Despite working for 20 years in the toy industry, Mike Yeung, senior engineering director, Spin Master Toys Fast East Limited, still thinks toys makes for a top job.
"While toys create a world of imagination and fantasy for children, they give me a lot of joyful, satisfying moments," Mr Yeung says.
Hailing from an engineering background, Mr Yeung started his "toy story" not long after graduating from the Hong Kong Polytechnic (currently the Hong Kong Polytechnic University) with a higher certificate in production and industrial engineering (PIE). After a stint in the consumer electronics and home appliances industries, he subsequently took an offer that he felt difficult to resist. "When a job offer came from the toy industry I didn't even think twice," Mr Yeung says.
Mr Yeung's career progressed fast as he worked his way up from engineering assistant to project manager. Last year he joined Spin Master, a Canadian toy-maker that designs and manufactures a wide variety of toys, from the world's first remote radio-controlled airplanes to North America's latest craze, the collectible action strategy game Bakugan Battle Brawlers.
Bringing fantasy to life
In his current role as senior engineering director, Mr Yeung is involved in every stage of the manufacturing process, beginning with concept drawing through to product development and production in the company's factory in China.
Getting paid to play may sound too good to be true, but that is also an integral part of Mr Yeung's job description.
"Our job is about bringing products to life," Mr Yeung enthuses. His team of engineers tests new product designs during initial development — meaning they all play with the toys.
"We're here to point out in the early stages whether it's practical to put together some of the features into new products," he notes. "An adult can grab a toy with his finger but that doesn't mean a child can do the same. It's therefore critical to think from the child's side all the time."
A more grown-up element in his work is addressing safety standards. Mr Yeung says quality assurance has to be first priority especially following mass recalls of Chinese-manufactured toys in the past few years.
"Toy makers are keen problem solvers. We're also here to ensure every part of the supply chain, from material authorisation to production capacity planning, cost control, manufacture procedures and purchase order follow-up runs smoothly," Mr Yeung says. "More often than not, we need to assess and analyse risks and come up with contingency plans and solutions."
While many toy manufacturers have relocated to mainland China, Mr Yeung is confident that the industry will remain buoyant in Hong Kong. The city has proven long-term experience with the industry and that ensures its attractiveness for foreign investors looking to set up offices here. He also notes that local engineers are competitive and mature in handling production logistics and coping with change.
"You need to love toys to enjoy this job"
Despite long working hours, stringent quality standards and frequent trips to China, Mr Yeung notes that the toy industry is both charming and rewarding.
It is a fashionable industry that moves quickly. Mr Yeung thrives on the satisfaction that successful launches bring. He enjoys the fact that product turnaround is racing as children become more consumer savvy and demand greater choices.
The company's latest hit Bakugan Battle Brawlers experienced record sales just weeks after it was launched late last year.
Craze for the game spread so quickly that Mr Yeung sped up manufacture and increased manpower to meet purchase orders. "Our team took a critical and challenging role in stepping up our production while maintaining good safety standards and quality control," he says.
A solid technical background in mechanical engineering is a prerequisite for a career in toys as project managers draw on engineering knowledge in making decisions, but hands-on experience is essential as engineers climb the career ladder.
"There're just too many procedures, rules and regulations to deal with in the product development and production stage," Mr Yeung notes. "These are things that graduates can only learn through on-the-job experience."
One additional quality cannot be measured on paper, stresses Mr Yeung. "People without a passion and interest in toys can forget about joining the industry," he says. "You need to love toys to enjoy this job."