Sara's shorthand for success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am


These days, Sara Beattie, whose self-named brand is synonymous with secretarial services in Hong Kong, has little to do with the steno pool that got her business off the ground.

The business she founded in 1964, now the Sara Beattie Group, is today an international training and consulting firm specialising in the personal and professional development of administrative support and management professionals. Beattie herself spends her days whizzing from one client meeting to another, and flying in and out of Hong Kong, to China, Malaysia and India, where her enterprise has a presence.

'We have not done secretarial services for a long time because businesses have evolved. That was our USP (unique selling proposition) then, and for a long time. But that's a very small part of our business now,' she says.

Some people luck into success. You could say that Beattie was at the right time and place to make Sara Beattie, the enterprise, happen. When opportunities arose, she was often in a position to take advantage of them, having made smart moves and done the groundwork.

When Beattie, a hopeful young Malaysian-Indian, arrived in Hong Kong with her British husband in the early 1960s, the territory was poised for an economic boom. The influx of foreign investment had just begun. In effect, Beattie's business was set up as a solution to her own need for employment. Despite being armed with 150-160 words per minute shorthand skills, she could not find a job. But, confident and undeterred, she recognised an opportunity in the large number of foreigners flooding into the territory to explore business opportunities. The market was ripe for secretarial services.

She paid HK$5 to have her services listed under a column titled 'Secretarial Service', a term she says she coined for the purpose, in the South China Morning Post. Before long, her competitors had begun to list themselves in the same column.

By 1968, she was covering the Canton Fair in Guangzhou. By the end of the decade, she was contemplating setting up a secretarial college. The idea materialised in 1974, with a chance meeting with an American friend. Over a cup of coffee, Beattie purchased the school. Soon, Sara Beattie College, for executive secretaries, was in operation.

There are plans to strengthen and broaden the company's overseas presence this year. And the groundwork is being laid out for a 'retirement' plan in the distant future to assist underprivileged families in South Asia in restoring the sight of visually-impaired children.

Beattie's story is one of agility and adaption, flexibility and innovation.

'Times have changed, the nature of employment has changed, industry has changed, expat employment has changed, our business has changed. We are now in the business of empowering people to do more for themselves,' she says.