Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Two Hong Kong Smarties

In your expansion plans, always remember to think big, and quality!
There are people in Hong Kong who are the tycoons who have seeped their fingers into every aspect of our lives and so we can't go a day without contributing to their already massive bank accounts.

And then there are some really smart people who are passionate about what they do but also have a keen business sense and this has paid off for them with very comfortable lifestyles.

In the past several days I've had the opportunity to meet two of them. Both collect cars -- one has at least four Porsches, the other showed off his black speckled customized Maybach in front of his shop.

One is Hong Kong Chinese and owns a shipyard with his brothers in Dongguan. They build everything from yachts to large ships.His engineering background has helped him immensely in producing top quality products, but at the same time his Hong Kong attitude towards efficiency has helped him deliver orders on time, because if he doesn't, his company is fined each day it's late.

He has been working in China for almost two decades and has seen a lot of changes in the labour force in southern China. In his generation, in his late 50s, there used to be a practice of apprenticeships, particularly in his field.

But in the last several years he sees hardly anyone interested in learning a trade or skill -- everyone wants to get a degree and sit in an air-conditioned office even though they might be paid well building a ship or customizing a yacht.

He realized this early on and so he invested in technology -- design software and machinery that could help him design parts with accuracy and cut them precisely too. He recalls that when he started he had over 1,000 staff, and now it's down to over 800 and he hopes to reduce it further to around 600.

When the cost of labour rises, he says, one must find a way to keep costs down and for him it's automation.

Meanwhile a Frenchman who has lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years has created a pastry empire. He started off as a pastry chef working in hotels and then with his experience started his own company, a fine-dining restaurant with a take-out area for sandwiches and pastries, and then a side business of supplying hotels and restaurants with baked goods.

Today he not only supplies baked goods in Hong Kong, but in 41 countries around the world -- the 42nd one -- Taiwan -- starts next month. He meets this demand by opening factories in Dongguan and the Philippines, exporting everything from croissants and chocolates to macarons and breads.

He showed me a video with workers wearing white suits and masks, putting together thousands of macarons. The shells are piped by machine, then taken to the oven to be baked, and afterwards a number of people are on the factory line, piping them with filling and then adding the top shell, then packaged carefully and boxed up.

He sends out containers of these macarons, each one with 36 pallets, each pallet containing a few hundred macarons, so in the end he exports about a million macarons per container. Everything is shipped frozen to ensure freshness.

It's mind-boggling but impressive how he jumped to the next step. Despite the mass production, the Frenchman insists on quality to differentiate himself from his competitors and will pay for top ingredients. Everything is hand made so it cannot be easily replicated.

The business has done so well that it has allowed him to do what he really wants -- open up a pastry shop that serves only the best breads, pastries, cakes and macarons in the city. He doesn't have to answer to his clients who are only concerned about the bottom line -- here he will use the best quality vanilla and French flour, and bake in small batches to ensure freshness.

He also doesn't care if he runs out of his famous baguettes -- too bad. Come back tomorrow, he says. For him it's about quality, because people will recognize it and pay for it. And for a venture he thought would lose money has actually profited handsomely. Originally he expected some 200 customers per day, but they are actually having 400 to 600 and more on the weekends. Amazing.

In the future he hopes to expand more stores and open more factories. Not only does he think big, but quality too.

And this is the attitude Hong Kong needs more of. We all need to think this way to make the city even better than it is now.

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