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Joey Lee, MD of 9 Dragons Fitness, is fighting to get Hong Kong in shape
Published on Saturday, 06 Dec 2014
Joey Lee
Photo: Gary Mak

Ex-Muay Thai pro welcomes more gyms and more competition.

Barbells, rowing machines and jump ropes – one person’s heaven is another’s torture chamber. Sitting in the gym of former Muay Thai professional fighter Joey Lee, managing director of 9 Dragons Fitness, one of nine CrossFit gyms in Hong Kong, I am embarrassed to find I can’t open the lid of a bottle of water she offers me.

“I played lots of sports growing up, mainly basketball,” says Taiwan-born, Vancouver-raised Lee, taking the bottle back from me and opening it with a flick of her wrist. “After my four years in college, I went to university for two years to study criminology. I started going to a gym well known for having professional Muay Thai fighters and started training there. I just loved it.” 

Lee was asked to spar with a professional female fighter. “She was quite a successful amateur fighter and when I got into the ring to spar with her – I think literally six weeks into training – I felt like this was something I could do. I said to my instructor that I really wanted to fight.”

However, Lee’s mother was not too impressed. “My mum came to my first fight [as an amateur] in 2002. She was so scared and every time I was hit, she would cover her eyes and was almost in tears. She was a bit angry and said, ‘Why would you do this to yourself? I don’t know what you’re trying to prove’. It did take her a while to understand it isn’t just for fighting.”

I wonder why a woman only 1.60 metres tall would want to step into a ring. “It’s like an adrenalin rush as you get in the ring, it’s such a challenge that it’s just you and no one can save you,” she says. “You give everything you’ve got and never back down. From a female perspective, it’s really empowering to be able to do that.”

But it’s more than the adrenalin rush. “Every time I stepped in the ring, I asked myself, ‘Why are you doing this? No more – this is absolutely ridiculous’. But as soon as the bell rings for the first round, the thought process completely reverses. As soon as I finish, I think, ‘Wow, I want to do it again’. Even though I took a complete beating, I was still going OK and I survived.’”

However, the stigma attached to being a female fighter hit home when she came to Hong Kong in 2005 and was the only woman training at a local gym. “All the local guys would always say to me, ‘Oh, who would want to marry you? You’re doing boxing and you’re such a tomboy.’ And these were people I trained with every day … ” 

Lee’s husband, Doug Pieterse, proved them wrong. “He was attracted to the fact we have stuff in common. He hated it when I was fighting, but he was supportive. He understands this is what I do.”

If it is the adrenalin rush that kept Lee fighting professionally, it is her family that has kept her from it since. “I’ve not considered going back to the ring since I’ve had my kids. [My husband] was like, ‘Ok, you might want to reconsider if you want to do it again. You have a family and kids. What if you get hit and get brain damage?’”

Not fighting and training professionally after two pregnancies added 32kg to the former Muay Thai fighter. She thought something had to be done for the sake of her well-being. “My husband sent me to Thailand to do some Muay Thai to get me into shape and motivated again,” Lee says. “There was a guy there who is a CrossFit instructor. He took me through some CrossFit workouts and I just fell in love with it.”

Lee and her husband opened CrossFit gyms in Tung Chung and Central in November 2013. “CrossFit is functional training. It takes gymnastics, weightlifting and metabolic conditioning and combines it into one programme. It’s constantly varied, meaning the workouts are always changing.” 

 Created by Greg Glassman in California in 2001, the CrossFit craze swept through the West and into Asia. However, some have called it cultish or extreme. “I wouldn’t go so far as saying it is cult. Yes, a lot of people follow it, [but that is] because the biggest thing about CrossFit is that it builds community.

“People come here because they love the fact there’s somebody out there to support them. Imagine you’re with 15 other people doing the exact same thing; you want to stop, you look around, and everyone else is tired. But there is a competitive spirit and teamwork. It’s like, ‘Ok, everyone is doing this, let’s do it together, let’s all try to finish.’ Everyone is there to support you saying ‘Come on, a few more, count down your last reps. You can do it.’” 

Lee recalls the recent fads of Thai boxing and martial arts among Hong Kong women. To reach them, she actually wants more competition in the form of more CrossFit gyms. “It’s still too early; the trend hasn’t hit the local community enough yet. I think it will take another few more years.”

She advises people who are interested in trying CrossFit to look for gyms with experienced trainers. 

“If you have no personal training experience, no background in exercise, physiology, biomechanics, and you go straight into opening a gym, you’re not going to know how to be safe; you’re not going to know how to train your clients.” 

She says, although everyone is doing the same workout, the intensity is scaled to fit each one’s capability and fitness.

Although Lee has been a personal trainer for 10 years, she admits her limits. “CrossFit has so many different movements in it, that I haven’t mastered all of them yet. It takes a long time to do that.

 


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Dynamic ideas
Published on Saturday, 22 Nov 2014
Photo: Fox Woo

International opera singer-turned-entrepreneur Dominique Moralez, who has graced some of the world's most famous stages over the last 30 years, is the brains behind a new business that offers a combination of traditional and digital platforms to make it easier for people to find and hire musical talents.

