One recent Saturday morning, Richard Lancaster – the managing director of CLP Power Hong Kong – found himself driving a van with his staff in the remote western New Territories of Hong Kong.
They were delivering a used fridge to a poor family in Sheung Shui as part of CLP Power’s community project with the St James’ Settlement, a long-serving charity group in Hong Kong.
The project, which started in 1994, involves collecting donated appliances from families across the city, bringing them to a St James centre for repair by CLP Power volunteers, and distributing them to families in need.
“It was a long drive, but when we got to the house in Sheung Shui, and unloaded the fridge, and we saw the smile in the faces of the mother and her eight-year-old girl – the trip was all worth it,” Lancaster says. “I was also very glad to see how my colleagues were very proud and happy about the day’s volunteer work.”
That experience, and countless other acts of kindness, definitely qualifies this electrical engineer to talk about corporate social responsibility (CSR), which will be his main theme at the forthcoming Classified Post Executive Summit.
A native Sydneysider, Lancaster started his career in Australia in the power sector, before joining the brewing industry with Foster’s in Australia and the United Kingdom. While in London, he was hired by CLP and he and his family moved to Hong Kong in 1992, working in various departments and capacities for the 110-year-old company – in operations and construction, as well as helping handle its financial affairs.
Lancaster is arguably one of the most ‘powerful’ business executives in Hong Kong, with his company providing power to 2.3 million customers or roughly 80 per cent of the city’s total population.
He has seen the evolution of the power sector, as well as the changing role of business vis-à-vis the community in which they operate. For him, it’s a matter of creating the right corporate vision and sharing that vision with employees, the community, the shareholders and the regulators.
An integral part of this vision is CSR, which Lancaster believes has been with CLP Power’s corporate DNA from its inception. He shares some points from his forthcoming talk at the Executive Summit.
How would you define CSR?
I think CSR is a fairly new term, but for a company like CLP, it’s really part of the way we look at our business. We’ve been in business for 110 years. And if you don’t think about your business in terms of sustainability, keeping your business viable, keeping in touch with the community, delivering not only what the customers want from you but also what the community needs from you as an energy provider – if you don’t think like that, then you’re basically out of business.
We provide power to 80 per cent of the people of Hong Kong. That’s a population of about 5.5 million people – that’s equivalent to a country the size of Denmark, or the Republic of Ireland, or New Zealand. And energy is absolutely vital to a community.
The way a community views energy changes over time. In the 1970s and the 1980s, people wanted to make sure that we had a reliable power supply and it needed to be very affordable. During the 1990s and into this century, people have become more concerned about the environmental impact of energy. So people want clean energy. And our job is to be looking ahead at the trends in society.
We make very long-term decisions. The infrastructure that we build today will be around for a very, very long time. So if we get it wrong today, we’ve got to live with that for a long time.
That’s where, in some cases, we’ve taken steps that may be wellahead of what the community is looking for. For example, bringing nuclear power into our energy mix in the mid-1990s, and bringing natural gas in – which is all low-carbon, clean fuels.
We did these before the community started really pushing for a move to clean energy. Now, the community is dealing with climate change and air pollution, so the challenge for us is how we can move from where we currently are – to have lower carbon and cleaner energy mix for the future.
Amid the changes, how do you maintain your corporate vision?
You really have to look at it from a leadership perspective. The community looks to us to provide some leadership. And that’s all about setting a vision, bringing people on board with that vision, making sure that we are aligned with our community, with our customers.
But as a business, we also have to be aligned with our shareholders as well. And as a regulated industry, we have to be aligned with our regulator, the Hong Kong government. So it’s building that alignment around a shared vision.
Once you have agreed on that vision, the job of implementing that often falls to the industry. And that’s where we need to bring our employees along with us and make sure that we have the financial and human resources to implement that vision.
When you joined CLP in 1992, did you have to create the CSR infrastructure? Or was it already there?
I think we have always followed the principles of sustainability. To me, the term CSR conjures up images of green initiatives. But I think sustainability goes beyond a handful of initiatives and being seen to be green. I think it really comes down to a few key elements. One is leadership. It’s important as well to be acting responsibly. As an essential service provider in Hong Kong, we’ve always acted responsibly – it’s part of our heritage and tradition, and it’s very strong in our corporate values right throughout our organisation. We have always had that as part of doing our business.
Classified Post Executive Summit: CEO Challenges in 2012
Date October 31(Monday)
Time 2:00pm – 5:15pm
Venue JW Marriott Hotel, Hong Kong
Registration classifiedpost.com/summit 
Enquiries 2680 8232