Cafe de Coral, which takes sixth place in the Best Employers in Hong Kong 2003 awards, is no stranger to plaudits. The leading Chinese fast-food chain has over the past five years received awards for outstanding business performance, marketing and people management. 'I think we can claim that we are the market leader in the food and beverage industry, especially in the fast-food category,' says Cafe de Coral Group chairman Michael Chan Yue-kwong. 'With 8,000 employees, it is quite a big challenge to motivate our staff.' The company, which began as a traditional family business 35 years ago, adopted a more visible management style after listing in Hong Kong in July 1986. Mr Chan started a corporate culture revolution on the philosophy that profit is a by-product of 100 per cent performance. 'We have a fusion management style, with modern, Westernised methods blended in with an oriental corporate culture,' he says. All decisions are made by collective management, with issues from strategy, pricing and marketing to staff policies resolved by consensus. On the other hand, the company uses quantitative measurements to judge staff and business performances. One quantitative measure involves a staff reward system that ties the salaries of certain staff to profits at individual branches. 'Under this system, branch managers, middle managers and front-line supervisors will have the motivation and initiative to boost sales and control cost,' says Mr Chan. The company offers a share option scheme not only to senior managers but to branch managers and operational staff. More than 300 staff are company shareholders. Cafe de Coral's blend of styles has created a strong sense of belonging among its staff. 'More than 250 staff have been with us for over 15 years,' says Mr Chan. 'They joined in their early 20s and gradually moved up the career ladder.' The restaurant group expects its staff to work hard and learn from their jobs. 'Few in the restaurant business are strong in academics,' says Mr Chan. 'Everyone learns the business through experience. We consider ourselves very much a learning organisation.' Whether facing a product deficiency or a location problem, the company makes an effort to learn from its mistakes to become smarter in the future. It also allows staff to make mistakes. 'We are highly tolerant of failure. If a shop does not perform as expected, it could be due to a combination of factors - location, menu or operations. It should not be a one-person responsibility. It is collective teamwork that makes or breaks a business deal.' Finally, Cafe de Coral provides ongoing training and rotates staff to broaden their talents and knowledge. 'All of us are versatile, with several skills,' says Mr Chan, citing as proof the career of Spaghetti House's general manager. 'She started as an accountant and, impressed by her dedication and hard work, we tested her out in a head office relocation project. She performed exceptionally well, and has since been promoted to head up our spaghetti restaurant.' The awards Cafe de Coral has won have helped the company attract new talent. In the past, young employees wanted to work in American fast food chains, says Mr Chan. 'Joining us would be their last resort.' These days the company is considered a preferred employer, with a sophisticated management culture, and it attracts Ivy-League graduates in accounting, business analysis and information technology.