As you ride up to the 88th floor of IFC Two, currently Hong Kong's tallest building, you will have a bird's-eye view of some of the world's most spectacular skyscrapers. The companies that constructed each one of them owe a debt of thanks to one man- Elisha Graves Otis, inventor of the elevator. Without his vision, which led to the founding of the Otis Elevator Company over 150 years ago, we might all still be taking the stairs!
Height restrictions on new buildings in Hong Kong effectively started to disappear in the 1880s. That was when the old Hong Kong Hotel installed the territory's first elevator and, with it, began the ongoing competition between local property developers to reach ever higher. The same contest continues today and shows that history does, indeed, repeat itself. Because, if you happen to be wondering which company, now represented around the world, supplied the elevators for IFC Two, the answer is not hard to guess.
Carrying on this proud tradition is Ray White, area director for Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. He originally joined Otis in Australia 43 years ago as an apprentice and, in his current lofty position, still regards working for the company as a "terrific job". Over the years, he has gained experience in everything from sales and operations to HR and quality control, and has no hesitation in recommending the industry to any young graduate.
Employees are expected to perform at a high level and we give them every chance to do so.
"Though we could be considered primarily an engineering and services company, we need a wide range of disciplines within the organisation," says Mr White. He believes that the opportunity to practice diverse skills has always been one of the main attractions for new people joining the company.
Another undoubted draw is the international perspective. Mr White came to fully appreciate this when he was given the chance to transfer from an operational role in New South Wales to the post of managing director of Otis Hong Kong in 1991. Since then, he has taken on further responsibilities within the region. "Internal transfers between departments and to overseas positions are always encouraged," he explains. "They provide another form of training and a much wider range of experience."
In his present role, Mr White enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the framework of the normal corporate checks and balances. His duties include liaison with clients, on-site meetings and the development of regional business. "The good thing is that you see the results of your decisions very quickly," he says, "and can adjust where necessary. I also believe in allowing others plenty of autonomy. If they do well, great; if they do badly, it is a lesson learned."
Overall, Mr White finds that nothing is more rewarding than the training and development of junior staff. "It is great when you can identify talent in younger employees and see them steadily move up the organisation," he says. This is helped by the culture of sharing knowledge within Otis. There are also numerous training programmes available and an in-company university which ensures staff have the chance to excel. As Mr White explains, "Employees are expected to perform at a high level and we give them every chance to do so."
Like most multinational companies, Otis is hiring continuously at all levels and encourages graduate applications. An engineering or management degree is normally required and personal qualities are closely scrutinised. "It is essential for me to have integrity as a manager," says Mr White, "and we look for a strong sense of ethics in candidates." Originality, decisiveness and a willingness to take responsibility are also scored highly.
For those entering the industry, Mr White predicts exciting times ahead. "Elevator control systems will become far more 'intelligent' and technology will continue to bring change," he says. "Safety regulations will, of course, be adapted accordingly." With no apparent limitations on how high they can go, local developers must already be working on the blueprints for Hong Kong's first 100-storey building.
"The elevator industry in China is booming," says Mr White, referring to the range of opportunities within Otis alone. The company has expanded rapidly in recent years and its current headcount in China is around 6,000, equivalent to the total workforce in the rest of Asia.
As a leading multinational, Otis is aiming to raise the standards of business knowledge and experience among its mainland employees. Therefore, opportunities for Hong Kong staff to move to mainland factories and offices will certainly increase. "We have had a number of staff assigned to China on a short-term basis who eventually ended up staying there," explains Mr White. Future job prospects will obviously depend on securing new contracts, but the trends are obvious. "There are more positions in China now than ever before and far more than here in Hong Kong," he adds.