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Case study: Woods Bagot

With a team of more than 700 people spread across 15 worldwide offices, design studio Woods Bagot already has a significant global presence. It still plans, however, to significantly expand its Hong Kong workforce over the next 18 months.

"It was a commercial decision," says Jango Wong, senior associate at Woods Bagot. "We already have a strong foothold in Asia and we want to build in the coming years. We've been in Hong Kong for 26 years already, while we opened an office in Beijing eight years ago and in Shanghai two and a half years ago."

The company has around 180 people in its Greater China offices, including 65 at its premises in Causeway Bay.

"We are possibly looking at doubling our size in Hong Kong over the next 18 months with both internal transfers and new recruits," Wong says. "Our aim is to have a substantial skills base here to serve our Asia-based clients and projects."

Even though it takes five and a half years to complete a bachelor's degree in architecture, it takes more than academic qualifications and technical skills to get the job done at Woods Bagot.

"As an architectural-design firm, we need to be in sync with our clients," Wong says. "We require professionals that understand the decision-making process. For example, they need to know how the investment considerations and directions are made and how we, as the design professionals, can assist our clients in that process."

Woods Bagot is particularly on the lookout for two "game changers" who will be able to help the firm improve its operations and provide services that are in line with the evolving needs of its clients. Candidates should have at least 15 years of industry experience. "We need people that can assist us in critiquing our operations and the services we offer, and can work in line with the needs of our clients and end users," Wong says.

The company places strong emphasis on staff development and retention. "We run regular team-building sessions," Wong says. "For example, we recently took a Friday afternoon off to have lunch and a team-building session at the Causeway Bay Yacht Club. We also enter a lot of on-going social and sporting events as Team Woods Bagot."

The company encourages its staff to second to any one of its other 15 global offices. "This is mutually beneficial because the individuals can explore different cultural premises, and the company benefits from the individual's increased sensitivity to overseas project conditions," Wong says.

Those who are particularly successful in the company can eventually become part-owners of the firm. "The board of directors is made up of practitioners who operate as professionals, while the management structure is maintained on a relatively flat basis," Wong says. "Physically, we have an open-plan studio. Even the group managing director sits in the open."