Launched earlier this year, M Artist Agency + M PR/OMI, a two-in-one talent management agency, serves as an aggregator for both artists and their consumers.

"Artist agencies have been extremely slow, particularly in classical music, to pick up on the use of social media platforms as a way to meet the customers where they are," Moralez says.

According to Moralez, Hong Kong's entertainment industry has retained a very traditional approach to managing artists. Booking them can be difficult since there are different layers to go through prior to having the artist perform at an event, such as musical rights and negotiation procedures. In addition, there is no guarantee that an artist booked on hearsay will deliver a high-quality performance at an appointed time and date.

On the flip side, while social media sites like MySpace have enabled artists to showcase their talents for everyone to hear, they do not often help when it comes to contacting the artist or booking them.

These issues were swirling around in Moralez's mind two years ago as he tried to think of a way to create a simpler, easier-to-use digital platform that added value to the musical community.

In September 2013, thoughts eventually turned into action. Embarking on his new business venture, however, brought a number of challenges. With no business background or technical knowledge of creating a digital platform, it was hard to know where to begin.

He realised that putting his best foot forward meant having to push away his fears and insecurities about creating a start-up company. Having lived a life as a performer, overcoming fears was nothing new to Moralez - both on stage and from a business perspective, such as when wondering when his next performance would be in a volatile industry with no safety net.

Moralez realised that going from a young boy who just enjoyed singing to becoming an international opera star had only been possible because of his dedication and discipline. He knew he had to put this work ethic to use in building his talent agency.

The next challenge was finding the right people who were masters in their domains to help him create his business. Perhaps an intimidating process for some, Moralez claims the opposite.

"People who have put in the hours and the dedication [to get to the top] can relate to each other. I can sit with the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company and appreciate them on how they got there.

"I would just walk in and say: here's what I think I know and don't know; tell me the things that I don't even know I don't know."

For three months, Moralez listened attentively to his sources. "Having open conversations was very useful in relating to and understanding how these specialists have succeeded, and removed the fear and embarrassment," Moralez says.

His hard work paid off when, in January 2014, his company went live. The agency is divided into two parts. M Artist Agency represents the more traditional methods of managing an artist. M PR/OMI, meanwhile, updates the way that artists gain exposure by using various types of digital solutions such as online campaigns and social media.

M PR/OMI also allows artists to meet paying customers in their regions. This, Moralez explains, is a community initiative to break down the mysticism between artists who might create a different persona onstage and their audience - resulting in becoming unapproachable because their audience has the wrong idea about the "real" them.

Under the agency's umbrella, Moralez has also created subsidiary digital platforms like Jeengle.me that allow clients to listen to the artist perform, book them and pay online. This helps avoid the payment complexity that often results when the middlemen found in many traditional talent agencies become part of the equation.

Similar to Jeengle.me is Spotlight, a platform where unknown artists in a community can establish themselves and grow their audience. Moralez expects to launch the platform before the end of 2014.

"We will serve a very large portion of the artist community throughout Southeast Asia because I believe consumers and artists now have a place where they can perform simple transactions that will make a difference for everyone," he says.

Moralez adds that his digital platforms are more than just cool apps. "We are currently looking to create opportunities for greater dialogue with accelerators and tech communities in Hong Kong that fund and develop apps which make a difference."


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Nespresso’s Roger Staeheli gets a buzz from growing Asia’s booming coffee scene
Published on Saturday, 15 Nov 2014
Roger Staeheli
Photo: Berton Chang

The HK and Macau country manager sees plenty of potential in Hong Kong’s home and out-of-home segments 

When Switzerland-born Roger Staeheli was appointed Hong Kong and Macau country manager for Nespresso in March, he was immediately struck by the contrast between his new and old homes. 

“Compared to Europe in general, Hong Kong and Asia are much faster, much more dynamic,” Staeheli says. “This city is alive 24 hours a day. People work hard in Switzerland, but there is a bit of a different mindset there. In Switzerland, even on weekdays, shops close by 7pm, and no shops open on Sunday.”

Nespresso was founded in Switzerland in 1986 and has been part of the booming coffee-drinking scene in Hong Kong since 1996. Initially, the company only sold to businesses here, but it subsequently began selling its systems of machines and capsules of roast and ground coffee to the home consumer as well. 

“We opened a subsidiary in Hong Kong in 2003 and then our first boutique in 2006, in the IFC,” Staeheli says. 

The company now has two boutiques in Hong Kong, as well as offering online and phone-order options. 

“Hong Kong is interesting in that the consumption of coffee is shared equally between home and out-of-home segments,” Staeheli says. “And in both segments, there is a great deal of potential [for growth].”

Staeheli’s education and career path highlights another difference between Switzerland and Hong Kong. “Actually, I didn’t follow a traditional route in my education. I first did an apprenticeship, which is a very common thing to do in Switzerland. 

“I started with an apprenticeship in the banking industry and worked in the industry for a couple of years. I then moved to a big publisher, before going to university [to study economics] when I was 24. The work experience I gained before going to university really helped me in making the right choice in what to study.

