What are the challenges of a British information technology company starting operations in pre-handover Hong Kong? 'Certainly not political,' says JBA International operations director Roger Dowle. 'The language barrier, different culture and the volatile employment market make it difficult to recruit the right people, especially those with a technical background.' Mr Dowle, who was assigned to Hong Kong to start up JBA's greater China operations, already has taken on the 20 staff of its former Asian distributor, EDS Asia Holdings, but still saw the need for additional people. JBA's Hong Kong office is one of the three business units of JBA Asia Pacific, which is based in Kuala Lumpur. The third office is in Sri Lanka, where a development centre eventually will be located. Future plans include a presence in Japan and an affiliate in Vietnam. JBA was formed in 1981 by two former IBMers who decided to emulate IBM's success 'minus its mistakes', Mr Dowle said. In 1996 it logged its 15th year of unbroken profit growth, with record revenues of more than $2 billion and profits of $142 million. Not surprisingly, JBA's products were first centered on IBM's AS/400. Today, although its products are system-independent and run on all the major Unix platforms, JBA is still one of IBM's most senior partners. Its core product is JBA System 21 software, a year 2000-compliant, enterprise-wide suite of fully integrated applications providing key manufacturing, financial, customer service and logistic solutions. It is complemented by modules designed for specific industries, such as System 21 Style, designed for special needs of the fashion and footwear industries. As well as the garment industry, in greater China, JBA will pursue work with the automotive and catering industries. Target companies have revenues between $10 million and $20 million. 'We will split our energy between China and Hong Kong,' Mr Dowle said, adding Taiwan and Korea were next in line.