Danny Ngan Chun, chairman of the Nice Capital Restaurant Group, believes that rewards are better than penalties to motivate people to save energy. He is also a man who keeps his promises. The head of the dining group made good on a pledge he made one year ago, sharing 30 per cent of the savings made from reduced gas, water and electricity costs during the past year with his frontline staff. The offer to share the savings proved to be such a success that the group's 12 restaurants saved HK$1.2 million. As promised, the company put aside HK$360,000 as a reward for its staff. Talking about the reward-oriented measure, the 45-year-old entrepreneur recalled the looks on the faces of his staff when he announced the new policy. 'They looked surprised, staring at me and asking, 'Do you really mean it?' he said. Previously, the group relied on a series of guidelines and orders to save energy. Anyone failing to follow them would be warned or fined. 'We used to have a lot of dos and don'ts for our staff to follow, such as you must turn off lights or shut off water in certain circumstances. But the effect of these orders was usually not good, as they were easily forgotten or ignored,' Mr Ngan said. However, the situation changed when the new policy was implemented this year. Now, chefs turn off stoves when they are not in use; waiters switch off some lights and air conditioning in non-peak hours; and staff are coming up with more ideas on how to cut energy use. Mr Ngan, also chairman of the Chinese Cuisine Management Association, attributed the smart idea to the business-management courses he has been taking. 'I've been involved in the dining industry for nearly three decades. Yet it's not until recent years that I realised the importance of knowledge in running an enterprise.' Starting out as a bartender at the age of 18, Mr Ngan was a quick learner and hard-working. He was promoted to manager in one year. In 1983, he started his own restaurant, with the help of friends, in a hotel in Kowloon. In 1989, he set up the first Nice Capital Restaurant in Sha Tin, serving hot pot and Guangdong cuisine. The restaurant became one of the most popular in the area. Describing himself as a workaholic, Mr Ngan said he used to work shoulder to shoulder with his employees, washing dishes, serving diners and even doing cleaning. 'I didn't feel I was a boss at all. We were just like a bunch of brothers working together.' The restaurant, with its low prices and frequent launches of new dishes, became such a success that Mr Ngan and his friends opened five more outlets the following year. The turning point came in 2003, when severe acute respiratory syndrome broke out. 'Actually, the challenge didn't come from the epidemic but from ourselves. We found we didn't have the competitive edge we used to have, since many other restaurants had copied our business model, lowering prices and creating new dishes to attract customers.' He described it as the most painful period in his career. One day in 2004, a consulting company was invited to give a training course for employees. Mr Ngan happened to be there. 'The lecturer said something about the operation and co-operation between different departments of a restaurant. What he said might sound nothing special today, but it was indeed a shock for me. I suddenly realised I could never run an enterprise well without proper knowledge.' The course made him determined to learn and make changes. The dining-group boss, who didn't finish Form Two, took to his books once again for a one-year course on Chinese-restaurant management sponsored by local dining group Tao Heung. He is now in the middle of a course in business management at Lingnan University. 'In the past, the restaurants could not work a single day without me. Now, my target is to turn them into a modern enterprise, which can work perfectly with an efficient management system.'