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Career Path

Business young gun set to shine

by Nicolette Wong

Clifford Wong
deputy group managing director
MF Jebsen Group
Photo: Wallace Chan
In a global trading environment, international events can have a significant impact on local businesses. Group managers are challenged on a daily basis and have to be able to think on their feet and quickly turn an unfavourable situation around.

Having started his working life as a lawyer, following by a stint in investment banking, Clifford Wong's stellar career has been characterised by unexpected opportunities and challenges. Now deputy group managing director, MF Jebsen International Limited, Mr Wong initially signed on with the company in 2003 as group investment manager.The group had been formed the year before, following the restructuring of the Jebsen Group of Companies, a Danish family-owned business with a history of continuous involvement in Greater China since 1895.

MF Jebsen Group's business scope spans across travel, automotive, insurance and consumer electronics. Mr Wong's professional background enabled him to get involved in an array of the group's business, finance and legal functions, working closely with senior staff and directors in various units.

His next step up was to manage the group's insurance unit, which moved him to the forefront of the business. In the years that followed, he also managed the group's property and consumer electronics businesses, until his wealth of experience and expertise earned him his current position.

Active involvement

Now responsible for all aspects of the MF Jebsen Group's portfolio and overseeing the execution of strategy for all divisions, Mr Wong's job involves frequent meetings with the group's directors, function heads and business partners. Since he needs to keep track of business performance across all divisions, another integral part of his routine is regular discussion with the group's finance teams.

He plays an active role in recruitment and monitoring staff performance, too, and therefore works hand-in-hand with the human resources department. "I deal with issues ranging from staff turnover to training and compliance with new labour regulations," he notes, adding that fostering a right corporate culture gives the business a real competitive advantage.

Career development in group-management can be extremely diverse, Mr Wong points out. "Industry experience and professional background are decisive factors when embarking on this field," he says.

One way of stepping into a group-management role would be to acquire frontline experience and contact networks in particular industries, he advises. "A professional background, for example in law, accounting or corporate finance, will stand you in good stead. Job candidates can combine their technical knowledge with exposure to the industries that they work in."

Entry positions and requirements differ from organisation to organisation, but the key to success is always diligence, stresses Mr Wong. "Being hard-working is a relative concept. Newcomers should observe their peers and go the extra mile to excel at the job, take on assignments that are outside their usual functions and build up strong networks. By doing this, they can differentiate themselves and become more indispensable to the company, which is an important aspect in careers."

As he enjoys working with people from different industries and in different parts of the world, the varied nature of group-management has been the most rewarding aspect of his job.

"A job on the diverse corporate landscape is always interesting and, at times, frustrating, but you get to think outside the box and expand your comfort zone," he remarks.

Looking ahead

The booming mainland economy has brought both opportunities and challenges in the group-management arena, Mr Wong notes. When the company's businesses in mainland China grow rapidly, for example, it can put pressure on recruitment, infrastructure and financial planning. These trends, he says, have positive and collateral implications.

For instance, while the increase in visitors from across the border provides a welcome boost to Hong Kong's retail industry, it also drives up rentals and spurs demand for resources. The increasing need for legal, accounting and finance professionals by mainland-related concerns have also led to fierce competition for top-notch talent across different industries.

Mr Wong advises young graduates to acquire a solid foundation in their chosen fields, or to build extensive professional networks, before they pursue a career in group-management.

Some companies in the field also recruit graduates as management trainees and have them rotate through different business functions to gain frontline experience. "Most of the current unit heads in our field started off on the frontline and worked their way up, tackling different issues for the group along the way," he reveals.

Throughout his career, Mr Wong has been driven by an innate curiosity to get to the heart of issues and to devise appropriate solutions, making reference to best practice from different industries. "I've always loved to gain an understanding of new things. In our profession, there's almost never a right or wrong answer to any question. It's a matter of understanding and perspective, solving problems and taking action," he concludes.

Taken from Career Times 20 May 2011, B12

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