Respect paves way for a successful life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am

Ask Sunny Cheung for advice on how to succeed in the financial sector or life in general and he offers a single word: respect. There may be many other worthy attributes required, but respect is the platform that all other skills need to be based on.

Cheung, Visa's country manager for Hong Kong and Macau, said he learned how important respect was at the start of his career. Having lost both his parents at an early age, and without a university education, he needed to work to support himself and so took a low-level job in a bank.

'I suppose, if I am really honest, in the beginning it was just a job and a means to earn a living,' Cheung said. However, encouraged by a caring supervisor and role model, who was himself admired for his respect of others, Cheung was able to see career possibilities, provided he explored his own potential and respected others.

'I would not be able to do my job in the way I do without respecting others and having earned the respect of other people,' said Cheung, who believes study, hard work and perseverance are sometimes mistaken for good luck.

Seven months into his new role with Visa, Cheung likes to see people with less money in their pockets, but for all the right reasons. He believes electronic transactions using Visa as the intermediary for day-to-day items could save money by cutting down the cost of merchant-to-merchant transactions.

'Think about it. We take cash from an ATM machine, use it to pay for items and the cash then has to travel through a multiple handing system until it arrives back at a bank. With Visa, there is one transaction, which also makes it easier for cardholders to keep track of their spending,' Cheung said.

He is not advocating that cardholders should spend more, or increase their levels of borrowing, but simply use their Visa card as a lifestyle choice.

In keeping with a personal passion for soccer, Cheung said Visa was launching an online Fifa World Cup branded educational video game as the centrepiece of a commitment to help people with financial literacy. The firm has also launched an online currency of progress, featuring testimonials demonstrating how Visa empowers the lives of people around the world.

'The idea is to strengthen Visa's position as a good tool for lifestyle management,' Cheung said. 'We work closely with partners, cardholders, banks and governments to make sure we provide convenient processing services and payment product platforms,' he said.

With more than 30 years in the banking industry, including five years as managing director and head of consumer banking for DBS in Southern China, Cheung said his former industry rivals had now become partners and stakeholders. In some cases, he recruited the professionals he now does business with as fresh graduates. As a senior manager with an international bank, it was part of Cheung's responsibility to recruit top graduates from American universities. He was also involved in recruiting top talent from Hong Kong universities.

'It is one of the rewarding aspects of my job that the people I met many years ago have progressed in their careers and remain close friends. To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people. They have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you and to build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust,' he said.

Cheung also worked for Dao Heng Bank, where he was responsible for the integration of its consumer banking business before it was acquired by DBS Bank. He also spent 26 years with Citibank, where he was general manager of card business and responsible for spearheading the business in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

To balance the effects of the frequent business lunches he is obliged to attend, Cheung plays tennis and spends time in the gym.

Having witnessed the electronic card business grow in sophistication and develop exponentially, he has developed his own style of management. For example, he prefers face-to-face meetings instead of e-mails. He is also mindful of the way he uses his Blackberry. 'I think it is disrespectful if you read or send text messages while someone is making a presentation or talking to you,' he said.

He has even developed his own low-key approach to management-employee engagement. Rather than opt for jargon-laden meetings inspired by the latest human resources psychology, late on Friday afternoons Cheung invites colleagues to join him in the boardroom, where they relax over a glass of wine and an informal chat.

'I don't think there is much to be gained from acting like the big boss. Work should be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun. We should celebrate success,' said Cheung, who hopes he has earned the respect of his colleagues.

Work philosophy

Respect is the key to forming strong work partnerships and long-term relationships

Study, hard work and perseverance are sometimes mistaken for good luck

Informal gatherings and one-on-one meetings work better than rigid systems

Work should be fun and success should be celebrated