Technology has led to rapid changes in most areas of daily life and that includes almost everything within the office environment. Copiers, for example; have evolved from the large, noise-making machines, which often required a room of their own and a repair technician on standby, into the sleek, multifunctional document management systems of today.
As director and general manager of the office system solution group for Canon Hong Kong Co Ltd, Raymond Fung has had a close-up view of how technology has revolutionised the business. With a total of over 16 years' experience in office product sales, he previously held senior positions with JOS Technology Group as sales manager and director. Mr Fung joined Canon in October 2001 and now has responsibility for expanding the business and overseeing the sales, administration and marketing teams. "Besides taking part in many meetings, I work closely with my two general managers to monitor and review the whole business operation," he explains. "The main thing is to ensure all functions operate smoothly."
Working for a global organisation which launches more than 100 new products a year, Mr Fung has come to realise that personnel issues are crucial. "It is all about how you support staff to help them solve operational problems and perform well," he says. For this reason, he involves himself proactively in every aspect of HR, including training and personal development.
Managing operations and other people often involves the process of selling your ideas
That is in addition to keeping up with all the changes in technology and understanding each new IT application. "We used to deal with problems about hardware," he adds. "Now we also work on connectivity with software and aim to incorporate every new advance into our office solutions."
While this has inevitably taken the business into new areas, Mr Fung believes that the particular functions of sales and customer service still remain essentially the same. "We rely on them for our company's market success," he emphasises, adding that a customer should be able to depend on the integrity and product knowledge of a salesperson to help in making the right decisions.
Mr Fung originally moved into management after four years in sales and points out that what he learned in the early years is still applicable today. "Managing operations and other people often involves the process of selling your ideas," he notes.
In offering advice to anyone with thoughts of going into sales, he cautions, "Don't think yourself invincible. You should be humble and open to learning opportunities." He also suggests that younger people should not rush into things. "You need time to get familiar with market trends, products, technology and, most of all, the customers," he says.
As the copier business becomes more sophisticated, those with a relevant degree or diploma will have an advantage. "University graduates may have more opportunities and earn faster promotions, especially if their academic training makes them more effective in decision making and presentations," says Mr Fung. "However, they must be focused and willing to learn." Other attributes needed to build a career in the field include broad general knowledge, an inquisitive mind, determination and excellent communication skills. He also points out that expertise in IT is a definite advantage. "More and more fresh graduates and IT specialists are looking to join us, changing the sales industry into an IT solutions-based profession," he adds.
In Mr Fung's opinion, a background in sales can open the door to positions in management, since it gives exposure to a range of customers in all parts of the business. "This kind of experience, together with academic qualifications, will make it easier to climb the career ladder," he says.
A number of features now characterise the copier market: competition is tougher, products more diversified and sales channels are more complicated. New recruits must therefore be able to show initiative and deal with pressure at work. Since nothing stays still for long, they must also continue to acquire new skills and keep abreast of industry developments.
"Some graduates may be well qualified but not have seen much of the world," Mr Fung notes. "If so, they may lack the market sense to detect what is going on in different business sectors and not have the required social skills to build client relationships. These are essential for anyone who hopes to work their way up to a senior position."
Mainland graduates used to miss out on international exposure. However, with the opening of the China market and the development of IT networks, that situation is rapidly changing. Hong Kong graduates looking for opportunities on the mainland may still possess a generally higher standard of English, but could lack the personal contacts and understanding of local markets needed to get ahead.
"Hong Kong graduates should have no problem landing mainland jobs, but they need to prepare for competition because they will be up against top quality people," warns Mr Fung. "The experience they get will be invaluable, but younger professionals can't expect higher salaries than in Hong Kong because the real demand is for middle to senior managers."