“For me it was fundamental in the sense that, when I was 18, I was not really clear about what I wanted to do. I think very few people know exactly what they want to do when they are 18.

“Also, it was easier to focus on my studies because I had a better understanding of what people expect.” 

He joined Nespresso after graduating, first working in sales in the Swiss market and then at its headquarters. “The reason I wanted to work for Nespresso was because the company was booming at that time, especially in Europe, and it had a very dynamic image of strong innovation and strong growth. My background was in banking, but I wanted to work somewhere where I had a better link to the product.”

Staeheli does not consider the time he spent in the banking industry as wasted. “I still deal with numbers a lot. It’s a big help today to have this financial background, because ultimately we work in a business. We still need to deliver according to shareholder expectations.”

He says a career at Nespresso requires a range of qualities. “You need to deliver a strong performance, and your attitude is very important. In our company, we value both. Performance means delivering – overachieving, actually – and doing this constantly, not just on a short-term basis, but over the years.”

Staeheli says he puts a lot of effort into understanding his customers. “We don’t speak about consumers, we speak about Nespresso Club Members, and we turn these people into our ambassadors. We listen to them and we have a direct relationship with them. By listening to them, we can really make sure that our products fit their expectations.

“As an affordable luxury brand, brand positioning is super important. The customers want to enjoy and indulge themselves – and this is really what we offer to our members. 

“Nespresso was already advertising on TV and in print before George Clooney [first took part in a Nespresso advertising campaign], but we really didn’t have a so-called brand ambassador. This really started in 2006 with George Clooney. The target was to raise awareness, as at that time we were very European-centric, and this really helped to push the brand.” 

 Staeheli thinks the coffee industry will be increasingly defined by discerning consumers. “The big trend in this category will be towards more premiumisation. Coffee is no longer just a functional drink; it is something you want to appreciate,” he says.

“I would compare it to the wine industry. Many years ago in France, the average consumption was huge and people were drinking wine every day. Today they drink less, but better. And today people are really interested in gourmet coffee – they want to know about the origins of the coffee and how it was blended.”

THE RIGHT BLEND


Roger Staeheli shares his formula for brand development

Know your ID  “Be very clear about your brand identity. You need to know who you are, what you do, what your vision is and what your mission is.”

Be consistent  “Ensure there is as little gap as possible between brand identity and image.” 

Define language “Especially in the luxury industry, you need a strong language code. For example, Nespresso doesn’t refer to coffee, it talks about Grand Crus. Staff in its boutique are not referred to as boutique employees, but coffee specialists.”

Get customers onside “Turn them into ambassadors; listen to them and engage with them.”

Deliver quality “Nothing else makes sense if you don’t have a good product.”


 


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ENISA call for greater efforts to thwart hackers could boost IT banking jobs
Published on Saturday, 08 Nov 2014

Banks need to put more money into combating hackers who have the potential to wreak havoc globally, says the director of the European Union's cyber security agency.

"We don't know if there are criminals trying to attack a power plant, or the banking system and cut off all ATM machines," says Udo Helmbrecht, executive director of the European Network and Information Security Agency, or ENISA. "The probability is low, but it is doable."

A group of sophisticated Russian hackers accessed the computer banks of JPMorgan Chase unhindered for more than two months this summer and attacked at least 13 other US and European financial institutions with mixed success.

The bank later disclosed that the hackers stole the names and contact information of 83 million customers, but did not access account numbers or passwords.

Banks in the United States and financial firms already spend as much as US$2,500 per employee on cyber security, compared with US$400 by retail and consumer companies, and US$200 at education companies, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

With a "little more, you can gain a lot" in relation to the attacker, says Helmbrecht, adding that the industry does not seem to have opted for measures that can create "a level of security that would make it unreasonable for the criminal to attack it, because it is too expensive … It has to be just a bit above the level that the criminal says it's not worth it."

Cybercrime is being organised into complicated networks resembling the division of labour in other illicit activities. "There are people who write malware, people who distribute malware, and people who buy malware for as little as a couple of hundred dollars," says Helmbrecht, who was president of the German Federal Office for Information Security from 2003 to 2009.

Still, the chances of a full-blown attack on the security infrastructure of the continent, or its financial industry, are limited, he adds.

If such a large-scale attack happens the impact will be huge. "It's like with terrorists: you know they are there, [but] you don't know where they will attack."

Helmbrecht says, however, that sometimes common sense might be the best tool in the technology arsenal and that people need to be careful about where they post private information. "We have to distinguish between behavioural mistakes and technology. Software is being created by human beings, so mistakes happen. We have to educate people."

Bloomberg


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Green leader
Published on Saturday, 01 Nov 2014
Herbert Hui
Photo: Gary Mak

Fuji Xerox MD Herbert Hui finds success in contributing to society.

For Herbert Hui, managing director of Fuji Xerox (Hong Kong), success is not only measured by how well his company meets clients’ needs and performs financially, but also by the contribution it can make to the wider community. 

