Panasonic was founded in 1918, and is now one of Japan’s largest electronics group and in 2012 was its biggest corporate employer. It is one of the world’s top five television makers and one of the world’s top 20 semiconductor manufacturers.
Company with a cause
As vice-chairman of Shun Hing Electronic Holdings, David Mong Tak-yeung expects to attend any number of lengthy meetings during the year with the management and corporate advisers to scrutinise budgets and sales projections, or formulate strategic plans.
However, one chance encounter a few months ago gave him a new insight into the overall state of the business.
It took place during lunch with his father William, who founded the company in 1953 and made it the sole distributor in Hong Kong of National Panasonic products. A fellow diner, middle-aged and prosperous, approached to ask if he had correctly recognised Mr Mong Snr.
Getting confirmation, he explained that, as one of the first students to graduate from the CCC Mong Man Wai College in Kwun Tong, he simply wanted to shake hands and say: 'Thank you for building my school'.
'My father was so happy, he talked to that man for 15 to 20 minutes,' Mr Mong said. 'He told me afterwards this little episode made his day. He really felt that he had helped someone, and it is that feeling that makes you want to continue to contribute.' Far more than most local enterprises, the group has made contributing central to its business philosophy. The corporate structure requires subsidiary operating companies to give 25 per cent of taxable profits - the maximum allowed under current Hong Kong accounting rules - to the Shun Hing Education and Charity Fund.
To date, donations totalling roughly HK$500 million have been given to a wide range of research, learning, conservation and medical causes.
'If the government allowed a higher percentage for tax deductible donations, we would be able to contribute a bit more,' Mr Mong said.
He explained that running the business came down to two core objectives. The first was to provide products which could give customers generally happier and healthier lives. The second was to train employees to be well-balanced individuals with strong values and an interest in helping others.
'The management philosophy is that everyone should be socially responsible,' Mr Mong said. 'Companies must contribute to society through their activities; for us, it is charity from a businessman's perspective.' In terms of administration, the fund's executive committee meets every six months to evaluate and approve projects. Generally, donations are made with no strings attached and, where possible, to schemes that emphasise education and involvement.
For example, scholarships have been set up at every university in Hong Kong and a considerable sum is given to backing research in science, advanced engineering and nano-technology.
'With research projects that 'make it', there is real satisfaction,' Mr Mong said. 'It is like seeing children grow.'
He maintains a strong interest in technology, having graduated with a BSc in electrical engineering from UCLA in 1984. Soon afterwards, he found himself in Osaka learning the ins and outs of the family business.
'My father sort of planned it that way,' he said. 'I was prepared to look for a job outside, but he asked me to attend a Panasonic policy meeting in Japan. I found it interesting and ended up staying for four years.' First, he had to master the language before going on to absorb vital lessons about marketing, product development and Japanese business ethics.
'The first year was pretty tough,' he said. 'But the good thing was that the company put me into their male dormitory, so I was able to make friends and learn the language in a more informal way.'
He also sees the importance of teamwork and how much more could be achieved when people worked well together. '[Nothing] is a one-company or one-man job,' he said. 'That's why we are trying to move all our staff in the same direction to make them good workers and good citizens.'
This article is adapted from a speech delivered by Mr David Mong in a recent CUHK EMBA Forum. The EMBA Forum is conducted regularly to provide a valuable opportunity for EMBA participants and alumni to interact with key leaders
I admire Zhou Enlai. He was a hard worker behind the scenes and I see myself as something like that.
I like to watch action movies to take my mind off things. I'm a fan of Bruce Willis and Sandra Bullock, but my favourite film is Being There with Peter Sellers. It shows that good ideas can be very simple; it's all a matter of how you interpret them.
Sometimes when visiting primary schools in rural China, I take my kids with me, so they know how fortunate they are in life.
I recommend Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim Chan and Renee Mauborgne, which emphasises the importance in a competitive market of selling in a way that doesn't depend on cutting prices.