I studied in the US and worked there for 10 years in various fields including marketing, branding and head-hunting. I returned to Hong Kong to join the family business a few years ago. I always knew I would take it up one day.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
My role is to manage and market German Pool, which has been around for over 30 years. We have reestablished the brand and are expanding our markets, particularly on the mainland. I see myself as a project manager who links up all the company’s business units and makes them work. I don’t have the technical background for the job, but I am backed up by a lot of staff who have the technical skills.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
I am excited to see the company’s expansion on the mainland. The first phase of our 1.7 million square-foot headquarters will be operational in Shunde at the end of this year. I am lucky that my father has built a strong business platform over the past decades. The good thing about a family business is everyone works very closely together and the management system is not cumbersome. Decisions can be made quickly.
What are the keys to being an effective leader?
We need to focus on customer relationship and maintain a healthy management system. Human resources also play a vital role. Our company not only values experienced people but embrace new talent as well. We need both old and new to create synergy.
About one third of our staff have worked with us for more than 10 years – from back office to factory and frontline sales. We are so blessed because our success is built on teamwork. Apart from that, every business and industry should have a kind of macro approach. It should be able to provide a one-stop shop for clients and consumers. We manufacture, market, distribute and serve end-users.
What is your advice for young people?
They should not mind working in small firms. It’s okay to work as interns because they get the chance to “job-hop” and enhance their résumés before joining the workforce. Once they start working, it would look bad for them to hop from one job to another. It’s good to accumulate a wide range of work experience early in life.
What is needed to train the next generation?
I think the Hong Kong Young Industrialists Council (YIC) offers ample opportunities for young people. Being a committee member of the council and vice-chairman of YIC Education and Training Programme, I often encourage them to grab whatever opportunity comes their way. Take it, try it and find out which suits you.
YIC member-companies include a number of major employers in Hong Kong. Every summer, they take in students from local universities for internships that usually last six to eight weeks. Upon completion of the internship, they are awarded a YIC scholarship and a certificate.
Outstanding participants will have an opportunity to win an extra scholarship from the council.
Programmes like these can broaden their horizon and shape their personal and professional growth.
What are your company’s targets for the next few years? The challenge is to turn German Pool into a popular household name on the mainland in the next five years and increase the number of franchises to 500 and then maybe 2,000. My knowledge and experience in marketing and branding will come in handy.