As businesses went through a three-decades transition, just as personal integrity and professional credibility can no longer guarantee or represent career success, it might be time to call for some help from modern technology.
When Stanley Li, vice president and director for the global logistics division of Sagawa Express (HK) Co Ltd was originally referred by friends for a job in the field of warehouse management, the industry was still very traditional. At that time – about 30 years ago – clients would store their goods with warehouse companies known for their security and reliability. "It was common business practice to hire only candidates whose credibility could be guaranteed and high standards of integrity were required of all warehouse management staff," he recalls.
We operate in a highly dynamic environment and the work involves a lot of pressure
He began as a checker responsible for handling and recording daily stocks and gained further experience by working in a number of specialist warehouses. These dealt with dangerous goods and different types of general cargo. "As Hong Kong's economy was not so prosperous back then, it was not exactly easy for a young graduate to get a good job. Therefore, I saw the chance to get into this industry as an excellent opportunity," he says. His career really took off when he joined Sagawa Express in the mid-1980s as an assistant supervisor. Steady progress followed through a number of supervisory and management-level posts.
In his current position, Mr Li mainly oversees operations and sales development for the global logistics division. His daily routine involves reviewing reports on operational performance and monitoring staff feedback. Communication with clients is also an important aspect of the job, as is the need to observe market trends and devise solutions which anticipate upcoming customer requirements. The main warehouse in Kwai Chung covers 600,000 square feet, employs over 300 Sagawa staff plus sub-contractors, and handles over 1,000 truck movements per day, so there is rarely a quiet moment.
In an intensely competitive market, Mr Li sees promotion of the company's business as his special mission. He therefore keeps divisional policies under constant review and closely studies any industry developments. "My motto is always to meet the company's demands and to exceed client expectations," he explains. "I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing my division's progress as we overcome new challenges and successfully complete assigned projects."
The comparative strength of the logistics industry is often taken as one of the more visible measures of the overall health of Hong Kong's economy. In recent years the sector has prospered thanks to the ever increasing trade flows to and from the mainland and by taking full advantage of the city's excellent geographical location, sophisticated infrastructure, and extensive international sea and air connections.
In parallel with the industry's rapid expansion, there is consistent demand for staff in warehouse management. Preference is given to those who hold a degree in logistics, but Sagawa Express also takes on graduates in other disciplines as management trainees. Candidates must show a high level of emotional intelligence and commitment, as well as the dedication needed to learn about the entire operation in all its complexity.
"We are dealing with a wide variety of co-workers, clients, contractors and truckers. All of them have their own interests," says Mr Li. "It can be difficult for beginners, since it takes a considerable amount of time to fully understand the company's culture and practices."
While there are still many openings with local logistics businesses, companies based in China and overseas are providing greater competition. "The mainland has the advantage of lower costs for both land and manpower, although Hong Kong can still benefit from its more sophisticated infrastructure," Mr Li notes. "Also, many multinationals prefer to work with logistics companies which are well-established and have an extensive international network."
In outlining what it now takes to do well in warehouse management, Mr Li points to the need for a high level of computer literacy plus fluency in English and Mandarin. A genuine interest in the logistics business and good interpersonal skills are other prerequisites for a long-term career in the industry.
"We operate in a highly dynamic environment and the work involves a lot of pressure in attending to a complex level of detail," he adds. "As a key part of the supply chain, we constantly collaborate with our own frontline staff and external suppliers and clients. Therefore, anyone entering this business must quickly develop all-round communication skills."
According to Mr Li, mainland logistics companies usually appoint applicants familiar with the local dialect and working practices to fill frontline and management positions. This means there are limited opportunities for candidates from Hong Kong. "There is some demand for experienced managers from Hong Kong among the multinational companies which are setting up or expanding in China, but the number of such positions is still relatively small," he says.