Miranda Leung's MTR detour that got her career on track
From secretary to public face of the MTR, Miranda Leung has been with the railway operator for an eventful 37 years - now she's ready to retire
When Miranda Leung Chan Che-ming joined the MTR Corporation in 1976, she never thought she would stay there for 37 years until she retired.
It was three years before the railway opened its first section, a 15-kilometre track linking Kwun Tong and Central, when Leung quit her job as a junior secretary in the government and joined the transport company.
Now, as the affable Leung reaches retirement age, the MTR network has expanded to over 210 kilometres, with five new railways under way. And Leung has gone from personal secretary to the MTR's general manager of corporate relations.
"There are different challenges at different times," said Leung, who leaves her job on January 9. "In the beginning, when construction first started and hoardings were erected everywhere, we needed to explain to the public the benefit of a railway, and why we were making their lives inconvenient.
"We received letters and phone calls every day, and there were petitions as well. Some couldn't see the long-term benefit of it at that time. But now [it] has become part of everyone's life." Even after construction was completed, the job was not so easy, Leung said.
"It's a fully automatic system. It's new. We need our passengers to understand it. So we had an open day, in which we gave them coins to buy tickets, and showed them how to get through the gates. We had ambassadors dressed in red, who were called 'courtesy girls' at that time."
Petitions against the MTR are a common sight these days - some complaining about the fare increase, others unhappy about delays and breakdowns.
When asked if she thought passengers had become more demanding, Leung stood by the company line. "We're getting the message across that, with 7,000 trips every day, it's natural there will be hiccups," she said. "It's understandable that when delays happen, you will be annoyed."
Leung skipped university and learnt secretarial skills for a year at the Hong Kong Technical College, now Polytechnic University, after secondary school in the early 1970s. Her parents told her to do something easier than university after she suffered from a headache during the public examinations.
She then entered the government as a junior secretary and stayed for three years. She missed a promotion exam because she had taken up the job a week or two later than her colleagues in the same intake. It was at that time the MTR was starting construction and hiring a number of staff.
Leung became personal secretary to the chief construction engineer in 1976.
"I didn't know I would be here for so long at that time. I thought my job would be over when the construction was done. It's interesting how life pans out."
She became a public relations assistant six months later. "I didn't think I would take up the job at first, because I knew nothing about it, and I'm not a very aggressive person.
"My boss, the chief construction engineer, was happy that I wouldn't leave my post when I first told him. But then the next day he encouraged me to take up new challenges. I'm easily influenced, so when he said so, I decided to move to the public relations department."
Regretting that she had missed out on university, Leung enrolled in a transport studies foundation course at Polytechnic, finishing nine exams at the Britain-based Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in three years to become a chartered member - equivalent to an honours degree.
Her son was born in 1979, the same year she started those studies and the same year the first MTR train began operating.
"I was very busy at that time. There were many times I had to skip classes. But my classmates at that time were very nice. We helped each other out."
She says she has stayed in the same company for 37 years because "there were new challenges from time to time" - from the listing in 2000 to the rail merger in 2007. "What I will miss most after retirement are my colleagues. We argued very often. We discussed and explored different possibilities. But once a decision was made, we all delivered on it."
Leung will continue to serve on the government's Council for Sustainable Development and the Women's Commission, but she is looking forward to more relaxing mornings in retirement.
"I'll read some newspapers in the morning, and then in the afternoon I'll study Buddhism and philosophy. I'm not a religious person, but I think Buddhism is very philosophical, so I want to know more about it," she said. "I don't want to do that at night, because the night is for my family."
Leung, an equestrian enthusiast and volunteer for the sport at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said she would continue to ride and take care of the family's three horses.
"I'm always very scared on a horse, and that makes me focus my mind. I've tried yoga, but it just doesn't work for me."
Miranda Leung Chan Che-ming
General manager of corporate relations at MTR
Appointed MTR's head of corporate relations department in 1994
Qualified as a chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in 1985
Joined MTR in 1976 as personal secretary to the chief construction engineer
Personal: Married with one son