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'Making' your own people

Published on Friday, 18 Nov 2011
Margaret Cheng
Head of corporate human resources, Towngas
Photo: Thomas Yau


As the city's oldest public utility, the Hong Kong Gas Company - commonly known as Towngas - provides a comprehensive range of products and services. We currently have more than 2,300 employees in Hong Kong and 120 joint ventures in 20 mainland provinces.  


Because Towngas provides a unique offering, especially in the non-generic parts of our business, we have to train or, indeed, "make" our own people to take the company forward.

First and foremost, safety is at the core of everything we do and ingrained across all of our systems and processes. We must also ensure our programmes and strategies align with business objectives and achieve the outcomes expected by our employees, clients and various stakeholders. And to build a workforce that can navigate through the ages, it is crucial to recognise our employees' achievements, nurture respect and integrity, and encourage continuous learning, entrepreneurial spirit and teamwork.

To build a sustainable workforce, one must recruit the right people. We are clear about the type of people we want. Most importantly, they must fit our company culture. For instance, our graduate training programme annually attracts about a thousand applicants, from which we select about five - and it is not always the most academically talented who get selected. 


Our seeding system focuses on independently minded individuals who show empathy towards others, often through voluntary work, and an ability to be a team player. When recruiting technicians, we note that many of our employees will visit our clients' homes, so they must be clean-cut and uphold our strict guidelines.

Not simply saying we care but showing we care about our staff is also an integral part of building loyalty. Our aim is to maintain a culture of wen xin - the Chinese concept of taking care or creating a warm family-feeling.

In recognition of implementing family-friendly employment policies and core values, Towngas was the only public utility to be given a Distinguished Family-Friendly Employer Award by the Family Council. 

Career development 

As part of our planning ahead, we have implemented a number of practical programmes to provide a ready source of expertise. In addition to technical training, apprentice technicians learn from experienced professionals. In a similar way, graduate management trainees are mentored by senior management staff members.

But simply introducing programmes without clear objectives does not work. For instance, to evaluate the need and suitability of our leadership strategies, our managers have taken part in leadership assessment.

Recently, Towngas received a BEST award from the American Society for Training and Development, the world's largest association dedicated to workplace learning and professional development. We were recognised for our enterprise-wide successes from our employee learning and development programmes in our China operations. We believe the award reaffirms that our corporate culture and efforts to ensure the excellence of our human resources practices are on the right path. 


Based on feedback from focus groups, external parties, key clients and government, we have established our "Towngas Leadership Competency Plus" model, designed to help our managers to thrive and survive in the industry. Participants attend leadership forums and workshops covering management, political acumen, and positive-influencing execution skills. Over the years, our activities have expanded from gas supply to water enterprises, midstream and upstream gas business, and new energy. Hence, developing and maintaining a sustainable workforce is an integrated process that covers many areas, including accountability, creativity, leadership and open communication.

Our "Key Management Focus", for example, is designed to drive new projects across functions and regions. We have also had notable success and positive feedback from our "Superior Quality Service" programme, a bottom-up process improvement tool initiated by non-management staff. Launched in 2008, our "Talent Acceleration Programme" is another vehicle we use to expose our next generation of managers to a broad scope of learning experiences.

The future  

The learning and knowledge sharing plays a strategic role in our current and long-term aim of maintaining a sustainable workforce. As our mainland business continues to grow, cross-border knowledge sharing and exchange programmes are extremely useful to meet the increasing complexities of our business.

A good example is our "Seeing is Believing" programme, which involves Towngas employees, through example, instilling the basic concepts of safety to new mainland employees and customers. We also provided cross-border experience through our "Executive Development Programme 2009", developed in conjunction with and held at Tsinghua University, with senior executives from Hong Kong and the mainland. 

The success of talent and skills development programmes can be measured in many different ways. We believe our relatively low employee turnover rate is a positive indicator that staff see a bright future with us. The fact that our staff recommend family and friends as possible Towngas employees is another indication we offer attractive long-term career opportunities.

Margaret Cheng, head of corporate human resources, Towngas

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