At a time when the city is facing landfill issues, for example, Hui is proud that his company is dedicated to a zero-landfill policy and has been achieving a 99.9 per cent recycling rate since 2010. “For the majority of us that work in the company, we were born, live and work in Hong Kong, so it is only right that we should look after our home,” says the former accountant, who joined the firm 25 years ago.  

As part of the management team that has helped the company evolve from a hardware supplier to a prominent information and communications technology (ICT) solution and services provider, Hui says his main responsibility is to ensure the firm always stays in tune with clients’ future needs. “Clients are looking for cost-effective models for managing the creation, distribution and management of documents within their organisations.”  

To ensure he has a clear understanding of these needs, he arranges regular formal and social meetings with clients.  

He sees himself as a partner and team player who believes it is important to empower staff members. “We often use the term ‘team Fuji’, which defines the way we work and is one of our key strengths.”  

Hui frequently accompanies staff on client visits to show his support and learn first-hand about client needs and their future requirements. He is also a keen advocate of the plan-do-check-act framework, a popular management tool for assessing the consequences and outcomes of business decisions. 

 Hui has had held various key positions at Fuji Xerox, including roles in finance, legal and business operations. He also spent time in Shanghai as chief financial officer for Fuji Xerox (China) and vice-president of Greater China operations, a post he held for four years prior to taking up his current role in 2012.  

 He says each position has helped to prepare for his next career move. “Everything I’ve done in the past I view as an asset that enables me to perform my current job more effectively.”  

In addition to using his experiences as an accountant to shape management decisions, Hui puts his training to good use by mentoring accounting students studying at Polytechnic University. 

Fuji Xerox also works closely with clients to help them achieve their corporate social responsibility goals. “CSR is not something we just talk about. We live it every day – it’s part of our company DNA.”  

Fuji Xerox is a pioneer in supporting CSR initiatives in Hong Kong, he says. By incorporating policies for end-of-life resource recovery into the design process, the company is able to reuse or recycle products at its Asia-Pacific remanufacturing factory in Thailand.  

A recent cooperation with the Children’s Heart Foundation to host Hong Kong’s first eco-art exhibition – featuring pieces made of used parts from office devices – is another example of supporting the community and promoting the value of sustainability initiatives, he says.  

 Hui was inspired by one of his secondary school teachers to get involved in things, rather than criticise. He encourages Fuji employees to embrace the same concept by setting three annual self-improvement goals. On a company scale, he aims to boost its solution and services business from 30 per cent to 50 per cent over the next three years.  

Hui joined Fuji Xerox in 1989 to set up a new leasing department. He was already familiar with the company, having audited the accounts for the previous five years while working at KPMG. 

“This was a completely new challenge, because office equipment leasing didn’t really exist at that time,” Hui says. From a small market percentage, today, Fuji’s office equipment leasing penetration rate in Hong Kong is about 90 per cent.  

 Hui cites his versatile career background as one of the motivating factors he uses to inspire the company’s 800 employees to look for ways to work smarter and more efficiently. “I try to get people thinking along the lines that Fuji Xerox is their own company and its success relies on the decisions they make,” he says. 

As Fuji Xerox clients look for digital and cloud-based solutions, Hui says his company is training staff to be business sector specialist. “We are investing in training and technologies that help address our client’s specific needs.” 

Hui says Fuji Xerox has a long history of supporting local businesses. “Fuji Xerox is well positioned to help our customers become more sustainable. Our technology and services are designed and managed to improve sustainability performance for customers,” says Hui. 

To stay competitive via THE adoption of ICT services and solutions, Hui says Fuji Xerox plans to leverage its proven technologies and methodologies to provide value-added customer services. “Fuji Xerox range of multifunction devices, printers and copiers help to reduce printing costs, streamline business processes and automate common tasks.” 


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Greening towers
Published on Saturday, 25 Oct 2014
Christine Kwan
Photo: Laurence Leung

DLN’s Christine Kwan says sustainable design is driving demand for architects.

Environmental sustainability and technology are dramatically changing the way architects work, as companies look to minimise the ecological impact of buildings.

“Going green is one of the most important trends in our industry,” says Christine Kwan Siu-yi, director of the Hong Kong office of DLN Architects, whose buildings, which have been at the forefront of Hong Kong’s skyline for 60 years, include Central Plaza, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, The Centre, K11 and the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District. The company has also created CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou (China’s eighth tallest building), the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino in Macau (the 10th tallest hotel in the world), and a host of other projects in Mongolia, Ukraine, Shanghai and Singapore.

Two years ago, DLN set up a department to focus on the environmental aspects of its new projects. “We want to create more sustainable designs,” says Kwan, who has worked for the company since 2005 and was promoted to design director this year. “DLN is very sensitive to the new trends and we provide a lot of on-the-job training to enable staff to understand [what is required]. We have also employed new designers experienced in this area. It is important to us to have a strong team dedicated to sustainable design.

In Hong Kong, the building environmental assessment method (BEAM) is the certification most local companies use. It is one of the most widely used voluntary labeling schemes of its kind in the world. Another global benchmark for measuring green construction is the certification set up by the United States, which is what DLN works towards obtaining, according to Kwan.

