Looking ahead: Ricky Chan, GM and MD for Hong Kong and Macau at Johnson Controls, has risen to the top by setting his sights beyond the horizon
When Ricky Chan joined an air conditioning company as a sales executive after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), his friends and family were perplexed. But his decision was driven by a desire to enhance his interpersonal skills and challenge himself. “Working in a role that required me to interact with people from all walks of life was a valuable opportunity to learn skills beyond what was taught in the classroom, and get out of my comfort zone,” he says.
After several years as a sales professional, Chan went on a hiatus to pursue a master of science in engineering at HKU. He then joined York, a global manufacturer of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) products, as a project engineer, before taking on the role of service manager for Hong Kong and Macau in 1997. He continued to rise through the ranks and in 2004 was appointed general manager for York in Hong Kong. Following Johnson Controls’ acquisition of York in 2006, he was promoted to his current role as general manager and managing director for Hong Kong & Macau, overseeing more than 650 employees.
Chan’s immediate goal was to define and establish a culture and processes to maximise synergies created by the acquisition, and lay the foundations for the company’s next phase of growth. “This was critical, as we were integrating two companies that had diverse cultures, working styles and processes. We started with small, incremental changes, such as rearranging the office to encourage interaction between employees, providing opportunities for teams to work together, and arranging social activities to build trust and rapport. These efforts paid off and the integration was successful,” he says.
He explains that what he learned about this integration is helping him steer Johnson Controls through its current merger with Tyco, an international fire and security systems company. But his key priority now is to address the shortage of engineering talent in the market. “As building systems become more advanced, there is a need to build even more sophisticated teams that can handle complex projects and design integrated building solutions for our customers. However, there are now fewer undergraduates pursuing engineering as a profession.”
What Johnson Controls has done is introduce several initiatives to attract the brightest minds to the company. For example, it now has a management trainee programme where graduates can work with, and learn from, experienced mentors. They can also gain experience in a wide range of functions, and even cultures, that multinationals like Johnson Controls can offer. Chan particularly enjoys interviewing potential trainees. “It gives us an idea of what the current graduates are thinking, and helps us improve our HR policies to better match their needs.”
He is also a firm believer in continuous learning. “You may have mastery of what you know, but the world is changing and you need to continue to acquire knowledge that you currently do not possess. Twenty years ago, graduates would usually narrow their interests very quickly so that they could specialise. Today, graduates are looking for broader exposure, even if they already know what their career goals are,” he says.
“This is why our graduate trainee and management trainee programmes are designed to provide a more varied experience and expose trainees to different aspects of the business. This means they not only have the opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of Johnson Controls’ operations, but also learn more about their own strengths and career preferences.”
Chan explains that as a leader he trusts his teams to decide on the best course of action in all situations – but also recognises that it is important to know when to step in to provide clarity and direction. “I strongly believe that respect begets respect. I hold monthly meetings with our frontline staff, including mechanics and engineers, to help resolve some of the issues they may be facing. These sessions allow me to know our employees better, and also provide an opportunity to review and improve certain work processes for greater efficiency,” he says.
“I am confident that helping our people win will help our customer win, and eventually our organisation will win. Hence, I am determined to build up a strong pipeline of talent for the company and put together an effective succession management strategy to ensure that the company will continue to go from strength to strength.”
BE FAIR, SHARE AND CARE
Ricky Chan’s five tips on becoming a better leader.
Show character “Integrity is a core value that all leaders and organisations must have, and a value that we hold dear at Johnson Controls.”
Take charge “As the leader, you must be able to guide your team and take decisive action when required.”
Act strategically “Great leaders must always combine data-driven insights with their understanding of the business, and look beyond the horizon to take the company to the next level.”
Be modest “Always carry yourself humbly and be prepared to learn from others.”
Take an interest “Show genuine care and concern for those working with you. If others feel that their relationship with you is only about work, the best you can extract from them is eight hours’ of work. If you show you care, people will be more inclined to give their very best.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Looking ahead.