CLP's PR chief Quince Chong lauds good communication

Quince Chong is relishing her next challenge as CLP Power's new chief corporate development officer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 6:37am

As the ultimate gatekeeper responsible for protecting and maintaining a company's public image, Quince Chong Wai-yan knows how to call a crisis a "communication challenge".

It's all about communications among people, says the newly appointed chief corporate development officer of CLP.

"But some [issues] have just escalated to a level that catches the media's attention," says Chong, who served at Cathay Pacific, first as a member of the public relations department and then as director of corporate affairs for 14 years. She left the airline and joined a British company for less than two months before joining CLP recently .

"At Cathay, it means you have to take care of passengers affected by the union actions. We must know how to pamper one's emotions."

At CLP, Chong anticipated a different kind of pampering ahead.

"We will have to understand public anxiety towards higher tariffs but at the same time explain to them that a safe and reliable electricity supply should not be taken for granted."

Despite the differences between freight and utility services, Chong says her approach to crisis management remains the same: "You will be easily spotted if you don't do it well."

So it helps that she is known to be decisive and firm.

A Cathay unionist who asked not to be named described Chong as "hawkish". He recalled that when the union threatened to carry out work-to-rule action last year because cabin crews were dissatisfied with a pay raise of 4 to 4.5 per cent, Chong made it clear that the airline would not adjust the pay rise to the 8 per cent demanded by the union.

"Different people in Cathay Pacific [management] had different stances on this matter. Chong was the one [who] insisted on getting tough with the union and stressed the pay raise would not be adjusted," he said. "She is a woman with a hawkish attitude. She stood really firmly when she dealt with the union."

The unionist said Chong believed strongly that the pay-rise scale should be decided by market forces and not because the union wanted more. The union eventually called off the industrial action and accepted the 4.5 per cent rise.

Becky Kwan Siu-wa, former chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union, who has dealt with Chong for more than a decade, said Chong was tough with the union but acknowledged that she was "very capable".

"Although we often faced each other over industrial disputes, I actually admire her because she was a very capable person. She was tough towards the union. But she was just doing her job and she did it well," Kwan said.

Chong says the decision-making process of management today should not be business-led as in the 1980s - human factors should also be considered.

"After all, the company's 2.3 million customers [households] account for 80 per cent of the city's population, just like the 2.4 million air passengers I served in the past," she says.

Chong indicated that CLP will launch more energy-conservation research and activities, including rolling out a data survey covering 3,000 commercial customers with large consumption next month.

"It will cover chain convenience stores, laundry shops and those selling lighting. Based on their consumption data, we will come up with energy-saving tips involving their staff behaviour and the performance of their electrical appliances."

A measure that will bring about a more fundamental change of consumers' behaviour will be the replacement of old meters with smart meters, with a large pilot scheme involving thousands of users starting next year. But consensus from users is required. Smart meters will allow households to monitor their electricity-consumption level in real time.

Chong says she is herself "greener" after being "brainwashed" by her new colleagues, despite the "small" tariff allowance given to senior executives of the company.

"I asked my son to turn off his computer and told my maid to avoid using the clothes-drying machine.

"I no longer miss my former colleagues as I'm already into the whole new world," she says jokingly.

As prudent as her company's style, Chong does not reveal CLP's bottom line in the upcoming interim review of the Scheme of Control this year, a regulatory framework for the city's two power companies.

She says it is premature to discuss how to reform the tariff structure, for example, requiring big consumers to pay more as urged by the government and green groups.

However, she warns that there is a possibility that the company will need to source more natural gas against nuclear, which may put pressure on the tariff, as public confidence in nuclear power has dropped since the Fukushima crisis in Japan.

When the issue of increasing the electricity tariff comes up - always a contentious one in this city - Chong will be there to soften the blow.

When asked if the public uproar prompted by CLP's proposal to increase the tariff by 9.2 per cent last year could have been minimised, she declines to comment directly but says: "The company has done so much good work over a year, like volunteer and emergency work. It shouldn't just expose itself to public discussion on tariff increase once a year."


Quince Chong Wai-yan

Current job CLP chief corporate development officer
Previous job Cathay Pacific’s director of corporate affairs