Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Sr Thomas Ho, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, believes in a holistic approach to the profession

Though Sr Thomas K K Ho, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) humbly says he may not really qualify as a “high flyer”, his rich and comprehensive portfolio is concrete proof that he flies far, high and wide.

Having entered the University of Hong Kong in the mid-1970s, Ho graduated with a BA in architectural studies and building, acquiring a broad-based training and a specialisation that led to a career as a quantity surveyor. He started out at Levett & Bailey (currently known as Rider Levett Bucknall) in 1979 and rose through the ranks over three decades at leading civil engineering consultancy firms, including Montgomery Watson, Maunsell, Scott Wilson and Mott Connell until he joined TLS & Associates as managing director 10 years ago.

While building a successful career, he acquired two Masters degrees, in construction project management and arbitration and dispute resolution, the former winning him the Building Management Prize which was awarded to the best student of the course and the latter a distinction with an impressive A+ grade for his dissertation. As a fellow of China Engineering Cost Association, Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors and the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors and a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Ho is also an accredited mediator and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. His public service portfolio ranges from mutual aid in public housing, leadership training and development for youth to fighting for workers’ rights and, of course, his various posts at the HKIS for more than a decade.

Ho’s professional profile includes a compilation of milestone projects in Hong Kong. Among the multimillion to multibillion dollar projects he has worked on are the Stanley Area Sewerage and Sewage Treatment Project in the early 1990s – the first instance in Hong Kong where rock caverns were utilised to accommodate sewage treatment facilities,─a practice now being advocated by the Chief Executive in the latest policy address.

The Central Reclamation Phase 2 Project supplying land for Tamar where the central government offices are now located, United Christian Hospital extension, Yan Chai Hospital extension, Container Terminal 9, the River Trade Terminal and Lok Ma Chau Terminus are just some of the projects for the public good Ho has been involved in. As for preserving the city’s history, Ho was involved in the revitalisation of major historical buildings including the previous Legislative Council Building (now the Court of Final Appeal Building) and the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. The HSBC Main Building, at the time of its construction the world’s most expensive building, and a signature building cementing Hong Kong’s position as a global financial centre, was also one of the projects which Ho was proudly involved in. “The building has a unique and innovative conceptual design involving tailor-made building components and materials, and thus extremely complicated measurements and valuation,” he says. These are but a part of his accomplishments over a career of close to 40 years, in which he has handled hundreds of projects.

“I am glad that my university education with fellow architects gave me the skills to communicate with practitioners of related industries,” says Ho. “My training in building, project management and quantity surveying suits my interests in science, mathematics, measurements, contract administration, tendering and documentation, as well as handling conflicts.” As a committed professional, he studies project management, arbitration and relevant laws. “I like to expand my knowledge base to cover all aspects of my surveying work whenever possible.”

Having conducted award-winning research on leadership skills for his MSc in construction project management, Ho shares his insights in relation to construction. Both autocratic and democratic leaders can be successful, he says, as long as there is a “best fit” approach – meaning that the leader, subordinates, tasks and environment are aligned to achieve the best results. Applying this to the construction industry, a leader can have different styles in different situations, such as being democratic in the pre-contract stage and autocratic in post-contract stage, or assuming a directive role with external subordinates and having a participative style when engaging internal subordinates.

“Similarly, the ‘best fit’ approach applies to negotiation: some people are motivated by money and others by close relationships and sincerity. The principle is to provide the best outcome for each party and increase their joint gain. Things to remember include being easy on people but tough on problems, focusing on interests and inventing options for mutual gain,” comments Ho, whose research for his MA in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution is highly regarded. In construction, he says that a combination of collaboration and competition are used by project leaders to different degrees during the pre-contract, tendering and post-contract stages to efficiently achieve desired outcomes.

Practising what he preaches at work, Ho has resolved disputes between employees by identifying respective interests and misunderstandings, reaching common ground, discussing disputes in both private and joint sessions, encouraging both parties to express concerns and grievances, and using a relaxed environment to resolve the conflict. Most importantly, he says, mutual trust needs to be built all along.

“Leadership and negotiation skills are all interrelated and applicable to our profession,” Ho notes. Referring to Hong Kong’s current environment, he thinks surveyors can help sway the public about viable ways of increasing land and housing supply by presenting facts and figures, correcting inaccurate and negative messages to counterbalance extreme points of views, including the misconception that many practitioners are involved in bid rigging. As well as facilitating a better social environment for surveyors to do their jobs, Ho as the current HKIS President is keen on building the Institute’s brand and accentuating the industry’s voice. He also aims to nurture young professionals, substantiate industry research, expand the Institute’s membership and explore ways of securing a permanent office for it.

One of his key missions is to leverage global, mainland and local opportunities for the profession. “With global visions, China connections and international accreditations, surveyors in Hong Kong have plenty of opportunities. The vibrant property market and construction industry keeps us busy. This is especially so as Belt and Road opens markets for us, and as local ageing blocks call for renovation and urban renewal.”

As an assessor for Assessment of Professional Competence and a former specialist lecturer in surveying, Ho gives advice to young surveyors. “Broaden your knowledge and experience beyond your core competence, so that you know how to handle emergency situations.We encourage aspiring professionals to work at companies that provide exposure to diverse experiences, rather thanbecoming too specialised in one aspect too early.”

Ho demonstrates depth and width with his own experience. He acquired aptitude and leadership skills not just from school, but through a wide scope of community services from a young age. They range from being a venture scout and serving as vice-chairman of Tin Wan Estate’s mutual aid committee during adolescence, to chapter president of Junior Chamber International Hong Kong as a young professional where he drafted community care plans to deal with youth, elderly and social problems. As chairman of the resident site staff association in 2005, he played a pivotal role in protecting workers’ rights and in successfully fighting against Type-C Terms of employment (non-civil service contract terms) and the delinking proposal from government master pay scales. Currently, he is a member of the Aviation Development and Three-runway System Advisory Committee and a co-opted member of the Committee on Construction Procurement of Construction Industry Council.

“Young people should reach out, serve the community and seek what is best for their industries. It is also from here that one learns to communicate with people from different walks of life and with varying points of view –  these are crucial to our jobs as surveyors,” Ho reiterates.


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as All that he surveys.