Based in Shanghai, Roberto Lee Jnr – Hyder Consulting regional managing director for East Asia – has worked with various companies in the region, handling business development, multinational contract negotiations and government projects. In 2004, Lee founded Fresh Bread & Company in China as part of a joint venture. With projects in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland, he has also negotiated and co-ordinated new projects and supervised the local and international offices for TeDesign International Association. A strong believer in the benefits of the MBA and the networking opportunities it offers, Lee himself holds three such degrees – an MBA from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, and a dual Global Executive MBA from Tsinghua School of Economics and Management University in Beijing and INSEAD in Singapore and France. He talks to Chris Davis.
What does your day-to-day work involve? With projects across the region, I spend about 90 per cent of my time travelling. I enjoy taking a hands-on approach and like to maintain good relations with our clients, which involves meeting them regularly. I also rely on technology to stay in close contact with our East Asia executive board.
What’s the most exciting part of your job? Nine months into my role, I am pleased with the way we are revitalising the company across the region and that we have grown the headcount by about 20 per cent. We plan to continue this momentum to optimise the tremendous growth opportunities we see.
What are the challenges you face at work and how do you handle them? Depending on the timing and type of challenge, I generally prefer to deal with personnel issues head on. However, if the outcome is likely to impact our regional business, I consult with my executive board and take time to think about my decision. Our board plays a very important role in the direction of the company.
What is the key to being an effective leader and building a strong team? I believe in accessible, open communication channels. It’s also crucial to be straightforward and ethical. I am aware of the nuances of different cultures and the differences involved with working with people from across Asia. Even on the mainland, there are cultural differences. If you do not pay attention to cultural sensitivities, you risk alienation and high staff turnover.
From an employer’s perspective, what do you look for in employees? One of my key philosophies is mentoring and supporting employees. As a premium tier-one engineering, infrastructure, urban design consultancy company, our recruitment processes have become quite stringent. Our people-focused recruitment is based on clear key performance indicators. One of the main traits we look for in employees is passion for their work and their career. In addition to academic ability, we want people who are not simply expecting to get rich, but contribute energy and drive combined with an international outlook. Unfortunately, this is a rare combination, which means we are hiring from a small pool of talent.
What are your company’s short- and long-term goals over the next few years? Our strategy in Asia is to continue expanding aggressively – at the minimum, doubling our headcount to about 1,000. Our group looks at Asia and, in particular, China and Vietnam as key growth areas. Growth also means opportunities for employees in terms of experience and climbing the ladder, which comes with pressure and expectations.
How do you unwind? Due to work commitments, I do not have a lot of time to relax these days. If fact, I have only managed to play about one round of golf in the past six months. However, my faith is very important to me and my Bible is a constant travelling companion. Some of the outreach projects I have been involved in through the Shanghai Community Church have been very rewarding. Recently, our Bible study group sponsored corrective eye surgery for a group of orphans from Yunnan. In Shanghai, I introduced one of the patients to pizza. I was deeply touched by the way young people who have so little in life can be so happy.