Originally known as The Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company, Ltd, The Wharf Holdings Ltd was founded in 1886 and used to run wharfage and dockside warehousing. The company adopted its current name in 1986. Its major shareholder is Wheelock & Co. The company owns the iconic Star Ferry, two major flagship properties in the Harbour City and Times Square shopping centres in Hong Kong. Both owe their origins to Wharf’s transportation heritage, being built on the site of the company's original wharf, and on the site of the original depot of the Hong Kong Tramway, a former subsidiary. Wharf’s other holdings in Hong Kong include i-CABLE, Cable TV and Wharf T&T, and Modern Terminals.The company also holds many properties in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon.
Wharf Holdings also owns operations and residential developments in Singapore through its Wheelock Properties subsidiary. Such properties include Wheelock Place and the former Seaview Hotel.
Football theory guides Wharf T&T
Vincent Ma Wai-shin, president of Wharf T&T, says that sound football management theory will reap dividends for his firm in the long run
When he isn't championing Cloud technology, Wharf T&T president Vincent Ma Wai-shin is thinking about how Britain's football clubs are run. But first, he's anxious to point out that after 18 years in the telecommunications industry Wharf T&T no longer calls itself a fixed-line operator.
"We're an ICT [information and communications technology] company," he stresses. "Fixed-line operator sounds very boring and implies we don't do mobile or have iPhones, so how can we survive?" says the 47-year old who until recently was an avid mini-soccer coach.
He describes Wharf as Asia's only telecommunications operator serving the business community with a totally business rather than a consumer brand. In 2006 Wharf subsidiary Wharf T&T e-business was established, to help customers in the front end develop marketing technologies. "Small- and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] - 95 per cent of our customers - don't have a sales and marketing department, so we can enable their business from back to front end."
Then there's the Cloud, the hot topic of the global IT sector. Ma is cautious, but committed. "We need to ensure Cloud can serve our customers better than we serve them today and there are still a lot of question marks. But Cloud is the way forward for us, with public Cloud services for SMEs." Hong Kong has 200,000 active registered businesses, of which 50,000 are Wharf customers. Ma is not afraid to admit when he is not sure about something. "If you ask me how to run these Cloud services, I am not 100 per cent confident of the proven formula yet," adding there are still trials to run to overcome customer concern about security.
As an ardent Arsenal fan and admirer of football club management, is he one of those football dads on the sidelines, jumping up and down and cheering at a son?
"Actually, I think my son Leroy would prefer that I disappeared - that's why I stopped coaching and may be why he switched to the school team - they practice when I am not there."
Ma got his head out of the Cloud to speak to the Post about football, business and the benefits of having a deep bench.
Which management book has inspired you most?
I forget the name but my favourite one explains the management theory of football club managers Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson. They are the experts in management theory, running a football club is the same as running a big company.
You have the talent pool, you develop the people. That book explains how to drive the people into high spirits to win, so whenever I coach Leroy at soccer, I think I am Wenger or Ferguson.
Arsenal isn't the most successful team, so why choose them as a model?
Arsenal is a very well-run business. They are not trying to pump unlimited billions of cash into the business to make it successful. They run it on a standalone self-financing basis. So they need to be very rational. They don't do crazy things and they need to manage their finances, and their sign-up and transfer fees.
They also need a huge amount of audience, customer and fan base. As a football club you have to sell all your season tickets in advance, and then go international to attract even more fans.
So they did that, to Asia and the US, to get more fans and their advertising revenue increased. With all of this it's actually a very sophisticated business model. Compared to a lot of more successful clubs in terms of trophies, like Chelsea and Manchester United, Arsenal doesn't have big debts. And they play very good football. The only thing they are missing is trophies, but I think if you do the business right, with the right mission, you will be able to achieve that mission one day. That's our belief. And Arsenal has been very good at organisation and development.
What have you learned from Arsenal about fostering talent?
They have a very successful talent management model. They pick up the kids from young. And move them on to give them the first team experiences, and opportunities.
Of course, they are sacrificing their trophies, to bring on the youth. Of course, that's a big price to pay. They have to bear their mistakes.
But that should give them longer-term sustainability, rather than, "Oh we made a mistake, so put him on the bench and buy another one for £30 million (HK$375 million)."
In our business we do that as well. We are process-driven, we run a very tightly coupled team and even if you make mistakes, we have other people to cover and continue.
That's our management theory, to make it very process driven, so even if our employees make mistakes, we won't hurt the customers.
How do you apply football theory to your business?
First, I try to learn from the business and then understand Arsenal and then I try to apply the theory to our business. Arsenal, as you know, is under huge pressure because they cannot afford to keep the talent when other people come in with huge amounts of cash. But they are committed to their mission.
They think it's right and they are passionate about it. That's what Wenger is doing. That's one of the things that I truly believe will work. It's a very essential attribute in running a business you have to be committed to it. You continue. You don't question yourself when you run into problems. Well you question yourself, but you don't easily change your commitment. You stick to your plan.
And what is your mission statement?
Enable business. That means telling our existing 350,000 customers and 350,000 potential customers, all different, that we want to enable their business. You can imagine we also make some mistakes because of trial and error. But out of the 100 things that we do, we get 80 of them right.
You have to constantly modify the things that are not correct. We can accept "not perfect" but we cannot accept "not trying". We have to be able to accommodate errors, we must take educated risks.
What formal management training do you offer staff?
Management training is very important; we have just started an organisation and development exercise. When staff grow up, operational guys become management and then executives, in a lot of cases, without formal training. It's not unusual and probably not the perfect way.
So, we have been putting emphasis on developing a series of training mechanisms and have already started to acquire management trainees, training up fresh graduates to be future management.