IBM chief wants a 'smarter planet'
General manager Dominic Tong has overseen IBM's business operations and strategic development in Hong Kong since 2006. He started out with the company as a trainee systems engineer in the early 1980s, and subsequently gained experience in areas that included sales, branding and product management. A key step in 2000 was being appointed executive for the in-house systems group, handling server, storage and the printing business, which paved the way for further advancement. Tong also serves on the board of ETI Consulting, a firm set up by the University of Hong Kong, and is a member of the Vocational Training Council's committee on IT training and development. He talks to Jan Chan.
Which parts of the business give you the most satisfaction?
Over the years, I have worked in many different positions, but each one comes down to finding solutions and providing value for clients. Of course, there are plenty of challenges, whether convincing someone to adopt a certain solution, or in delivering the service successfully. I have always enjoyed the fact that the work is so customer-oriented. Achieving the right result for clients is something that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
What vision do you use to inspire staff?
The aim is to explain to customers the concept of a 'smarter planet'. By that, we mean that all companies should make understanding of technology and systems know-how an integral part of their business decision-making. The chief information officer should be just as important as the chief operating officer and chief financial officer in every corporation, and our whole group is promoting this vision.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a leader?
As part of a global enterprise, our team works on local business but must also collaborate closely with other IBM offices on various projects. That means I am not only responsible for managing employees in a single location, but may need to oversee work that involves numerous offices in different parts of the world, making things more complicated. If any arguments arise, my basic management philosophy is to focus on three principles: dedication to success for every client, supporting innovation that matters, and expecting trust and personal responsibility.
What does it take to get the best out of every individual?
One of my main responsibilities is to unlock people's potential. Each functional head helps by identifying staff with the potential to move ahead quickly. I act as mentor for about 10 employees every year. We meet regularly and don't just talk about business and work. The intention is to share opinions and discuss anything, so I can get to know them better and guide their overall development.
What is the best way to handle criticism?
The important thing, especially as a leader, is to handle it with an open mind and see what positives you can take from it. When someone criticises me, I find the best approach is not to let emotions get in the way, but to focus instead on where changes could help the business to run more effectively. It is best to listen to any criticism and accept it with respect.
How do you organise your time and deal with pressure?
The company doesn't expect employees to see work as a nine-to-five routine. We are used to flexible work patterns because we have to deliver a service for clients as required. I'll work at home in the evening or on weekends, but I can also take a break on weekdays. I'm ready to work after office hours if something is urgent, but I'm very conscious of the need to spend time with my family and relax.
Tong closely follows industry news to keep pace with changes in technology
Believes a key responsibility for any leader is to uphold the values of the company
Suggests corporations can do more to allocate tasks to different parts of the world with the necessary expertise