Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Leader with a can-do attitude

As chief executive of Fujitsu South China and Hong Kong, Yau Kan must make the regional business an integral part of the company’s global operations and ready to serve worldwide customers.

Kan began his IT career with ICL in London more than 30 years ago, playing a pivotal role in sales, marketing and management activities during the industry’s early days. Following an acquisition in 1997, he subsequently became head of the information system and services division for Fujitsu in Hong Kong, later establishing operation in South China and assuming his current position in 2009.

Kan, who holds a first class degree in computing and mathematics from the University of Hull in Britain, signed an agreement last year with the Guangdong Certification Authority for a joint investment in a new South China date centre. He talks to Jan Chan.

Which parts of the business give you most satisfaction?
This business is very complex and we are a global company. That’s why I need to act as both a hub and a gateway to follow through group objectives in the local business and, at the same time, to oversee the necessary flow of products and information. Asia generally and China in particular are the most exciting markets for the fast developing ICT industry. I am in charge of the China business and need to create the right synergy drawing on skills and knowledge from around the region and matching them with customer requirements. The satisfaction comes from seeing we can achieve our goals and provide the service levels clients expect.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a leader?
Leading a business, you must be able to anticipate outcomes, as a means to dividing responsibilities and encouraging teamwork. My role is to set the direction for mid- to long-term developments, which is always very challenging. To do that well, you have to be responsive and remember that we are not merely selling products, but aiming to be a genuine partner for our customers, providing solutions and meeting needs in changing market.

What does it take to get the best out of every individual?
To motivate a team, you must respect each of the individuals and create a sense of mutual trust. As a leader, I trust my colleagues 100 per cent and encourage them to feel the same way towards other members of the team. Other than that, I try to take the initiative in interacting with people, especially new joiners, because in any business, the personal touch is essential.

How difficult is it to maintain high ethical standards when doing business in China?
There has to be some flexibility when dealing with a different country or a different culture but, of course, your principles shouldn’t change. I’ve been doing business in China since 1997 and, generally, understand the mainland environment and the situations that can arise. For example, when negotiating a contract with a Chinese client, we may have differences of opinion over one of the terms or conditions. Our policy is to agree the broad concepts and then solve the smaller problems, while maintaining a high standard of ethics.

Where do companies typically go wrong when expanding in the mainland?
It is a continuous learning process. Some companies entering the China market see a population of 1.3 billion and allow that to affect their thinking about nominal values, potential market size and strategic plans. However, you can’t simply apply that kind of business formula. There have to be smaller targets and adjustments to your products, services, systems, and ways of delivering these to the Chinese consumer.

What do you think China will look like 10 years from now?
Based on current policies and the rate of progress, I believe the Chinese market will continue to grow significantly and is sure to play an ever more important role in the global economy. Last year, when I submitted an investment proposal to the company to establish a data centre in South China, one of my justifications was that I found local government officials had made perfect business sense throughout our meetings and discussions. This is a big step forward for the country and improvements like this are very impressive indeed. 
What do you find is the best way to handle criticism?
I never regard criticism as offensive or negative. In fact, it can provide new ideas and different perspectives that never previously occurred to me. Therefore, I am usually grateful if people criticise me and I consider their comments repeatedly.

Nowadays, what are the essential skills young people need to build a successful career?
From my own experience, they should be open to trying new things and taking on different tasks. That may mean accepting a heavier workload, seeing it as an investment, rather than getting upset about the extra hours or preferring to stay within their comfort zone. Every cloud has a silver lining, and by putting more into your job in the early days, you are likely to get more out of it in the long run.

Early lessons

  • Kan still uses mottos memorised in his younger days to guide his actions today
  • Is fascinated by technology and keeps closely in touch with new developments around the world
  • Maintains a sensible work-life balance to ensure sufficient time for his family responsibilities