Success in business is often about spotting opportunities, and Rosetta Fong Sut-sam certainly did that in the mid-1990s. The current chief executive of Convoy Financial Services saw huge potential in a then fledgling sector and has since helped to build one of Hong Kong’s largest and most respected IFAs (independent financial advisories). She says there is no special secret. It has just been matter of having a clear vision, providing good service for clients, and taking care of employees.
What do you regard as your first major decision? I grew up in Macau and completed secondary school there, but then moved to Hong Kong to take a three-year higher diploma in building technology and management at the Polytechnic. That was definitely a big turning point in my life, not just in choosing the subject to study, but in getting used to a different location and living environment. At the time, life in Macau was very quiet and simple - everyone knew everyone. When I was young, I had never thought about leaving and didn’t have any real career plan, but I came to realise you have to make the most of your opportunities and that meant taking a few risks.
Where did you work after graduation? I joined a surveying company for one year as part of a sandwich course, before going off to finish my degree in London. I was doing typical quantity surveying work, looking at drawings from architectural firms and preparing for bids and tenders. After returning from Europe, I was taken on by a company that dealt in building products and waterproofing materials. That was in more of sales role. At that point, I still expected to have a career in the building industry, but was learning that you have to adapt to the situation.
Were you good at sales? I soon found that the key to selling is to know the features and characteristics of the product and to understand its use from the buyer’s point of view. The most important thing, though, is getting that first chance to present to a potential customer and explain features and benefits. As a young salesperson, I only did small deals, but got quite a lot of satisfaction from closing a contract.
How did you originally get into financial planning? It was quite straightforward and didn’t take long. In 1996, I met a financial planner, became a client myself and got a retirement plan. Discussing the options, I became more interested in the field and asked about the chances of joining the firm. Back then, there wasn’t much focus on financial planning in Hong Kong, but I felt quite confident about the prospects for the sector and thought there was nothing to lose. I understood the basic concepts and products, could explain them to clients, and knew that if things didn’t work out, it wasn’t such a risk because I could always go back to the building industry.
What kind of training was available? It was nothing like now where new recruits have induction programmes, licences and exams. When I started, the only training was to sit down and make cold calls to get appointments. Once I had done that, a senior manager or supervisor would join me to see the potential client. As we were basically focusing on simple retirement planning products, there was not too much information to learn and it was quite easy to get started.
What led you to Convoy? In 1997, I formed a company with three partners – former classmates - to do financial planning. My role was to head up the back-office operations department and we soon took on a few salespeople and began to find clients. One of us knew the owner of Convoy, which at the time was only doing general insurance, and we agreed to team up and found a financial planning division for them. We now have more than 1,200 frontline consultants and keep expanding through organic growth.
Why did you decide to take an MBA? In the early stages, I was quite capable of handling the operating model, but when a company goes from having 10 people to 500 and growing, it requires a very different management style to run things effectively. I needed more backup in terms of management philosophy and skills. I had been going to various workshops and seminars, but could see it made sense to take a more comprehensive and structured programme. By the end, I think my MBA classmates probably got tired of discussing all the Convoy case studies I kept bringing up.
Head for business
Completed an MBA at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2002
Travelled extensively in Europe while taking first degree at London’s South Bank University
In 2009, named as one of the “most extraordinary women in finance” by a business magazine
Has adopted Churchill’s “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give,” as a personal motto