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Treasuring talent at the top

Published on Saturday, 01 Nov 2014
Eric Chong
Jenny To
William Yeung

The Classified Post Career Forum 2014 invited three top-level managers to share their success stories and pass on some vital career advice during a morning CEO Sharing Conference.

William Yeung, chief executive and co-owner of Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN), said companies and individuals need to find the right match for one another in order to thrive.

HKBN uses the concept of "the right place, the right talent" in its recruitment materials and has a unique selection process for its management trainee (MT) programme, dubbed the "CXO of the Future" - CXO standing for chief experience officer.

After undergoing a written test, aptitude test and group discussion, chosen candidates then participate in a 36-hour "sleepless hunger games", which resembles an outward bound adventure. The top eight performing contestants then advance to a panel interview, with two being offered the job.

Yeung said his expectations for management trainees are higher than those of the rest of the market, but he also offers higher financial rewards. The starting salary of an HKBN management trainee, he said, is comparable with that of an administrative officer in the government.

Yeung stresses the importance of staff knowing and agreeing with the vision of the company. He hosts meetings regularly to explain to staff what is expected of them. This includes the fact that staff are not encouraged to dress in suits and ties to work, and that when it comes to rating performance, the company focuses on the results, not the process.

"We value people who work smart, rather than those who work hard. If you put a lot of effort into something, but do not provide a positive result, you are wasting resources," Yeung said.

To stay competitive in the broadband market against deep-pocketed competitors - many of which are also in the real estate business - Yeung introduced a "kick and kiss" method of management.

The company started an internal "price war" in 2009, cutting the charges for service and commissions for sales staff by half. Sales staff were pushed hard to do their absolute best and put in the maximum effort. The company was subsequently able to increase its market share, while keeping profits steady - as many companies did during the period's "cut-throat price war", Yeung said.

After the "kick", he treated his staff to a surprise concert to reward them for their hard work.

Yeung takes pride in HKBN being a caring employer. "I believe that people are people, not assets. Healthy body and family come before work. The company employs a no-weekend-emails policy to ensure staff spend quality time with their families, and there is once-monthly early Friday release for staff," he said.

Commenting on the way he manages the company, Yeung said he is proud of his alternative approach. "Only dead fish swim with the current," he said. "I don't believe in following what competitors do. The company with the largest market share is by no means the strongest player."

Fellow conference speaker Eric Chong, president and chief executive of Siemens Hong Kong, shared his company's initiative in developing young talent. "As Hong Kong's number-one-ranked ideal employer among engineering and manufacturing companies, Siemens is dedicated to developing young talent," he said. "We want to start nurturing talent as early as possible, so we have programmes for fresh graduates to join right after they finish [university]."

Siemen's MT programme for young engineers is run in collaboration with the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, which allows graduates to earn the professional qualification of an engineer as they serve at Siemens.

For talent in the commercial sector, there is a Siemens graduate programme that takes on young graduates from around the world. Chong added that there is no fixed recruitment period for the programme and candidates can approach the company at any time.

He also explained that the goal of engineering is to serve more people while using fewer resources - something achieved by being innovative. "The work of engineers has a huge impact on society; there is no room for error," he said.

He added that fresh graduates entering a new company will not know where a decision will lead them, so they should not narrow their choices and instead try to learn as much as they can.

"To succeed in a global engineering firm like Siemens, it is important for engineers to achieve excellence and keep an open mind," Chong said. "Getting ideas from others will help bring in better ideas, and diverse opinions lead to good conclusions - so engineers need to be open-minded."

With branches in more than 200 countries, Siemens offers many opportunities to work in different parts of the world. "With such a diverse scope of services and offices worldwide, there are many opportunities for staff - they can change job without changing the company [they work for]," Chong said.

Rounding off the sharing session, Jenny To, regional recruitment and talent development director at Pernod Ricard Asia, introduced the company's global management programme - an 18-month MT programme open to applicants from around the world.

MTs at Pernod Ricard have a chance to rotate through different functions such as sales, finance, human resources and corporate social responsibility. "We value teamwork, so it is important for trainees to know the concerns of other departments," To said.

Upon finishing the job rotations, MTs can choose to move to an overseas branch to work in a function that they enjoy. "The management style of the company is decentralised, so with the overseas placement, trainees have the opportunity to go to another place to see how things are done there," To said.

While alcoholic drinks are the main products of Pernod Ricard, To said knowledge of alcohol production is not a prerequisite for working in the company - but one needs to love the product to work with it.

"If you don't like the product, I don't think you will be interested in applying for the job," she said. "Our staff grow into liking the products - the more they know about them, the more they want to learn about them."

Recruitment for the programme starts in July every year.

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