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People, not assets

Published on Friday, 26 Oct 2012
NiQ Lai, head of talent engagement and CFO at HKBN, wants staff to either love or hate the company.
Photo: May Tse

Established in 1999, Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) is one of the territory’s fastest-growing broadband service providers, offering diversified services such as broadband, local telephony, IDD and IP-TV to over 1.3 million subscribers. In 2005, HKBN was the first internet service provider in the city offering a 1000M residential fibre-to-the-home service. Our network coverage extends to over 1.99 million residential homes, reaching over 85 per cent of Hong Kong’s population. The company has around 3,000 employees.


If we have to use one sentence to describe our human resources polices, it would be we believe “people are people, not assets”. We treat people as people. We invest in them instead of treating them as assets.
Our philosophy is that we don’t want our people to like us. We want them either to love us or hate us. At the end of day, we want all 3,000 colleagues to say: “HKBN is my company, not the company.”

We have invested a great deal in our employees to ensure they maintain a good work-life balance. Every year, we organise an annual trip for managers. Places we have been to include Japan and Germany. This year we are going to the US. These are not reward trips, however. The main purpose is for managers to build teamwork, with the company paying all expenses. We regard it as an investment, not an expense.

Some of the managers are co-owners of the company. Over 60 managerial-level staff have spent HK$165 million to buy 14 per cent of the company. If the company makes a profit, we make a profit too; if the company loses money, so do we.

There are lots of communication channels for staff to express their opinions, even their dissatisfaction. Every six months, we hold a town hall meeting, with all 3,000 employees invited to attend. We have a Q&A session. Staff members can take the opportunity to ask questions directly to people at managerial level.

We have also set up an intranet forum. Staff members are welcome to leave any comments and don’t have to disclose their name. If they demand a reply, the managers will do so. Our purpose is to try to stay close to everyone in the company.

Sometimes we will even give staff a pleasant surprise. Once we told them to attend a town hall meeting, but in fact we had prepared a concert for them. They only found out when they arrived at the venue.

We have also set up a programme called “Next Station: University”. This helps junior employees who do not possess a university degree to obtain one. We invite university professors to the company to teach those who have joined the programme. In these circumstances, employees can still work full-time while pursuing a university degree. There are currently 33 junior employees on this programme.

The company has taken part in corporate social responsibility services for the underprivileged. We established our own volunteer team in 2007 and joined forces with the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups and the government last October to organise a mentorship programme called “Fly High with Us Young Savers Scheme 2011-2014”. HKBN employees were recruited as mentors to help 40 mentees – youngsters from underprivileged families – for three consecutive years. The programme aims to help alleviate inter-generational poverty by providing one-on-one mentorship, as well as inspiring and guiding them to make life plans.

We care about, and do a lot for, the community. During Mid-Autumn Festival, staff deliver mooncakes to the elderly in the district where the company is located.

Every year we fire the bottom 5 per cent of the workforce. This is because we don’t want to waste money trying to fix the bottom 5 per cent, and therefore it allows us to invest in the top 95 per cent.

Employee morale is generally quite high. If they agree with the culture of our company, they will never want to leave. They just want to try their best to make a contribution.

Future plans
We intend to keep exploring opportunities to work with charity organisations. Improving the local community is one of our most important goals.

As told to Chiu Po-sze

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