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Experience of a lifetime

Published on Friday, 17 Oct 2014
Con Constandis
Photo: Lau Wai
Jonathan Zeman
Photo: Gary Mak
David Thomas
William Yeung

Shadow a CEO Programme fast-tracks aspiring executives to learn from the best 

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the daily lives of Hong Kong’s top executives and pick up essential tips awaits successful applicants to the Career Forum’s Shadow a CEO Programme. 

Professional consultants at the Career Forum will interview selected applicants who have submitted their CVs and a 200-word essay on “Why I should be selected for the Shadow a CEO programme”. 

Those who impress will be invited to the final interviews from November 3 to 14. Each participating company will select up to three candidates to spend three days shadowing a top-level executive. Find out about them below.


Con Constandis

Managing Director Pernod Ricard Asia Travel Retail 

Constandis is looking forward to giving future executives a taste of life in senior management at a multinational corporation. “I enjoy having the chance to share my experiences with young people. I believe in the power of learning through observation and by active participation,” Constandis says. 

He believes the three-day programme will give participants a good idea of how top management operates through a series of activities, including an introduction to the brand’s value, management meetings and corporate social responsibility events. 

Constandis intends to take participants to the monthly general manager and management committee meetings for them to see business leaders in action.

He wants the aspiring executives to focus on learning how senior managers look at business and how they interact with one another. “They will see how the heart and soul of the company operates, and how shots are called,” he says.

 Constandis says that while the participants may not understand the finer details of discussions, he advises them to look at how executives communicate. “Do we just sit and talk or do we have some sense of structure? They should also look at the disciplines executives use to drive their business.” 

He encourages participants to not be afraid to ask questions, as nobody is expecting them to impress with what they know. 

In addition to the management meetings, Constandis has also planned a volunteer activity to give participants an idea of corporate responsibility. “We want them to learn about businesses giving back to the community,” he says. 

Today’s business world is too complex and fast-paced for any one person to make decisions. Constandis explains that leaders should bring out the best in others. “For example, Steve Jobs was widely considered the heart and soul of his company. But it never was a one-man show; he had the best design team in the world supporting him.” 

He adds that a business has many moving parts and leadership is about how to get all the parts to go in the same direction. He hopes candidates can get a sense of how this is done by applying the theory they have learned from textbooks during the programme. “Success is extracting the potential of people and doing the right things with the right people,” he says. 

Good career planning is the key to success for executives. The things they have to deal with will change as they progress through the different stages of their careers. 

Constandis points out that executives start out doing most of their work on their own. As they move up the ladder, they need to adopt a manager’s mindset and learn to get more things done through delegating tasks. 

“They may start to lead a team of five and then have more and more people working under them. 

“A good manager should be able to get staff to do well as a team. Don’t control everything tightly. There are a number of ways to get things done and it is not necessarily your way. As you move up, you will need to learn how to get results through others.” 

 Constandis advises young executives to take the initiative to find a balance between work and life. “When you are young, you cannot forget to have fun. You have to take ownership of your work-life balance,” he says. 

“If you are under too much pressure, talk to your boss or your staff. Start finding a work-life balance when you start your career.”


David Thomas

Senior Vice-President of Human Resources, Asia, Manulife Financial Asia 

Having received mentoring from top management as a junior employee, Thomas understands the positive impact that shadowing programmes can bring to young people.

Starting out in the steel business in Britain, Thomas had the opportunity to attend senior management meetings. “I was lucky to be able to shadow not only one [executive], but a group of senior people. I was the junior person in the room, taking minutes of meetings. I was able to see people who were much older than me running the organisation. 

“The experience accelerated my growth and helped me get prepared for bigger roles in the future,” he says. 

As one of the supporting executives for the Shadow a CEO Programme, Thomas says the experience will be an invaluable opportunity for students to see senior leaders in action and gain insights on how they should plan their future careers. 

Students can get a taste of what it is like to be in a senior position in a global organisation, according to Thomas, who plans to take them to management meetings.

“They will be coming with me to meetings with other department heads. There will be face-to-face meetings and video-conferencing with senior people from other parts of the world, giving students the experience of operating in a modern-day global workplace.”

He says the students’ participation can also benefit his firm. “I am also looking for students to provide insights on a global project that I have been working on.” 

Thomas advises students to research the company’s history, values and business-performance history online in order to get the most out of the three-day experience.

The students can find information on the company’s organisation, history, value and business performance online.

“I hope students will engage themselves fully during their stay with me. I expect them to be curious and to ask as many questions as they can,” Thomas says.

