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Engineering a new role

Published on Thursday, 24 Mar 2011

On a side street in Hung Hom are the offices of Oregon Scientific, makers of highly stylised everyday home appliances such as digital clocks, pedometers, telephones and air purifiers. Walking into the showroom is like walking into a Sharper Image store, where every inch of the place is used to display the many classy products.

Showing us around is Dr Kenji Yum Tsz-yin, who in the short span of six years has transitioned from the role of electronic engineer to business development manager and is now the company's regional product manager for Asia-Pacific and China. 

A City University (CityU) alumnus, Yum obtained a BSc with a first-class honours in 2002 and a PhD in 2005 in electronic engineering. Yum has received more than 30 awards in various competitions that include the Certificate of Excellence in the 2005 Hong Kong Young Scientists Awards. 

Tell us about your career

When I was an assistant professor at CityU, I met Oregon Scientifics' chairman Dr Raymond Chan, who invited me to join his company. I started out as an engineer and after six months, I was promoted to what's called a radio frequency specialist. After about a year, I became technology manager at a group level.

Then after a short while, the chairman suggested that I try my hand at business and with that, I changed fields and became a business development manager. My unit began to grow and eventually became a subsidiary of this company. About a year ago, I became head of division, and then two months ago, after a company restructuring, I was made regional product manager for Asia-Pacific and China.

Why did you go into electronic engineering?

When I was in secondary school I was always studying the sciences and had more of an interest in math and physics. When time to start university came I decided to prioritise electronics classes because I like building electronics, the creativity involved and inventing things. That’s why I chose classes related to electronics.

How have you applied what you learned at CityU to work?

What I'm doing now is completely different to what I learned. Before, it was all engineering – like how to use a resistor or transistor in a circuit, a very operational way of doing things. At CityU, I learned how to make presentations and logically think things through and, with Oregon Scientific being a product company that needs creative minds with engineering backgrounds, it made me a perfect fit for the firm because I could think up and design products.

When making strategic decisions, I would apply the logical thinking processes from my engineering days. I would get together with my team and draw on the whiteboard tree diagrams to illustrate what we should do, so that we were all clear about the options and what they led to. Marketing people don't do something like this or naturally think in this way.

Why did you make the transition from engineering to business development?

From day one I was doing research as an assistant professor but all that time I had this desire to be an entrepreneur. Then one day the chairman proposed a new business model where he wanted me to head up a subsidiary to source products from China and repackage them under the Oregon Scientific brand and sell them through our distribution network to our clients. In that instant it struck my interest to change fields, to try new things and challenges, for a young guy there’s no harm, nothing to lose.

What does your daily work involve?

About 20 per cent of my time is spent brainstorming with my product managers, while 20 to 30 per cent is spent with my business executives doing channel mapping and business data analysis. Then about another 20 to 30 per cent is spent in intensive meetings. Finally, I also have to follow up with key accounts and customers. 

What are the challenges of your work?

In the space of six years, I've moved into the role of regional manager and the challenge for me is managing staff. I feel that I'm still ‘green' in this respect. Among my team, I have people who are older and have more experience in staff management. Managing things that are ‘inanimate' is easy because I have control over them, but with people, it's harder. We all have our own thought processes, ideas and ways of doing things. And as a division becomes bigger, office politics starts to come into play, which also becomes a challenge. Then when it comes to customers, like [handling] complaints, I'm still very inexperienced.

What's the best part of your work?

What I like the most is that I can think up a lot fun, quirky and useful products. I enjoy the whole process from the conception of the idea to the ergonomic decisions of where to place key features on a product.

Hard work pays off

  • Yum's motto is “no pain, no gain” – the more effort you exert, the more rewards you will get back
  • He thinks young people today are very ambitious and advises them to be humble
  • He believes that as long as you are working in something you have a passion for, you will find a place in which to excel


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