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Starting afresh

Published on Friday, 14 Sep 2012
Carol Wong and Vitus Wong say knowing the business is a must.
Photo: Gary Mak

Few people have the chance to follow a new passion once they reach mid-career and discover they are stuck in jobs that may not have fulfilled their early hopes.

Every year, Maxim’s Group runs an executive manager programme that offers a few talented individuals the chance to start a new and exciting career, while building on the experience they have acquired in different industries and fields. The programme lets them familiarise themselves with a totally new industry for two years on full salary, before jumping in at the deep end.

The scheme benefits the company by building up a pool of talent which offers different skills and looks at things with fresh eyes.

“We started the programme a year ago. There is a finite talent pool in every industry, and that is especially true of food and beverage [F&B]. To expand our talent pipeline, we decided to tap into other industries,” says Carol Wong, director of group human resources at Maxim’s Group.

Last year the company received about 200 applications, mostly from people who were at a turning point in their career. Based on a list of clear criteria, the human resources team whittled the number down to 12, who then received personal attention and face-to-face interviews.

“We have a long list of criteria. Nobody is perfect – but we are getting people close to it,” says Wong.

Candidates must have over eight years’ work experience and have already developed their management style. They should know how to deal with people at all levels, be flexible and make the right decisions. Ethics and principles are also very important.

The company decided not to follow the job-rotation style of typical management trainee programmes. After casual introductions to the heads of different business units, new hires are anchored in one division for 18 to 24 months. The choice of division depends on the company’s business needs, what food the candidate likes and what plays to their strengths.

Most learning happens on the job, with the general manager facilitating the process.

Executive manager Vitus Wong, who joined the programme nine months ago, is attached to the company’s Japanese chain restaurants. He says the most important thing for him is learning about the industry and its main players, as it differs significantly from the telecoms industry he worked in before. In F&B, teamwork and understanding what happens on the frontlines is more important for success on the job.

“I was assigned to a store to learn what colleagues go through and what the managers’ responsibilities are. Having worked with the team, if I have a new project, I can get first-hand input from them,” he says.

Wong also shadowed his boss and worked with district managers overseeing groups of stores, as well as with cross-functional departments, such as procurement, where he went to Japan every three months to visit suppliers and sample food.

“Eating so much was a challenge. Every meal involved many courses,” Wong says.

Wong has already added value to the group by creating an iPhone app for lunch and dinner crowds that allows them to virtually queue for a table in the restaurant. He is also assisting the company’s mainland China strategy.

“When I see something that brings value to the company, I feel very excited about it,” he says.

He points to a passion for the F&B industry, an understanding of people and an appreciation for what they are doing as crucial to settling in and being successful in the job.
Carol Wong adds that the key is, ultimately, respect for people and cultural sensitivity, by understanding how different parts of the business work and what support individuals need.


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