Company's boss Stanley Lau uses his vast experience to look over the horizon and anticipate changes in the industry By the time he set up Renley Watch Group in 1983, Stanley Lau Chin-ho had learned enough in his 14 years with other firms to see that the essence of the managing director's role was to guide the process of corporate evolution. On a day-to-day level he knows every company faces basically the same kind of problems. Personnel, financing, production and sales issues will always arise and vary only in terms of scale, urgency and associated expenditure. However, what ultimately makes the difference, allowing some enterprises to thrive while others stagnate or go under, is the ability to look over the horizon. This makes it possible to anticipate changes in technology, markets, competition and expectations, and alter the style of management accordingly. 'I don't have a crystal ball, but with the experience and knowledge I have, I can help the team understand the likely development of our industry and design the right models for our customers,' Mr Lau said. Over the past 25 years the company has grown from 10 staff to having assembly plants in Hong Kong and Switzerland, component manufacturing in Dongguan in the mainland, its own brands, original equipment manufacture and an expanding retail presence. Before each significant step, Mr Lau has made a point of reviewing the major external factors and instigating internal change. 'You need a different style of management at different stages,' he said. 'And you can't use just one character for different situations. For example, when it is time to be tough, you must be tough, when you need to be generous, then be generous.' He added that it was vital to keep staff up to speed, especially when change was afoot. If they knew what was happening and why, it was much easier to switch production, implement new systems or react to competitive pressures, as circumstances required. 'I spend quite a lot of time explaining why we have to do something,' he said. 'I believe that is an important part of management. We should take care of our jobs but know each other's problems too.' Wherever possible this emphasis on open communication also extends to dealings with customers. Mr Lau realised early on that this was the key to building relationships and, crucially, developing trust in the company's product quality and delivery schedules. If clients know they can go out and sell the products with full confidence, and that their feedback on designs, materials or new markets will be acted on, it becomes easier to define parameters and achieve efficiencies. In what was now a 'trendy business', with many people having a classic watch for working days, a sporty watch for weekends, and a more luxury look for big functions, Mr Lau said that vision and forward planning were important. 'Consumers like new materials such as ceramic and carbon fibre, so the most important thing is to keep a close eye on the market and see what developments may be on the way,' he said. The other essential for the company to keep forging ahead is to realise there is no substitute for having good quality staff. For this reason there has to be a focus on training, along with the necessary investment and encouragement for individuals to upgrade their qualifications. Annual results and order sizes may fluctuate in line with the prevailing economic situation, but the long-term health of any business will always depend on the collective talents of its staff and their ability to foresee change. 'We should always give opportunities to the younger generation [by rotating them to] different positions and sections,' Mr Lau said. 'That way they have the chance to come into contact with customers and really know what is happening in the market.' This article is adapted from a speech delivered by Stanley Lau at a recent CUHK EMBA Forum. The EMBA Forum is conducted regularly to provide a valuable opportunity for EMBA participants and alumni to interact with key leaders Personal file My usual reading material is current affairs and business magazines, but for relaxation, I still like James Bond - both the books and the films. I seldom watch TV, but if I'm free at the weekend I will try to catch a Premier League match, especially when Manchester United or Liverpool are playing. For this year's summer holiday, I went to Britain for my second son's graduation ceremony and combined it with a few days in Prague, which was fantastic. I always keep a day-by-day schedule covering the next two months in my pocket. If I'm late for appointments I feel bad, particularly because I know the first thing people will ask is what's wrong with my watch and who made it.