'Never give up, nothing is impossible'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2008, 12:00am

Driving force behind RoadShow attributes her success to perseverance and belief in ability to make things happen

One tough but unacknowledged challenge executives face as they climb the corporate tree is the transition from operator to entrepreneur. Having spent years following instructions or just occasionally tinkering with the system to find cost savings and efficiencies, they are suddenly pitched into an unfamiliar environment.

Transformed by a different job title or organisational reshuffle, they are expected all at once to be endlessly innovative, adept at developing untapped markets, and skilled in creating new income streams. For many managers, the experience can be sobering. It was one, though, that Winnie Ng, founder and vice-chairman of RoadShow Holdings, the company providing on-screen entertainment on local bus routes, took in her stride.

Ms Ng readily admits that launching the company in 2001 was against the odds. Her background with KMB had been in traditional bus operations, and while, as commercial director, she learned about the world of advertising, this was scant preparation for finding investors and establishing a new venture of a kind then untried anywhere else in the world.

The basic plan was to offer a one-hour loop of on-board TV programming split into three-minute items and interspersed with advertisements. It was prompted by various factors, most notably the need to remain competitive, boost revenue, capitalise on the growing interest in outdoor advertising and, if possible, the chance to add a 'splash of excitement' for people travelling by bus.

'KMB was behind it, but we faced lots of resistance,' Ms Ng said. 'Back then at the time of the dotcom boom, all the major investment banks I talked to said the concept was not sexy enough. They said it was too realistic and the P/Es (price-to-earnings ratios) were not big enough. I almost gave up, but that is not in my personality, so I kept knocking on doors [and we eventually] listed on the main board.'

She learned that there was no great mystery to the role of entrepreneur. Making a success of it was a matter of hard work, common sense, identifying and acting on trends affecting the industry, listening to experts and focus groups, and having determination. Creativity obviously played a part, but that often sprang from the other factors or from simple observation.

'The main lesson is to never give up; nothing is impossible,' Ms Ng said. 'You must persevere and believe in yourself. As times change, things will come to be seen differently, so you need an open mind and an open heart to believe everything is possible.'

She noted that it was also important to view management as a journey. This helped to maintain momentum, ideas and earnings. RoadShow reported a profit of about HK$50 million last year, up 60 per cent from the previous year, and with a firm foundation in place, Ms Ng felt the potential for growth was unlimited.

Specifically, the company was looking to provide programming for bus networks in China, offer content for mainland TV channels, enhance interactive capabilities for passengers in Hong Kong, and extend the reach of mass media advertisers.

'The next big ambition is to have real-time news and expand the network with the use of satellites, wi-fi, digital broadcasting, and new services for other modes of transport - air, sea and maybe taxis,' she said. 'Many companies from around the world have been to talk to me about introducing similar services.' While aware that not every passenger is a fan of on-board entertainment, Ms Ng is able to see the positives in getting a certain amount of negative feedback.

'If not everyone likes it, I think that's a good thing,' she said. 'Advertising is about different views, so when you get 'sparks', you learn about your audience base and what they like. That's marvellous. If people complain, it is a sign they care. You can then find out about their needs and improve your service.' Her advice for managers hesitant about taking on a new venture is clear.

'Your experience may have put you on a certain track, but with the world changing so fast, you should believe in yourself and not set limits.'

This article is adapted from a speech delivered by Winnie Ng 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

Personal file

I do a lot of community work - fund-raising, visiting and coming up with recommendations and plans for volunteering. Because I am very focused, if I'm concentrating on that it is a way of taking a break from thinking about day-to-day work. Even after so many years, I still get scared every time I see Alien. During the Olympics, I will try to watch the diving and the gymnastics which are both such graceful sports. One of the books recommended for my MBA course at the University of Chicago was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is a very simple story about a young boy pursuing his dreams but contains the essence of so many things, especially about learning on your journey through life.