Career Advice Job fairs and Events

Sharing secrets of success

Captains of industry gave expert advice at the Career Forum 

In a series of CEO sharing sessions held during the Classified Post Career Forum on March 4, high-fliers from banking, accounting and engineering shared with attendees the keys to career success.

Banking, one of the core sectors of Hong Kong’s economy, attracts top students from across the city. Patrick Ip, deputy chief executive of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia), stressed that for a banker, having integrity and the right attitude is more important than achieving academic excellence.

“When I was a junior, I received a call from the board member of another bank, requesting me to give a presentation to him on a proposal. Many would have thought this a golden opportunity to enhance my career, but I declined. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to climb the career ladder, but I had to think of the bank I was working for. If I had given that presentation, I would have betrayed my bank. I may have got a promotion, but I would have lost my integrity forever,” he said.

Ip added that banks are looking for people with passion. “You could not have a banking career, or be successful in any career, without passion. [When I was] vice-president, I tried hosting an early-morning meeting with staff to discuss major events in banking. I asked staff if they were willing to come to work 30 minutes earlier once a week to meet me. Only about half said yes. I think those who said no should reconsider whether banking is the right career for them. If you want to be successful, you need to be willing to go the extra mile,” he said.

Ip suggested that when making career choices, jobseekers should consider roles with mainland-based banks. “It is a fact that local banks are the most successful in their home countries. Hong Kong is in a unique situation, with foreign banks leading the way because of our colonial history, but things are starting to change. We are part of the mainland and Chinese banks are gradually expanding their role in Hong Kong,” he said.

“I predict that the banking industry will be more regionalised in future, because every country has its own regulatory system. It will be difficult for banks to thrive in many countries. I think only a handful of big banks will be able to operate globally; others will focus on serving regional markets.”

Carrie Leung, CEO of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB), said the industry welcomes graduates from all backgrounds. “Personal qualities such as problem-solving abilities, communication skills and integrity are what we look for in candidates. If you do not have a banking education, you can sign up for courses at the HKIB. Remember that opportunities are only for those who come prepared,” she said.

Forum attendees also got to hear insights on the future of the accounting profession from several industry leaders, who pointed out that today’s accountants need to take businesses to a higher level.

Richard Tse, vice-president of finance and corporate services at Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, said accountants need to be able to handle non-financial work if they want to move up. “For example, I have to look at the park’s development plan, come up with strategies to incorporate green and social-responsibility elements into its operation, and promote Hong Kong as an innovation hub. When I first started as an accountant, I could never have imagined working on these three items,” he said.

Tse added that young accountants should keep an eye on the finance and business pages in newspapers and to read prospectuses for IPOs to build business sense.

Philip Tsai, audit partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, said the services offered by accounting firms have become much more diverse since he joined the industry 30 years ago. “When I first started, more than 90 per cent of the jobs in accounting involved auditing. Now, accountants work on risk management, tax, mergers and acquisitions, and many other issues. This shows you how diverse the industry has become over the years,” he said.

Although there are many fields to explore in accounting, Tsai advised newcomers to start work in auditing. “It provides all-round training. Auditors know the operations of various businesses and learn to work with different people. Both are important skills for an accountant,” he said.

Accounting today has become more diverse, but working with numbers is still a major part of an accountant’s job. George Hongchoy, CEO of Link Management, thinks accountants should be more hands on. “My company manages many shopping malls. If there are renovation works in the malls, I always tell my colleagues to visit to see what kind of work is being carried out, instead of just referring to the figures. There is a story behind every number – accountants need to see things for themselves to get a clearer picture of what the numbers mean,” he said.

As the leader of an organisation, Hongchoy stressed the importance of setting the right direction and getting everyone to understand it. “I lead about 1,000 staff, and everyone has their own thinking. It will never work if you cannot get others to see things the way you do. This is a skill that has to be picked up through experience. Don’t be in a rush – work your way up step by step,” he said.

The career of an accountant is known to be demanding, with extremely long working hours. Hong-choy advised accountants to choose a company able to provide the best support. “When I say support, I am not talking about the number of training hours that the company offers you, but how well it takes care of you and your family,” he said.

Engineering, meanwhile, is a dynamic industry that requires professionals to upgrade and update their knowledge continuously. Raymond Chan, president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), said the institution provides various resources for engineers to gain more exposure. “Every year we organise several visits and overseas conferences for engineers to gain new inspiration in their careers,” he said.

The HKIE covers 21 sub-disciplines and Chan said young engineers should make up their mind which they want to join before starting their career. “Many young people find it confusing when they are supervised by someone who does not necessarily come from the sub-discipline that they are in. This is common in engineering, because as you move up to management, the skills are transferrable across disciplines. Management is getting things done through people, not getting things done by yourself,” he said.

Joseph Choi, vice-president of HKIE and managing director of Hsin Chong Construction Group, told young engineers to have a global vision if they want to be successful. “Globalisation is the trend. You are limiting yourself by being limited to Hong Kong,” he said.