Although currently enjoying a relatively fruitful period in her career, Tracy Lao, human resources director at TNS HK Ltd, distinctly remembers the challenges she needed to surmount earlier. To attain clear professional goals, she advises, it is essential to maintain a focused and driven attitude.
Today, TNS is the world's largest custom market research company, with more than 200 offices across the world. TNS Hong Kong is the TNS Group's international research centre for Asia Pacific, providing design, project management and analysis for multi-country research.
As head of the human resources department at TNS HK Ltd, Ms Lao regularly meets candidates from across the world. In doing so, she has discovered that commitment and professional passion ultimately determine individuals' paths to success.
Ms Lao's own career exemplifies such passion and grit. An outgoing demeanour helped her relax and enjoy meeting people from a tender age. Perhaps as a result of this extrovert streak, she chose marketing as her university major. At the University of Macau, she later won a scholarship to further her postgraduate studies in international business in Groningen, a coastal town in the northeast Netherlands. She adds that studying abroad proved an eye-opening and worthwhile experience, motivating her to develop a career in the people business.
Upon her return to Hong Kong, she initially worked as a management trainee at a reputable company, gaining extensive exposure to an array of business disciplines. However, her interest in human resources could not be quashed.
With a clear goal in sight, she decided to establish a firm foundation and develop her career in HR by proactively seeking opportunities in her everyday routine to practise the relevant skills. Simultaneously, she began a master's degree programme in training and performance management at Leicester University in the UK. Though studying on a part-time basis was hard, Ms Lao says the knowledge and experience learnt from the programme were incredibly useful as she built up her industrial expertise.
In 2004, she joined TNS at a time when the company was undergoing radical changes in the scope of its structure by acquiring another top global research company. Taking the reins of the HR department at a principal office in the Asia Pacific region required departmental management skills in people training and development which complimented the company's changing structure.
"With the company's expansion in scope and manpower, we strove to provide our staff with greater exposure to international business. A consequence of this was the development of stronger connections with people in other regional offices," Ms Lao recalls.
"Young people must determine career goals and professional interests as early as possible"
Looking back, Ms Lao remembers the challenging experiences but admits she enjoyed every moment and believes the efforts expended then have since driven the company's overall growth and staff performance.
Ms Lao says the HR department of TNS Hong Kong currently performs five core functions: compensation and benefits; recruitment and selection; staff performance management; people training and development and employee relationships. In addition, she is proud of her own personal initiative which saw the launch of a "caring campaign" that has successfully motivated staff to partake in voluntary endeavours for charitable causes — an incentive which has galvanised the company's caring culture and strengthened employee cohesion.
In response to market trends and the company's long-term development goals, her department will co-operate with other regional offices to launch a "TNS Knowledge Box" initiative, a week-long intensive training programme designed to provide comprehensive coaching for fresh graduate researchers at various TNS offices around the world.
Ms Lao says the research industry is demanding but packed with variety so practitioners must be well adept at the ever-changing, dynamic pace of work in addressing clients' ad hoc needs. TNS is staffed with talent from a range of different racial and cultural backgrounds, and is always looking for people who demonstrate their passion, strong international orientation and a willingness to learn.
"Young people must determine career goals and professional interests as early as possible, rather than trying various fields to explore new opportunities," she stresses.
Ms Lao also encourages university students to gain work experience either by taking up part-time positions or participating in internship programmes to explore interests and find out the logical path to career success.
"Chances abound, but they are only for people who are ready to take initiatives," she concludes.