From trash collector to tycoon
Some 20 years ago, a teenage Micky Yan Wai-kiu was collecting trash at a public housing estate when a mother and her whimpering child passed by. “If you don’t study, you’ll end up collecting trash like him,” the mother warned her petulant son while pointing to Yan. Little did she know that the object of her cautionary tale was bound for greater things. Working as a cleaner after leaving school at Form Three, Yan scraped and struggled to build Li Hing Holdings, a cleaning company that now employs more than 1,000 people.
How did it all happen?
When I was little and living in a cubicle in Wan Chai, I remember seeing a cruise ship docked at Harbour City [in Tsim Sha Tsui]. The view was so spectacular that I told myself, I had to earn money. My goal was to earn a million before I was 30 years old. By 26, I had achieved that goal. My aim was simple – I wanted a better life for my family. I am the eldest son so it’s my responsibility to take care of the family.
How did you become a tycoon?
I worked for a number of years as a cleaner before setting up my own business in 1989. I worked mostly on small-scale cleaning projects for housing estates. I was 19 years old at the time. Business was no good and I was struggling to make ends meet. I worked extremely hard, starting from seven in the morning until 11 at night. People used to call me 7-11, but I thought I needed to be more proactive so I produced some promotional materials and sent them to various management companies and housing estates. Things began to change as people got to know us.
As of 1998, I have been working in a full-time management capacity. Quality of service is something I uphold as my promise to clients. I put a lot of effort in manpower allocation to get jobs done as efficient as possible. With high quality service, we were offered more and more jobs and the company kept expanding. When I first started, it was just my brother and me, now I am leading a company with more than 1,000 staff.
What lessons have you learned?
Being a big boss is no easier than being a cleaner – in fact, I find it even more demanding. As a cleaner, I was physically exhausted. Now, managerial duties drain my brain.
What makes a good leader?
I have not received any formal training in management. My advantage is I started young. I started from the bottom so I have a thorough understanding of what it is like to be a grassroots employee. This helps communication. As my company grew bigger, my mode of management needed to be upgraded. I tried to learn from the management of big companies.
How do you inspire your staff?
One thing that distinguishes my company from others is my focus on team building. If my employees are happy then I am happy. I organise staff and management gatherings from time to time to strengthen bonding with employees. We also and participate in volunteer work together. Most of my staff are not well-off, but when we volunteer for really needy people, they no longer see themselves as underprivileged. Instead, they felt blessed and treasure what they have.
What are your future goals?
Cleaning is a job that requires specialist knowledge, but I feel that we are very under-appreciated. I wish society would have more respect for cleaners. And I hope cleaning skills can be included in the qualification framework in the future. We are a low-paid industry and deserve better. I have great respect for cleaners during the 2003 Sars pandemic when hygiene in public places became a huge thing. None of our workers backed off from duty because they were worried about getting infected. Cleaners are selfless and fearless individuals who deliver during the toughest of times.
What is your motto?
Believe in yourself. Whatever hardships you are facing, there is a way out. You have got to believe this to overcome obstacles. It’s possible to improve your situation if you work hard and are relentless.
Many youngsters say it is hard to succeed. What’s your advice?
Today’s society offers lots of opportunities. Youngsters need to be more open-minded to grab them. Stay humble, be proactive and your time will come. I came across a young man who had a plan to get recruited by a top-notch company, but when he was rejected, he gave up. He refused to lower his expectations and work for a less prestigious company because he thought he was too good for other companies. That was very wrong of him. Had I been him, I would have started off in a smaller company and slowly worked my way up. Young people have got to be realistic and not think too highly of themselves.