Engaging 'hearts and minds'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am

Allen Lo joined UBS wealth management in 1997 and, 12 years later, is not only CEO of the bank's Hong Kong branch, but has also collected a series of other titles denoting diverse roles within the organisation and across the Asia-Pacific region. Based in Hong Kong, Lo focuses mainly on strategic business development, talent management, media relations and risk management. Previously, he spent 10 years with Citibank, including a stint in Atlanta, and, before that, was with Coopers & Lybrand in Canada for nine years, specialising in litigation support, business valuation and liquidations. Lo graduated in 1977 with a bachelor of commerce from Concordia University in Montreal and, in 2002, completed a global leadership programme at Harvard University. He talks to Jan Chan.

Which qualities have helped you become an effective leader?

The first thing is to make sure you keep learning in order to be an example for colleagues. As part of that, you have to listen to others, be open-minded and fair, and must always be ready to consider new perspectives and ideas. But being a leader also means you can't make everybody happy all the time, especially if resources are limited. So I don't aim to please everyone, but to act fairly and hope people will understand.

How do you get people to accept your vision?

There has to be a clear purpose shared with every team member. Then it is a question of engaging 'hearts and minds', so that roles are understood and people can work together. I expect different opinions and points of view and, during discussions, remind myself to listen more and speak less, focusing on what is needed to reach an agreement.

How do you get the best out of people?

We have a programme of 'stretch' assignments for high-potential individuals, involving them in a range of challenging projects. For example, when I was [UBS] country head in Hong Kong in 2000, one of my assignments was to handle the integration project for north Asia. I did this in addition to my normal day-to-day duties, but found it helpful in terms of career growth and showing other people my potential.

How do you motivate staff?

It is important for employees to see there are opportunities to grow in the company. You have to empower them and make them accountable. We have also introduced work-life balance programmes to help staff perform to a consistently high level.

Is it difficult to build loyalty when many people only think about the short-term?

Our approach is to give all employees a long-term objective. Although money is important, more essential is to provide a platform for people to prove their ability. A company should ensure there is a supportive environment, so staff can concentrate on their work without being sidetracked by office politics and other distractions. There should be training opportunities so people see they are making progress and realise they will keep learning.

How can banks regain public confidence?

I believe a transparent policy and system will help. It's our duty to help the public understand exactly what banks are doing by providing sufficient information. We must also keep improving our self-governance and capital management, upgrading our staff's skills and standards. We need to achieve a standard that goes well beyond simply complying with regulations and policies.

What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of today's recruits?

The young people working in UBS are more knowledgeable than I was when I was a fresh graduate. I can see they are very creative and have very ambitious goals. However, sometimes they are too impatient and keep multitasking, rather than investing time on one thing. My advice would be to slow down and listen to other ideas and viewpoints.

Exchanging ideas

Lo likes to talk openly over coffee with colleagues from different levels three or four times a month

He suggests that if someone is no longer making progress in his or her career, it is time for that person to go

He believes employers should encourage diversity to retain talent