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Room for All

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 3:40pm

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Over the past 20 to 30 years, the local finance industry has played a major part in building Hong Kong’s reputation as Asia’s world city, says Dato’ Seri Cheah Cheng Hye, Chairman of asset management company Value Partners and a member of the HKUST Business School Advisory Council. Now that more employers are recognizing that it makes good business sense to increase diversity in the workplace, the finance sector is welcoming more and more professionals from a range of demographics.

“I think companies should encourage diversity, regardless of age, gender, or cultural background,” says Cheah, adding that his business is actively pursuing a strategy of inclusiveness. “Diversity makes for better decision-making, a greater flow of innovative ideas, and a more harmonious work culture, among other benefits. If all decision-makers are from the same background you do not get creativity, and that is what is needed to be successful.”

Balance of the sexes

Although finance was once seen as a mainly male preserve, by the end of 2017 there was an almost exact gender balance among Value Partners’ 211 employees. Women occupy several key leadership positions, says Cheah. In the investment management team, these include the deputy chief investment officer, and investment directors and senior fund managers. “In our business management team, our chief financial officer, our head of legal, and our chief compliance officer are also female,” he says.

With similar academic and career learning opportunities open to both men and women, Cheah says he values peoples’ skills and competencies, rather than their gender.

An inclusive environment

Value Partners is headquartered in Hong Kong, but also operates in mainland China, Singapore and London. Ten different nations, including Britain and New Zealand as well as a number of Asian countries, are represented in its workforce. “We aim to create an inclusive environment that attracts and retains talented people from all backgrounds and cultures,” Cheah says.

The company’s investments are spread across many of the major economies and this is reflected in its hiring policy. “For instance, we recruit Korean staff to cover Korean-related companies, as they have the ability to read and speak the Korean language, and they have a strong understanding of the culture of the country. Identifying people who not only have the hard skills, but who also really know the local culture, is the easiest way to recruit talent,” he says.

Looking at the broader picture, Cheah believes the One Belt, One Road initiative can act as a bridge that opens up new opportunities in terms of cultural exchange, financial integration and new investment possibilities. “To better equip themselves to take these opportunities, employees need to appreciate and grasp chances to learn the languages, and learn about the cultures and customs, of such vital regions,” Cheah says. “It is encouraging to see that our own staff members are taking a bold and experimental point of view when it comes to these new possibilities.”

As an advocate of cultural and gender diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, Cheah was pleased that Value Partners was once again awarded the Hong Kong Caring Company logo by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service. This was in recognition of the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and community work. “One of the titles we received is caring for the employees, which evidences our efforts in this area,” he says.

Facing the challenges

For anyone considering such a career path, Cheah has some insights into the challenges fund managers can encounter, and the strengths they require. “They have to face extreme stress and huge setbacks, including those caused by their own mistakes, financial crises and by markets working in unexpected ways. It all tests your character. Adverse events can occur simultaneously as well as frequently, and can be particularly acute in our industry,” he says.

He notes that fund managers are the guardians, the trustees and the managers of other people’s savings. These savings may be intended to give their children a secure foundation, to buy a home, or for retirement funds. “If you lose money, they feel really bad and do not hesitate to let you know how bad they feel. Fund managers need to figure out how to overcome this and uphold their principles when making long-term decisions,” he says.

While hard skills, such as those used in financial analysis, accounting, business practice and management systems, are important, they can be learned in school or from textbooks, and are not in short supply. “Soft skills are where you can really make a difference,” he advises. “It is about leadership, the ability to make good decisions, communication skills, and high EQ. I don’t only look for basic skills and good language ability, but also the potential to develop soft skills. In the long run, after around ten years, you are on your own,” he says.

From reporter to analyst and from fund manager to entrepreneur, the story of Cheah was written in a book published in both Chinese and English in late 2016.

Adding Value

Value Partners has many connections with HKUST. Since 2011 Cheah has been a member of the HKUST Business School Advisory Council. An important donation from Value Partners has facilitated and supported the growth and development of the School’s Center for Investing, enabling the Center to provide real-life investment learning opportunities for students. This year, the company works with the School again to launch the Young Fellowship Program – internships exclusively for HKUST students.