Our policy is that, with all the new projects, we go for green. But it is very challenging. It is not free – it requires a lot of investment from the developers. We try to persuade them to look at the long-term – buildings will last longer and you will get benefits such as energy saving with natural light and ventilation that will reduce electricity consumption.”

New technology is also having a big impact on architecture and its related industries. For a number of years the industry has used the AutoCAD (automated computerised drawing) software system. “With that, you have to draw your plans, then your elevation, then your sections all separately,” Kwan says.

“Nowadays, DLN uses a holistic approach with another system called BIM – building information modelling – with which we create designs using a three-form model: plans, elevations and sections together. It is a more integrated design [that helps us work] with other disciplines such as mechanical, electrical and structural engineering. We share the same 3D model on the network – a kind of inter-office environment – with them, a digital platform working towards a common 3D model.” 

Technology is also helping with sustainable architecture in a number of ways, not least with the reduction of waste. “In the past, there was a lot of wastage in the industry in terms of spare parts and materials. For example, previously we would not be able to do an assimilation of tile patterns, so we would over-order and the surplus would just be disposed of. As much as 10 to 20 per cent was wasted. Now, we can assimilate the patterns and ensure there is no wastage.”

Building the workforce

Kwan says going green is a commitment that cannot be avoided, and DLN welcomes new recruits equipped with the latest knowledge. It is not the only expectation, though – there is a certain mindset DLN seeks when recruiting staff, says Kwan. “Architecture is a lifelong process in terms of skill development, design brief and lateral thinking. Unlike science or mathematics, which require step-by-step logic, there is no single solution to a design brief. We have to open our minds and find the most appropriate solution at the time – and then expect it to change. It is an ongoing process. You have to be highly flexible.” 

Good communication and teamwork are also vital components of a successful architectural firm, she says. “Architecture is not a one-man band, it requires teamwork – the bigger the project, the bigger the team. At DLN, we don’t believe in ‘star’ architects. We encourage regular discussion between junior and senior staff on an equal basis in which we exchange ideas.” 

DLN is currently recruiting in a number of areas, Kwan says. “Our doors are always open to young architects, especially those who are passionate and strong in design – this is the most important element of the whole project.

“We are always looking for talent and fresh ideas in design”, Kwan says.

There are also openings for building surveyors, architectural draftsmen – especially those equipped with BIM knowledge – and project architects with practical experience. 

DLN has opened a new office in Shanghai and is looking for talented individuals who are willing to work in mainland China. Applicants will be interviewed directly by the company’s chairman, Dennis Lau Wing-kwong. 

Kwan previously worked for Anthony Ng and RMJM, where she was part of the team that that created the media centre for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She says she was nurtured and given many opportunities, which inspired her to continue the good work at DLN.

She says it is a great company for young architects to join and progress in. Kwan feels fortunate to be part of Lau’s 300-strong workforce. “I’m lucky I joined DLN because we share the same vision and the company has a tremendous number of projects of various scales, so it has allowed me a lot of exposure. Sometimes it is a problem for young architects to find a firm that has enough projects [so that they get] vital opportunities, but DLN is never short of projects. 

 “I love this firm,” Kwan adds. “I like the challenges, the responsibility and the opportunities I’m being given to do something that will contribute to our society, our cultural development and the next generation.”


The sky is the limit


Christine Kwan lists five desirable attributes she looks for in architects

Patience “It can take years to complete a project and revisions and amendments can be numerous. There are multiple factors to take into account.”

Perseverance “I worked for Anthony Ng for two years and his perseverance in continually seeking good quality designs really inspired me.”

Passion “You can’t do this job well unless you really love it. I care so much about people … ”

Curiosity “Exploration is the driving force behind ideas, which are important for us to remain competitive. And new ideas come from curiosity – about your environment, your community and so on.”

Open-mindedness “This is an essential quality as change is a constant and you have to embrace it. Architecture is an ongoing process – you’re always learning and discovering new things.”

 


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Golden touch
Published on Saturday, 18 Oct 2014
Photo: Sky Lip

Nancy Wong is helping family business Luk Fook sparkle in Hong Kong and beyond

Working in her family business, Nancy Wong Lan-sze, now executive director of Hong Kong jewellery chain Luk Fook Group, developed her love for gold and diamonds from a young age. 

Wong’s grandfather and father ran a jewellery shop in Wong Tai Sin, where she helped out after school every day. “While my classmates spent their weekends chilling out with their families, my weekends were awfully hectic. I was in charge of selling earrings. I was popular with old ladies – they enjoyed dealing with a little girl,” Wong recalls. 

In 1991, Wong’s father, William Wong Wai-sheung, started the Luk Fook retail empire by opening the first store in North Point. In five months, three more outlets were opened, and the company continued to boom and was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 1997. 

While her father was having great success with the business, Wong and the rest of the family were away in Canada. “I migrated there when I was in Form Two and returned to Hong Kong after I graduated with a degree in accounting from the University of Toronto,” she says. 