He added it would also be beneficial for students to talk to families and friends who happen to be clients or employees of the company and have a deeper understanding of Manulife. 

For Thomas, a successful leader in the financial sector must be someone with strong principles who cares for the long-term interests of his clients and employees. “This is the lesson learned from the financial crisis – that leaders need to focus on the long-term sustainability of business. The industry also wants leaders who are willing to interact with the community and foster positive relationships with regulators and the government,” he says. 

When it comes to managing people, Thomas stresses the importance of leaders being approachable. “In the workplace, a leader will be working with generations X, Y and Z – and there are many baby boomers who are still working. Leaders need to be able to interact with people from different generations,” he says.


William Yeung

CEO, Hong Kong Broadband Network 

Whatever your role is at work, have the mindset of an entrepreneur. This is the message William Yeung, CEO of Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN), has for the students he will be mentoring in the Shadow a CEO Programme. 

Yeung says the key to his success has been inspiring staff at all levels to apply entrepreneurship to their jobs. He believes the aspiring executives can learn to do the same. 

 “I hope the young people do not come in with the mindset that they are working in a nine-to-six job. Successful people need to take the initiative to do their best – as if they are running their own business. I believe that in every role, staff can be entrepreneurs,” he says. 

Although Yeung has not participated in a mentorship programme before, he believes it is a valuable experience for young executives. “I wish I had the chance to receive mentoring. If I had a mentor, I guess I would have saved a lot of time trying to figure things out on my own,” he says. 

“I have planned a series of lectures and activities for the students for them to gain insights on how to lead a business,” he adds.

To begin with, Yeung plans to explain to students the situation in the broadband business. He will teach them about the HKBN business model, competition in the industry and the operation of various departments. 

Yeung says he is looking forward to guiding young people through practical experience. Each student will visit one of the departments to observe. They will then be asked to share with Yeung their suggestions on how each department can improve its operations. 

“I will give feedback on the students’ proposals. Through the process, I hope I can provide them with my business insights and help enhance their entrepreneurship,” he says. 

Students will also get to know the working culture of HKBN during their stay. Yeung says the company offers a liberal working culture that gives staff the freedom to achieve on their own. 

“I always tell my staff to do the right things instead of doing things right. At HKBN, there is no structured career path; people will not be promoted to a certain position after a certain number of years. Staff with good performance will be rewarded. Being result-oriented is part of our culture,” he says.

Yeung advises students that there are many steps they can take to prepare for the programme. At the very minimum they should do research on the company and adopt the right mindset. “I expect students to look up the company’s website. When they are assigned a task, I hope they can think from the receiver’s point of view as they work on it. 

“Every employee is part of a team and they should think not only of their own benefits, but what benefits the team.” 


Jonathan Zeman

CEO, Lan Kwai Fong Group 

Having his father, Allan, one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, as his mentor was the best “Shadow a CEO” experience for Zeman. “I had the great opportunity to shadow my father – the ultimate entrepreneur – for the first few years of my career. It was a great learning experience. I call this the university of LKF,” he says. 

That experience helped accelerate his growth and enabled him to see the bigger picture. “My father leads by example and he is very good at what he does. Attending meetings and being involved with the decision-making early on has spurred my growth as an entrepreneur,” he says.

Zeman hopes to bring some of this mentorship to the Shadow a CEO Programme to help inspire the candidates to find the right direction in their careers. 

Successful candidates will get an opportunity to see an overall picture of the LKF Group. They will be involved in the daily operations of each department and, most importantly, spend some time with Zeman in meetings and strategic planning sessions to get insights on how a CEO leads his business. 

To help the candidates settle in, %a few heads of departments will help look after them. The heads of core departments, including marketing, leasing and property development, will give them guidance and coaching so they can gain insight into the group’s corporate culture and daily operations. 

Students will also have a chance to follow Zeman around to know more about a life as CEO. 

Zeman says it will be a fruitful experience for candidates. “I hope they will hone their communication skills and learn how business meetings should run. Also, they will learn multi-tasking, problem-solving and independence – all in ad hoc settings,” he says. 

Since it is only a three-day programme, Zeman encourages students to find out about the company beforehand and take lots of notes, “both mental and literal”, during their stay. “Researching our different business units will be key if they are to gain a deep understanding about the company,” he says.

As a leading player in the entertainment field, Zeman says creativity is the heart and soul of his business. He puts forward three important aspects of creativity that leaders in the entertainment industry should address: how to get the best creativity out of their team; how to manage creative personalities; and how to maximise creativity within a budget. 

He adds that a CEO in the entertainment business must be creative, be at the forefront of creativity, and always be thinking about the next big thing.

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