Holistic vision for karaoke queen
Neway is a name synonymous with karaoke and clubbing, but the company's origins are far from the bright lights and loud music of nightlife.
When Angela Ng Wai-yung and her husband Dr Suek Chai-kit established Chung Tai Printing in 1979 little did they know the company would one day be a giant of the entertainment world. Chung Tai listed in Hong Kong in 1992, and became Neway in 2009 when it acquired karaoke and entertainment businesses.
Ng, who remains in charge of the company's printing operations, said any business can be sustainable, as long as management was on the right track. However, what worked yesterday may not work today. In 2009, she put her son in the position of chairman, allowing him to try out younger ideas and lead the company into a new era.
A devoted Buddhist and a mother of three children, Ng said it was possible for women to play different roles and develop a management style of their own. Why did you expand into karaoke, a business with nothing in common with printing?
These days, manufacturing is not an easy business. The competition is intense. It is a supply-demand issue. China is the world's factory and many people are operating factories on the mainland. Competition is increasing and profit margins are narrowing. Seeing the difficulties, we preferred to diversify our business but we will not give up printing.
How many employees do you have now?
We have 2,800 employees in the printing business, with more than 95 per cent of them working in the factory on the mainland. Most of them are the post-80s and post-90s generation who have no siblings. Parents usually give everything they have to their only child - send them to school, then encourage them to pursue mid-level manager positions. As a result, we suffer from labour shortages now.
What is the difference between workers these days and 30 years ago?
In the 1980s, we had to move to the mainland where land and labour was cheaper. Hong Kong is a small town and people grow up together and tend to think alike. So to manage people in Hong Kong is relatively easier. On the mainland every employee has a different background. We have workers from all corners of the country, all with different habits, values, even vastly different preferences in food. When even just two people had a small problem, it would often develop into a clash between two groups. Our strategy is to keep groups apart. For example, we won't put all the workers from Sichuan in the same workshop.
But things are a lot more difficult these days. I have seen a boy who makes perhaps just 1,000 yuan (HK$1,230) per month and his father drives him to work every day. He doesn't need the money at all, but works only because his father doesn't want him to be a loafer. Do you think this kind of child will work hard? Will he listen to your criticism? Will he do extra work when it is needed? He won't.
But more and more workers will come from single-child families. How will you cope?
In the past, managing workers was straightforward. Sometimes they were treated just like oxen. But now it is impossible to treat people like that. Most male managers use tough measures and some women managers do too. I prefer the soft approach. I play the card of kindness. People value warmth and friendship. We adopt a more encouraging tone, and I very seldom use negative language like 'Don't do this', 'it is no good to do that'.
What are the young generation of workers looking for in life? And what do you do to keep your employees?
Many young people these days just look at the short-term. They wish to be paid, but don't want to work. Some university graduates are like that too. To deal with it, we must turn more to automation. And we must understand that a lot of workers are not looking for shelter and they are not short of clothes or food. But they need appreciation. We must provide them with encouragement and recognition. We give them training and opportunities to learn; we tell them they will have a better future. This doesn't mean we keep all our workers. When some leave it feels like we trained them for other companies. But if we don't give them that learning opportunity, we won't keep any. If I train 20 people and two of them stay, then I have two very good employees.
Hong Kong is a city with many family enterprises but to hand over the management to the second generation is sometimes difficult. You are only 60 but have already made your son the chairman of the group. Why did you give him so much responsibility when he was only 30?
My husband and I have had a lot of discussion about the succession issue. He said that when the second generation succeeded the first one in a business, there were two ways of doing it. They can either be parachuted into the chief executive seat directly, or, start as a grass-roots-level employee. Both ways have strong and weak points. Which way you prefer depends on which one suits your company better. My husband and I built the company by hand and we grew with the company. We had time to learn gradually. But if a person gets the top job from the beginning, he suffers tremendous pressures. Plus, he cannot make mistakes. We were successful before, but that doesn't mean the old way is suitable for today. We must give our son room to try his ideas according to his generation's culture and way of thinking. We want to do it early while we are still here, shoulder to shoulder with him. Other experienced employees are also here to help him.
You said your business is affected by the overall economic situation. How is the market at present?
The world economy is in bad shape. It is a time to test whether a company is solid and capable. In times like this, we must work prudently. Fortunately, we don't borrow too much from the banks, and our assets are quite stable. We are careful in choosing our clients. If you choose the wrong client, the results may be unbearable.
As a woman, do you find it difficult to balance family and work?
Many people say women have to sacrifice family for the sake of career. To stay at home to bring up your children, is very good of course. But every individual has a different role in society. My fate is to be in the business world. But I never forget my other role as a mother, as a wife, as a housewife and as a corporate chairman. It requires a lot of self-management, but the balance can be achieved.
At home do you talk about things besides business?
When one of my sons brought his girlfriend home for the first time, we talked about finance. The girl was shocked. It is an inseparable part of our life. Without us noticing, we will change from whatever subject to the gold price or currency trends. When my daughter went to university, she chose anthropology. My husband was not very happy about that and my daughter decided to choose a double major and picked economics. I was then worried: how could a girl interested in anthropology do well in economics? However, it turned out later that her marks in economics are better than for anthropology. I asked her why and she said: 'I don't know. It could be that you talk about those things at home everyday.'
What is the secret of your company's success?
We attached great importance to customer service from the very beginning. Whenever our clients called to check the progress on their order we would be able to tell them its exact condition. Gradually clients became more reliant on us in quality control. We knew in detail what products they want and what quality. Thus we accumulated many long-term clients in the process.
What is your prediction for the industry?
We must make our industry an environmentally conscious one. I believe a good enterprise must be socially responsible. My sister Gigi Ng has been to Korea and Britain to learn how local governments and companies take care of their environment. We adopted a number of measures to save energy, not merely for the sake of cost-control, but for the interest of humankind. Our efforts have been recognised. In December 2010, we were awarded the Hong Kong Green Award, along with Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Neway's estimated share of the karaoke market in Hong Kong, leaving little room for main rival Red Box