Wong worked for three years in an audit firm before joining Luk Fook in 2006. “I joined the company’s accounts department after I became a certified public accountant. It was not easy for me to adjust to working at Luk Fook. The first hurdle I had to overcome was communicating in Chinese. I know Chinese well, but I seldom typed in Chinese in my previous job and at school. My typing speed was unbearable. After a week on the job, I forced myself to learn the Cangjie input method as quickly as possible,” she says.

Wong’s father later encouraged her to move on to investor relations. “My father said, as I am good with numbers, I would have an advantage when trying to persuade investors. Working in investor relations was an eye-opener for me. I met many different businesspeople and learned to look at a business from different points of view,” she says.

Wong also played a major role in a marketing campaign for Luk Fook that won several awards for its television commercial series Love is Beautiful. “The commercial is a reflection of the Luk Fook culture – we serve clients like friends and we are like a big family. The key to success in staff management is to create a family-like working environment. 

“I always treat my staff with dignity. I act by example; if you are polite to your employees, they will be polite to clients,” she says. 

With more than 1,300 outlets in Asia and North America, keeping up service standards at every Luk Fook outlet is a major challenge. Wong developed a system to evaluate the quality of service. “I remembered spending three sleepless nights coming up with a checklist … the lighting, how the chairs should be arranged, the cleanliness of the glass – I tried to have a grading system for every detail. [Now] secret shoppers visit the stores to grade the service standards according to the list,” she says. 

Providing adequate training is also important to providing consistent service. “I wrote scripts and produced videos to teach staff how to promote a new jewellery collection. There are online quizzes to ensure staff are familiar with what they have learnt.” 

Luk Fook started exploring the mainland market in 1994. Today, it has over 1,200 outlets there. Wong says this will continue to be a major part of the company’s development. “The third- and fourth-tier cities will be the focus of our expansion plans. The people in those places are getting rich and we can make use of the relatively lower rents to open outlets.” 
While the majority of Luk Fook’s shops are on the mainland, Wong says Hong Kong remains the place with the highest consumption. “There is no tax [on buying] gold in Hong Kong, so many mainland consumers are willing to spend more here. Customers at mainland shops spend an average of HK$3,000 to HK$4,000, while shoppers in Hong Kong spend up to HK$8,000.” 

In recent years, Hong Kong retailers have been criticised for catering for mainland tourists while neglecting the needs of locals. “I think there is a need to strike a balance between [the interests of] business and society,” Wong says.

A proposed solution is to limit the number of visitor entries to 52 times a year for travellers with multiple-entry permits. Wong, however, doesn’t think mainlanders will visit 50 times to buy gold. “So I don’t think the policy will have much impact on our business if it is implemented.” 

Wong is devoted full-time to her career. “I usually finish work at 8pm, but I’m still working when I go home because my father and I continue to discuss work. It seems I am working all the time. I don’t mind, I love what I do,” she says. 

She likes to treat herself with jewellery. “My parents gave me jewellery for doing well at school when I was young. Now, I like to buy jewellery as a treat for myself. 

“As I grow older, I have begun to appreciate the beauty of jade. But diamonds are my favourite. When I was younger, I enjoyed looking at the patterns made from small pieces of diamonds. Now my taste for diamonds is simple: the bigger the better.” 


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Growing global
Published on Saturday, 11 Oct 2014
Photo: Sky Lip

Many firms seek professionals who can perform effectively in a globalised workplace. At leading professional services firm EY, however, the breadth of its international business makes a global mindset essential.

"When we say globalised, it doesn't mean we only have offices around the world, it is the way we have structured ourselves," says Jovy Wong, EY's associate director of talent. "We are globalised in terms of mindset, in terms of structure and in terms of how we operate."

The firm regularly builds teams across countries and offices throughout the Asia-Pacific region to meet the varied needs of clients whose businesses span as many as 50 countries. That means EY professionals need to be able to adapt to different ways of working, different cultures and different mindsets.

Currently, EY has about 100 vacancies spread evenly among its three core activities: assurance, tax and advisory. Half of the roles require three to five years of experience, a quarter are at the executive level, and 10 per cent are at senior manager or associate director level.

Wong says growing initial public offering (IPO) activity and an increasing focus on compliance and regulation by companies is behind the firm's expansion. "Companies are talking about how to improve their processes and manage their risk," she says. "That's where our advisory comes in. Therefore we have a very fast-growing advisory practice."

Another 30 jobs are available in various back-office functions, including human resources, risk management, legal, finance and information technology.

EY is also eager to hear from those from other backgrounds who have in-depth industry experience that matches the firm's clients' business areas, which include telecoms, IT, media, retail and banking.

"If people have some deep industry or sector knowledge, that is definitely an advantage, especially in the advisory service," Wong says. "We have to provide advice - how do you manage your risk, how do you manage process improvement? So if we have someone with real insider in-depth knowledge, that is great."

New hires will join a firm with no little prestige attached to it. "Last year, we were the IPO market leader in Hong Kong, in terms of the number of companies we brought to market," Wong says. EY is also the auditor for the top three companies in Fortune's "Most Admired Companies" list.

