Many people are uncertain about their choice of career direction not just when they enter university but even long after graduation. Finding their niche in life is a matter of progressing upward as they spend time in different jobs and industries trying to find one that best matches their interests, aptitudes and skills.
That is more or less what happened for Michael Wu, now general manager of the Hong Kong branch of China Airlines, who took a far from direct path to his current senior position.
"I studied mining and technical engineering at university in Taiwan, but didn't really like it," Mr Wu recalls. Nevertheless, he successfully completed his degree and found a job in the field of industrial engineering. After a couple of years, though, he realised that things were unlikely to work out and that he should seriously rethink his career. This led to a decision to study labour relations and industrial safety in graduate school, and that eventually paved the way for a move into human resources.
"There are only a few areas in which you can advance to management level. They include sales and marketing, finance, IT and HR. I simply picked one of them that was related to my work at that time," Mr Wu says.
When China Airlines was restructured in 1977 and new labour laws implemented in Taiwan, he got the chance to join the company. "I then focused on human resources for about 20 years," he says, while stressing that he also continued to take a range of courses for self-improvement and to learn new skills applicable in the workplace.
"Always keep learning and improving"
This diligence clearly paid off because he rose to become head of HR for the airline, overseeing around 10,000 employees worldwide. In addition, Mr Wu was selected last year as one of the top ten managers in Taiwan and then, about five months ago, was asked to transfer to Hong Kong and take charge of the business locally. In fact, one of his aims since 2000, when he took an executive MBA at the National Taiwan University, one of the leading universities in Taiwan, was to get a better understanding of the wider business world, and to put that to good use.
"I felt it was too narrow a focus just to concentrate on human resources," he says. "The course really broadened my horizons and allowed me to meet many different people such as business owners, accountants, architects and doctors."
In his present role, Mr Wu is managing the airline's Hong Kong operations and developing both the passenger and cargo sides of the business. One objective is to strengthen relationships with partners and to improve sales channels and the supply chain.
"Of course, you must have quality products and services together with effective marketing in order to build a positive image," Mr Wu explains. If these positive factors are in place, he believes there is no need to compete on price alone.
As a senior manager, his philosophy is to lead with a clear vision and to act promptly at critical moments. "The management must also think ahead and consider future developments, providing strategic direction for operational staff who tend simply to focus on current issues," he says.
Over the years, one of the things he has liked best about the airline industry is the chance it gives him to travel, meet people from different cultures, and develop an international outlook.
Mr Wu points out that graduates in most disciplines can get into the airline sector provided they are outgoing, have good language abilities and are prepared to work shifts. As the industry continues to grow, with increasing numbers of business and leisure travellers, there will be many more job opportunities. "The cargo business is also expected to grow with the stronger global economy and more international trade," he adds.
His advice to the younger generation is never to be satisfied with current achievements, but to keep learning and improving, to stay competitive and prosperous, and to update their skills and expertise through life. "Life and work should be full of fun," he says. "We should enjoy accepting new challenges."