Revealing the spirit of give and take

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am

What does it take to maintain consistent corporate growth? There is a statement in our staff handbook reminding people that Rome wasn't built in a day. Over the past 50-plus years, we have not only grown the original agency, but also branched out into areas such as advertising and logistics in a vertically integrated group. To do that, you must have the trust of your customers, your staff and society at large. Profit will come as a reward for that, but let me stress that profit is not the only thing in business.

What has shaped your approach as a leader? My leadership style is to encourage teamwork and is the result of a combination of influences. There is my Chinese background, education in the United States, working for my father, and my exposure to the Japanese way of doing business. Business leaders of my father's generation mainly focused on how to make money, but we have to pass on a different message to staff about things such as total quality management and corporate social responsibility.

What 'return on investment' do you expect from the fund's donations? We don't want to just give money away - that is the easy part. It is also important for us to educate people about the spirit of give and take. The overall aim is to change attitudes and get staff and the general public involved in events such as tree planting, the Community Chest 10K run, or visiting the elderly. At the beginning, we had to push them to do it. I remember about 12 or 13 years ago, one of our staff asked me why the company gave so much money to charity instead of increasing bonus payouts. That rang a bell and made me realise we should not only give in monetary terms, but should involve staff personally. After participating in a few activities, they see what they can contribute and even start to initiate things themselves.

Can you give an example of when your instincts proved correct? When I rejoined the group in 1991, after getting my MBA, one of the toughest challenges was changing the mindset of some senior staff. Back then, we distributed to dealers who sold the products, and had no retail outlets of our own. I wanted to get closer to the end user and provide more options for customers. People queried the move, saying we would be competing directly with the dealers, but I knew that, sometimes, dealers only display what they think is sellable. Now we have nine stores in Hong Kong under two brands - Ninki Denki and Health One - and progress has been 'so far, so good'.

What are your major plans for taking the business forward? Allowing for trends, we target a minimum overall increase of 10 per cent per annum. We are quite optimistic about the coming two years because of digital broadcasting and the Olympics, which we hope will bring a boom, especially in the sales of flat-panel TVs. Our best selling items continue to be digital still cameras, air conditioners and rice cookers, but we will do more to promote health-related products like massage chairs and horse-riding simulators. There are likely to be more retail outlets, but rents are now so expensive that we are doing our numbers very carefully before opening up.