The firm has about 170,000 employees worldwide, including more than 2,000 in Hong Kong. It filled 300 professional roles in the city last year, and continues to grow, meaning there is no shortage of career opportunities.

"EY is one of the fastest growing professional services organisations," Wong says. "For applicants, that means there are plenty of opportunities for moving up the ladder."

Once on board, new hires follow a clear career path that can see them become staff accountants or associates after two years and a senior manager after three to five years. There is also the possibility of running an entire portfolio after five to six years.

They will also gain exposure to a range of high-performing companies and industries, and be able to build a valuable network of contacts, both from the firm's client base and from among colleagues in Hong Kong and around the world.

Training is delivered through a combination of learning, experience and coaching designed to help candidates develop rather than just receive instruction. The content varies according to rank and practice area, and is supplemented by regular updates in technical skills and soft skills training on topics such as negotiation and presentation skills.

In addition to the technical skills and experience individual roles require, a global mindset, the ability to work with different cultures and good communication skills are some of the most important attributes EY looks for in potential hires.

"What is special to EY and what helps candidates stand out is whether they have a very global mindset," Wong explains. "Our corporate culture is supportive and high-performing. Our clients come from cultures all around the world, from entrepreneurial businesses, government and global corporations. And doing the best work possible for them means getting ideas, experience and cultural know-how from the most diverse group of people.

"So if the candidate can work across cultures, it's a great advantage and what we look for."

That doesn't mean candidates need to have lived abroad or travelled extensively, Wong points out, adding that it is more a question of attitude.

"How you take feedback from others - how you take instructions, are you able to listen actively and not just do things the way you have always done them [are all important]," she says.

"We are a people business. We think up solutions for our clients. So it's also important whether you can bring in new ideas, your experience, and your ability to advise clients."

Team spirit is another quality that is highly valued at the Big Four firm.

"In EY, it's very important to know that you are not working only by yourself, you are in a team," Wong says. "Of course you need to be ambitious, but you also need to be not too aggressive or defensive. There will be a lot of people providing you with feedback.

"If you're open-minded and willing to learn, EY is one of the best learning organisations. We're there to help you and provide you with opportunities."


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Wealth of talent
Published on Saturday, 04 Oct 2014
Photo: istockphoto
David Ratliff
Victor Cheng
James Mendes

Banks seek capital markets staff with business acumen, financial skills and a desire to learn, writes Chris Davis.

Hong Kong's capital markets, whether debt, fixed income, derivatives or equities, are renowned for being demanding and, sometimes, stressful territories, where professionals must be able to think and act quickly while remaining focused on key drivers for the industry. For instance, as good regulation and supervision are the hallmarks of strong capital markets, the strength of human talent in senior positions is critical to the development of transparent and sustainable activities.

Capital market analysts say last month's announcement by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah on how the government would amend various treasury laws to allow Hong Kong to become a more attractive financial hub, is welcome news for the industry.

Those involved in the capital markets sectors note the announcement, made at the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' annual conference last month, could also lead to additional jobs and expanded career opportunities, especially for experienced practitioners conversant with setting up and operating trading platforms and those familiar with regulatory compliance requirements.

Tsang's comments come before the expected launch this month of Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. Described by Goldman Sachs in a research report as "too big to ignore", the mutual market access initiative allows institutional investors and individuals to buy and sell on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges.

Recruiters and analysts predict that cross-border trading on Shanghai's and Hong Kong's bourses is good news for seasoned practitioners and should create more job opportunities and fuel further momentum for the development of Hong Kong's capital markets.

The development comes at a time when mainland securities firms are starting to chip away at Hong Kong's traditional providers of capital services, which include hiring senior capital market specialists.

For instance, Haitong International, which is in the middle of a two-year Hong Kong expansion plan, last year added derivatives, fixed income and equity capabilities to its capital service offerings. The expansion involved recruiting about 20 seasoned professionals to work in each division. The firm says it has plans to grow headcount by recruiting an additional 40 experienced capital market professionals before the end of the year.

As an established part of its Asia operations, Citi Markets and Securities Services is a global business that provides corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of capital financial services and products. Last month, in Citigroup's filings to regulators in the US, the bank announced revenues of US$15 billion across all of its Asian activities, accounting for the largest revenue generator outside of the US.

According to David Ratliff, managing director and head of investor sales and relationship management at Citi Markets and Securities Services Asia, Citi's capital market business covers a range of different professional roles. These include sales, trading, structuring and research, which offer a range of professional opportunities and require different skills, characteristics and levels of experience.

"Professionals from all backgrounds can succeed at Citi," says Ratcliff, stressing that delivering client services is as important as finance abilities. "We are looking for more than someone who can do the job."

Ratcliff adds that while excellent analytical and quantitative skills are a prerequisite, equally important for his department is building a strong culture through teamwork, ambition and a drive towards excellence. "We are always looking for those who will embrace and continue to build our culture and their own careers," he says.

Crucial to any capital role, he adds, is a strong sense of business acumen, the ability to develop sound financial and quantitative skills, and a desire to learn and succeed in a dynamic environment.

