Having grown up in a multicultural environment, Danny Ho knows all about the importance of being multilingual if you want to get on and, ultimately, to have a competitive edge in the workplace.
"My mother tongue is Malay, but I also speak fluent English and Mandarin," says Mr Ho, who is executive head of the Hartford Institute of Hong Kong, a leading provider of business training courses. "I was educated in England for six years and obtained my master's degree before working there in the banking sector for a further two years." Subsequently, Mr Ho moved back to Asia to look for a job in sales and marketing. He accepted an offer from Hartford's headquarters and started his career as a programme consultant in Singapore. Within a year, he had been promoted to sales manager and, subsequently, was put in charge of the Singapore office. Later, he transferred to Hong Kong to assume his current role and, almost incidentally, has now picked up Cantonese as well.
You can train for knowledge and skills, but not to have the right personality
Basically, Mr Ho's job is to ensure the whole operation runs smoothly. That involves devising strategies for expansion, while keeping a close eye on developments in the broader business community and on any changes in government policy. "We are a listed company with six branches, so I must also plan the best possible programmmes for the students in each department," he explains. Most courses focus on teaching practical skills and knowledge that has direct relevance in the workplace. The environment is very international and involves dealing with people from all over the world. For this, fluency in English is seen as a major advantage.
When recruiting to fill the company's sales and marketing or customer service positions, Mr Ho closely considers each applicant's main personality traits. "You can train for knowledge and skills, but not to have the right personality," he says. "If someone is not naturally outgoing or prepared to work hard, it is hard to create that. Therefore, we always look for people who are motivated, self-confident, willing to learn and have the drive to succeed."
He points out that the business is dynamic and diverse. However, hard work and dedication can be expected to pay off, something his own career proves. In fact, Mr Ho believes that his current position leading a team of professionals and delivering quality services for the community is clear evidence that hard work is rewarded.
"Our purpose is to provide courses taught in English, since we have students from around the world," he explains. "English is now the main language for international business and, even in China, if you can't use English, you will lose out at work."
He also emphasises the need to learn skills that can be put to practical use, and says this is very different from the habit of just collecting certificates. "Make sure you learn something from work and apply that experience as you move up the ladder," he advises.
When seeking inspiration, Mr Ho often thinks of the Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan and the words attributed to him that, "Those who build the fortress will lose; those who move on to conquer the frontier will win."
Adapting this to his own circumstances, Mr Ho says that, as a leader, it is important to go out and look for opportunities rather than sit and wait for them to come to you.
"Fortunately, I enjoy my work at Hartford and I will have the chance to be engaged in the company's strategic development in the Asia-Pacific region in my current role," he says.
Mr Ho says that Hartford has already made investments in the mainland market and that there are openings for people from Hong Kong. "Salaries will vary from area to area in China and so will the cost of living," he notes.
"Before moving, you need to be clear what you want from your career and should consider all the possibilities," he adds. "China may be a good option, but it generally pays to think about gaining experience in other parts of the world as well."