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Sifting trainees for top talent

Published on Thursday, 01 Sep 2011
Manager Molly Lam (front right) with recent trainees Jacqueline Ng (left) and Winter Chan.
Photo: Warton Li

The food and beverage (F&B) sector is a fast-moving and high-volume business. Maxim's Caterers, which opened its first restaurant in 1956, is one of the largest F&B corporations in Hong Kong, serving around 600,000 meals a day.

Maxim's needs employees who can pay attention to every detail without missing a beat, who put customers first and have leadership skills. They should also be innovative to ensure that the company can continue to renew and modernise itself. These high requirements led Maxim's to set up its own management training programme three years ago.

"For us, this programme is a business initiative. Our chairman is the programme sponsor and the core management team is responsible for the training. We report back to the steering committee [of general managers] and adjust the content of the training to meet business needs," explains Molly Lam, Maxim's division manager of cakes and bakery.

The company receives around 1,300 applications every year for six positions, and has several rounds of interviews, taking up to five months to make a final decision.

First, an aptitude test is taken to check the applicants' personality and language proficiency in Cantonese, English and Putonghua.

Shortlisted candidates go through a panel interview and finalists have a roundtable discussion with the general managers of the steering committee to assess their knowledge and passion for food and service.

The programme revolves around the trainees' specific interests, but they will all have on-the-job training in three to four different business units, plus structured classes teaching soft skills and industry knowledge.

"You will learn how to run a business on a smaller scale. You will know more about the market, consumer needs, supply chain management, forecast, finance, sales information, human resources and staff motivation. This is what I still do, but on a larger scale," says Lam.

After a year, trainees become ready to execute complicated tasks.

Winter Chan, who discovered her love for cooking when she was studying in Australia, was attached to group procurement and worked on her project in Hong Kong and China.

"I learned the supply chain from sourcing, how to improve the production line, how to find inefficiencies, balance the workload of staff, and make production effective," says Chan, who joined last year. "The attachment was a real challenge. Their language and culture are different. They think differently. I had to learn to communicate and develop relationships with them to find out what they think."

Jacqueline Ng, who also joined last year, was tasked with organising a week's events - some 500 to 600 learning opportunities - at Maxim's new training centre, the Learning Café.

"I was very honoured to manage the week's events, liaise with internal and external parties, and take on a leadership role. It taught me communication skills and time management," Ng says.

Trainees can look forward to becoming shop managers. And around 10 to 15 years down the road, they might just become the general manager of a production line.  

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