Wong Tung & Partners can lay claim to being the first condominium developer in Hong Kong, as Mei Foo Sun Chuen was their first major project, in 1969. Starting life as a small team, the architectural firm now employs more than 450 professionals in Hong Kong and the mainland. Staff levels built up as it designed and planned several landmark projects in Hong Kong over the past four decades. The firm has continued to work on big projects, such as Taikoo Shing, Eastern Hospital, Hong Kong Park, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Sheraton Hong Kong. It has also expanded to the United States, Thailand, the Philippines and the mainland. These projects have helped the company gain recognition and a reputation locally as well as among overseas professional institutions. 'The first major project was the Mei Foo Sun Chuen. It was the first and largest condominium in Hong Kong at that time, and probably also in the world,' says Edward Ho Sing-tin, the company's deputy chairman and managing director. In the present sluggish property market, the company has been working twice as hard to sustain its position. 'Needless to say, the business volume in Hong Kong has dropped a bit. However, the new markets and development in China have kept us very busy,' says Mr Ho. The mainland market attracted the firm's presence some time ago. 'We are one of the few pioneers to set up a practice in China. At present, we have offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. We employ about 200 staff in these offices.' The Shenzhen office opened 10 years ago to provide computer-aided drafting (CAD) support to the group. The boom on the mainland has reassured the firm to focus on growing the practice. 'The future is in China. We are in need of experienced professionals who are willing to travel to China, or even be stationed there, to lead the operations,' says Mr Ho. From time to time, the firm transfers managers to the mainland. 'We do hire locally, but most of the key staff are from Hong Kong.' Attributes the firm values in staff are high proficiency in their work, such as design abilities and project management skills; efficiency, strong initiative, leadership, loyalty and integrity. 'Among these, I think the most important is work proficiency, as one has to have exceptional design talents as well as superb management skills,' Mr Ho says. Management staff also need to demonstrate strong competencies in managing people as well as projects. The firm offers distinct benefits and opportunities to staff. 'Part of of our distinctiveness lies is our complex and diverse projects. We take pride in good projects. I can say we only take on large-scale projects, usually more than 100,000 square metres. The complexity and size of the projects have provided intense training for our team.' Mr Ho says the company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has helped train a pool of alumni. The firm adopts an open promotion policy, which means that whoever performs and contributes to the practice will be offered opportunities within the company. Recently, a staff member in his late 30s was promoted to a senior management position, which is an exception. 'Although a few principal shareholders own the majority of the firm, we do give out shares to senior staff in recognition of their contribution to the company.' The firm's corporate culture is approachable and friendly. 'We have an informal culture. Our doors are always open. Anybody can come to speak to us or our senior managers, any time of the day,' he says. Despite the opportunities and perks, the firm has suffered from a fairly high staff turnover in the past two years. 'This is quite an odd situation. All the time, we are looking for new talents at various levels. However, it is not easy to hire good quality staff. We did not receive a lot of applications.' Mr Ho suspects that this might be the result of candidates switching careers to in-house project managers or starting their own practices. Another possible reason is that the firm has not raised salaries since 1997. 'They might be attracted by a bit more money in the short run. However, we do offer a long-term career path for our staff. 'To be an architect is not easy. Yes, the Hong Kong real estate market has slowed down a bit, but as a qualified and trained professional with expertise to deploy, an architect still has plenty of opportunities, especially in the exploding market in China. 'What we offer is a good working environment, sizeable projects from well-known clients, and a good work team, as well as growth prospects.'