Aaron Yim says half-jokingly that he is still in his first job, but in fact his career is a fine example of what someone can achieve by seizing opportunities on offer as a diversified group evolves. He originally joined Inchcape – once the distributor of Ricoh's products in Hong Kong – in the mid-1980s with a BBA from Chinese University and an MBA from the University of Dallas in the United States, working on a PC-based framework for the accounting system. That experience led to roles in finance, in Taiwan, overseeing human resources and learning the intricacies of various subsidiaries. With Ricoh taking control of Inchcape in 2000, Yim moved over to Ricoh Hong Kong, where he has been managing director for about 10 years.
Describe your style of leadership.
I'm someone who likes consensus. Some people expect a boss to rely more on hierarchy and authority, assuming you can reach decisions more quickly that way and should just tell employees what to do. For me, building consensus through intensive discussions is a way to inspire, improve communication and really think things through. If you have a good plan, which people have agreed on, you are already half way to success and are likely to achieve better results overall.
What does that mean in terms of organising your time?
Of course, my daily schedule includes a lot of meetings – formal and informal. I want to talk to as many people as possible – we have around 1,000 staff – but not to tell them what to do, and not to monitor and control. In general, I want to find out from them if there are better ways of doing things and to explain why the company is going in a certain direction.
What is your particular strength as a manager?
I have the ability to anticipate, which is important when the business environment, market and organisation can be changing very fast. A good manager must be able to anticipate issues and opportunities, linking together different items of information and considering different scenarios. I’m doing that 24 hours a day. For example, when trouble recently broke out in Tunisia, it got me thinking about the new power of social networking and its possibilities.
How do you manage staff?
We have about 150 salespeople and 200 engineers servicing customers, and every individual is different. It's important to find their unique competencies and give them the right job to do. You also need to find the balance between control and respecting what they do and how they do it because dealing with customers is very personalised. Therefore, we structure our sales teams in different ways and with different priorities and don't try to standardise everything. In areas such as this, you realise there are no rigid answers and that management is more an art than a science.
What is the major challenge ahead?
In the Hong Kong market, it is for the company to grow to another level – and that's tough. We have a very aggressive target that depends on providing more services for the customer and making use of synergies with our core business. It requires a lot of energy to steer the organisation in that direction because, overall, we are in a very stable industry, so people tend to stay in their comfort zone.
Any part of your job that you dislike?
I'm generally a very positive person, but one thing would be the budget review process. Within the group, negotiating can be tough because our shareholder is also our supplier. That makes it difficult to discuss profit targets and cost controls and, sometimes, I feel my two hands are tied. But having said that, head office is always very supportive and we have a good relationship, so it's possible to manage the situation.
What if things aren't going well?
You can say I'm very rational and logical, and my everyday job is to be a professional problem-solver. My approach is to jot down the issues, analyse them one by one and then focus on what we can actually do. If I think we can't solve a certain problem, I'll just say, ‘forget it’ – rather than jumping around and getting frustrated. As part of that, my way is to set priorities, tackle one thing at a time, fix it and then move on.
Is the company adapting to meet the expectations of younger staff?
We do have to modify our system a little bit, otherwise we will have difficulty attracting recruits. So, we find compromises in areas like after- hours training, flexi-hours and using mobile devices, to help each person manage effectively. But in terms of core values relating to service and customer satisfaction, we won’t change or compromise. These values are for the benefit of the organisation and the employee.
What's your advice to starters?
I tell people to be open to any opportunity or assignment and not to expect immediate returns from taking on additional work. I sometimes feel the younger generation just look at short-term returns and evaluate opportunities too quickly on that basis. When my superior wanted me to take on extra assignments, my first question was never about the extra money.
Meaning of life
- Yim reads books that prompt reflections on life's value and meaning
- He took up the saxophone a couple of years ago and is working his way through the grades
- Yim has also started to grow orchids as a new source of interest