"At the heart of what we do are our clients: how can we identify opportunities for them, help them manage risks and deliver on their needs," he says, adding that the business is about finding solutions and knowing how to navigate a complex landscape.

Employees within the markets and securities business stay relevant by following the evolution of financial markets and global news on a day-to-day basis, he says. This involves learning by doing, and adapting to new opportunities and challenges as they present themselves. "The landscape for financial products and services is constantly changing," he says.

Whether it's the rise of China as an engine of global growth, new companies promoting new technologies like cloud computing or 3D printing, or the increased demand for long-term savings products, professionals need to be up-to-date with developments to help clients tap opportunities.

Victor Cheng, who joined Citi as a management associate in 2010 from the University of Toronto and now works as a foreign exchange structured product specialist, says part of the reason he chose to begin his career with Citi is the high level of investment in junior talent.

"Citi runs very strong internship, analyst and associate programmes," Cheng says. He explains how programmes are supported by senior management, giving juniors a lot of exposure to business leaders from day one. Formal and informal training and development helps new joiners to achieve impact right away, he adds.

James Mendes, Citi managing director and head of recruitment for Asia-Pacific, says university students and recent graduates can gain an insight into the industry via one of Citi's 10-week summer internship programmes. For suitable candidates, he says, Citi also offers full-time analyst and associate programmes, which begin in the autumn each year.

"We also host a series of information sessions and participate in campus recruiting activities within Asia and globally, where students have the opportunity to learn more directly from Citi's professionals," Mendes says.


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The right ingredients
Published on Saturday, 27 Sep 2014
Photo: Berton Chang

Alan Lo's eclectic background is a driving force behind the Press Room Group, writes Andrea Zavadszky.

You would be hard-pressed to find a common denominator between battery manufacturing, architecture and the food and beverage industry. However, for Alan Lo, co-founder of the Press Room Group of restaurants, these different strands are nicely woven together in supporting his successful career.

A scion of the Lo family - well known in the region for battery manufacturer Gold Peak Group, which was set up by Lo's grandfather in 1964 - Lo was influenced by many different people growing up. This eventually saw him set up a clutch of restaurants and cafes profiling six different unusual restaurant concepts, making him a pioneer in Hong Kong's food scene.

Growing up, Lo saw the development of the small family business growing into an internationally listed company with operations in more than 10 countries. He also witnessed his father Victor's attraction to the arts. The chairman and chief executive of Gold Peak Industries since 1990, Victor studied industrial design and is an avid art collector who also chairs the Hong Kong Design Centre's board of directors. "Victor wanted to study fine art. Industrial design was a good compromise," Lo says.

Lo says his upbringing was liberal and there was no pressure on him to go into Gold Peak, as his father never really believed in running the company as a family business. He studied classical Chinese painting with the renowned Lingnan School painter Zhao Shao'ang, but although he liked arts, he decided to study architecture at Princeton University in the United States.

"As much as I was interested in art, I never really saw myself as an artist," Lo says. "Probably, I would not have done well in manufacturing."

Architecture trained him to make things from scratch. He learned to cross-examine different aspects and ensure they were not only aesthetically pleasing but also functioned well, while understanding the conceptual side of architecture and the relationships between different requirements.

"I think this was one of the most valuable experiences I had," he says. "This way of thinking became very useful. The sky is the limit if you have the reasons and the facts."

He was eventually won over by the F&B industry after spending time in New York and trying different restaurants. He was amazed by the variety and the high standard of restaurants, which were things not matched by Hong Kong back then.

"New York is such an amazing place, at the forefront of food concepts," he says. "It was just fascinating; back then, you didn't see this level of sophistication and creativity in [Hong Kong]."

He says that at that time, if people wanted to go to a good restaurant in Hong Kong, they went to a hotel. But he felt there was a demand for good independent restaurants in the city and he was keen to introduce them by using concepts from New York.

Opting to stay in London with the Mandarin Oriental for a year as an F&B management trainee, he gained a solid understanding of what the F&B business involved.

The following year, he joined Shangri-La's project management division. For three years, he practiced what he had learned studying architecture at Princeton - executing a project from start to finish, working on time schedules, dealing with costs and operations - and was in contact with architects and engineers.

As the most junior member of the team, he would get the simplest projects - often restaurant renovations - but for him it was an amazing experience. "Working with hotels for three to four years made me understand how it all works, all the details from lighting and furniture to temperature and setting the music," he says.

He was only 26 when he set up the Press Room Group in Hong Kong with two friends, Paulo Pong and Arnold Wong. He says the three founders complement each other with their experiences in exactly the same way Lo's experiences came together to prepare him for the job. While Pong brings his extensive knowledge of wines to the F&B table, Wong is the expert in finance.

The Press Room opened on Hollywood Road in 2006, and was - until its closure in July due to increasing commercial rents in the area - the kind of restaurant that fits into the neighbourhood and takes its cue from the style of its surroundings. This is the hallmark of the group, which now has 15 restaurants and a bakery.

Combining his respect for the arts and tradition with his experience in F&B and architecture, Lo plans to launch other projects which energise neighbourhoods and support, rather than destroy, their characteristics.


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