Stoking fires of entrepreneurial spirit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 February, 2011, 12:00am

Destined to take over the family business, Charles Law Ping-yip headed to the United States to get overseas experience after finishing secondary school. First, he attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he graduated with a bachelor of business administration. Then he worked in the marketing department of American Express in New York city for three years. He returned to Hong Kong several years later with his head full of exciting new ideas.

Law decided that an MBA would help him in his future career. He looked at the programmes on offer in Hong Kong. He settled on the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) because it had classes related to entrepreneurship.

'I looked at my career and I thought an MBA would help me advance, as I would take up a management role in this company,' Law says. He is general manager/executive director of Culture Technology, established by his father in 2004.

'I also took some leadership courses, which were quite helpful,' he says. 'I learned a lot on how to be an effective leader.' Law was surprised at the diversity that he found on the campus in Clear Water Bay. It was even more diverse than the university he had attended in the US.

As at many business schools, HKUST's MBA programme relies heavily on the case study method. This means putting students into groups and having them come up with a solution. One of the key benefits of the programme, Law believes, is learning how to work with others.

'I am more used to working by myself, so it was a challenge to have to work in groups,' he says. 'You had to adapt to people's different working styles, backgrounds, and skill sets, as well as their different attitudes. I learned how to align different expectations. Without this, you can never have a good outcome.'

Many of the classes that Law enrolled in were taught by adjunct professors, who are working professionals brought in to teach classes in which they have a particular expertise. 'They had an abundant amount of hands-on experience, and we could really learn a lot from them,' Law says.

Culture Technology owns 20 commercial properties in Hong Kong. Most are hotels catering to budget travellers from the mainland and are housed in converted residential or commercial buildings. The others are retirement homes. It also has a chain of retail outlets selling products targeted at the elderly.

Law's father employs a top-down management style. Top management makes decisions, and the subordinates implement them. He hopes to turn things on their head. 'When it comes to decision making, my father does things based more on intuition than analysis,' Law says. 'For me, I like to look at numbers and detailed analyses. I like to gather information from various sources to make a more educated decision.'

Law believes that a bottom-up culture will help the company grow faster. 'I will solicit feedback from our employees,' he says. 'By getting more feedback from more people, we will be able to make better decisions. In the hotel business, management doesn't have much opportunity to interact with customers. I want to establish a platform so that frontline staff can make suggestions on how things can be done better because they interact directly with customers.'

Law says the company plans to double the number of hotels in the next five years, catering to the same basic market, but raising prices slightly. Rooms are in the HK$500 to HK$700 range at present. 'Most of our guests are from China,' Law says. 'Most are tourists, but there are also some business people. They come to shop - so they would rather spend less on their hotel rooms so that they can spend more on shopping.'

Apart from taking over a family business, there are those looking to start their own business and Baptist University offers entrepreneurship electives as part of its MBA programme.

One of them, entrepreneurship development, takes students from the initial idea stage through to the actual formation of a start-up company. The elective is based on case studies and class discussions. In this course, students have to look at aspects of business as a whole, not just from an accounting, management or marketing angle.

'It's a very integrated programme,' says Billy Mak, associate director of the MBA programme at Baptist University. 'A company is organic and you need to look at problems from different angles. Maybe a financial problem is due to a management one as they did not hire good staff, so you need to look at all points of view.'