Preach what you practice

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2007, 12:00am


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Peter Wong has a passion for passing on his knowledge

Every senior executive has an alter ego, the person they might have become in another era or by making one or two different decisions at life's defining moments. Some clearly had the potential to be generals or ministers while others, judging by the antics at annual company dinners, still believe there is hope for them as a rock star or stand-up comedian.

For Peter Wong Tung-shun, executive director of HSBC with responsibility for the bank's Hong Kong and China business, that alternative calling would almost certainly have been in academia.

'I have always had a passion to share knowledge,' Mr Wong said. 'I want to pass on my experience and share what I know in terms of technology and overall global development.'

His first full-time job was lecturing on the role of computers in business and, even now, he finds time to act as an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University, and to address classes at Peking and Tsinghua universities.

'I lecture now and then and also teach youth organisations a couple of times a year,' he said. 'I like to use simple language to teach a hard topic. A lot of professors are bright, but not able to teach, because they think everyone is at their level.'

Mr Wong claimed to be 'not particularly bright' as a youngster but he went to Montreal for his final year of high school and subsequently completed a BSc and MSc in computer science and an MBA in marketing and finance at Indiana University in the United States.

'At that time computers were a big deal. But there was an obvious gap between management and people in the computer departments. I wanted to be able to talk to both sides.'

After a stint teaching in the US, cut short by visa restrictions, he returned to Hong Kong in the late '70s and joined the regional head office of Exxon Chemicals as a business analyst. However, wanting more day-to-day involvement, he accepted a friend's advice and moved to Citibank after about 12 months, and was to remain there for 17 years, ultimately directing sales, services and operations for North Asia.

During one period of enforced staff cutbacks, he had to sit through numerous exit interviews. This brought home vividly the extent to which the decisions of senior executives affected the lives of individuals, their families and maybe whether they would be able to pay their children's school fees.

'It taught me that senior staff need to consider the facts very hard and be responsible for the decisions we make.'

Along the way, he also learned that success in any organisation depended on gaining the trust of management.

'It takes time. People will observe your performance and attitude. You must remember 'company first, self second' and have to think about ways to help the company grow.' Ready for a new challenge, Mr Wong joined Standard Chartered in 1997 and, over the course of eight years, adapted to a different, more British, corporate culture and won promotion to the position of director for Greater China.

Since taking on his current role with HSBC in 2005, he has set himself clear priorities. 'Professionally, I want to lay the groundwork for the transformation of [the business in] China. You don't get too many chances in a lifetime to do something like that.'

It is a complex task, but boils down to getting the fundamentals right. They include making sure people can take pride in the organisation, providing reasonable incentives, and having a positive attitude towards work and life in general. 'I would like to share my knowledge with the up-and-coming generation. And hope I can get more of my friends to do the same.'

This article is adapted from a speech delivered by Peter Wong at 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

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