Q&A: Industry needs goals and support
What can be done to strengthen Hong Kong's technical industries? Hong Kong has good technical people and university graduates with a drive to learn, but we must provide a platform for them to practise what they know, otherwise they will all just go into sales. I think the government can stimulate the development of technology and industry by taking a good chunk of money to support patents, which will encourage people to innovate. They should also try to purchase products developed locally to create further incentive. Some officials are listening, but I'm urging senior decision-makers to stand up and make those commitments. We must set goals.
Do you feel the authorities are getting the message about the environment?
We read about the water, power supply and labour problems in China, and these are symptoms of a system being overexerted, with resources running out. If we don't do something, it cannot be sustained. Fortunately, last year, we saw a change of attitude towards what we were preaching. China as a government is looking at this much more seriously, particularly driven by the Olympics. They want to have a good image and this is having an impact, even on factories in the south. The leadership in China is really looking at how to create a sustainable country, so we have to give them credit for that.
How do you keep people motivated and find ways to innovate? You have to understand human behaviour. People do things because they find a reason to listen, so you need some understanding of psychology. I've found that a knowledge of Freud and classical conditioning can be applied to the business world. Whenever I come to a point where I'm puzzled, I fall back on basic human instincts, or might even ask myself what a tiger or some other animal would do in that situation. In order to innovate, you need to look beyond the system. Education is important, but you shouldn't be too 'programmed'. What I do is mostly intuitive and based on my own feelings.
Which early experiences did most to shape your outlook? When I first went to the US, I had to pay my own tuition and living expenses and, at 17, was working 40 hours a week, as well as attending college full-time to become an industrial engineer. I picked all the classes between 7am and midday, and from 1pm to 10pm was a lifeguard and did maintenance for the parks and recreation department in Los Angeles. I had to plan my own future, which made me mature much earlier. Among the things I learned were that, if you want success, there is no substitute for hard work; you should practise what you preach in order to build up credibility; and we all have to be salespeople one way or another, whether we like it or not.
Who strikes you as having great leadership skills? Hong Kong has many good business leaders, but if there is one person I really look up to, it has to be Steve Jobs. He creates and inspires. Just look at the Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. He has been able to come up with ideas that no one else even dares to dream about. Every business organisation needs creative spirits among its leaders, people like him who can see new ways of solving problems and understand instinctively what the market will want.