A large sector of the population is still using coal as the major source of energy in mainland China. Although the Chinese government advocates its replacement with the cleaner option of natural gas and supports efforts such as the mega West-to-East gas transmission pipeline project, national natural gas consumption is still expected to rise tremendously.
"Safe, convenient and environmentally friendly energy is highly sought after throughout the vast Chinese territory, especially since the population is beginning to enjoy a higher standard of living and growing industrial infrastructure demands a more reliable power supply," notes Margaret Cheng, head of corporate human resources, The Hong Kong and China Gas Company Limited (Towngas).
Founded in 1862, Towngas currently supplies gas to over 1.6 million Hong Kong customers through a network of over 3,000 kilometres of pipeline. This equates to an 85 per cent economic reach in Hong Kong.
The production and distribution of gas, energy marketing, appliance sales and comprehensive after-sales support are Towngas' core services. In addition, Towngas is actively improving Hong Kong's piped city gas supply alongside developing liquefied natural gas projects in mainland China. Currently, Towngas has joint ventures in 60 mainland cities spanning from Guangdong, to north-eastern China.
"We have enjoyed a head start since our first joint venture in 1994. This, along with our current financial strength and extensive expertise in all areas, for example, safety, engineering, marketing, customer service and project management, has secured our position as a leader in the huge mainland market," Mrs Cheng points out.
In the pipeline
Towngas currently manages the group's investment in the mainland through Hong Kong & China Gas Investment Limited (HCIL) in Shenzhen. Business initiatives have focused on the introduction of a highly efficient gas management system, which includes a state-of-the-art pipeline network monitoring centre, automatic equipment and facilities and quality customer service software.
According to Ms Cheng, the company is exploring potential growth opportunities in several areas alongside managing the current piped city gas projects. Emerging energy projects such as coalbed methane, an important green energy fuel, are in progress as business expansion continues in China.
Moreover, the group has also established its first energy exploitation joint venture in Jilin province. Through participation in exploitation and the sale of petroleum and natural gas, the group is able to provide an additional energy source for downstream projects within the region.
Technologically, the company is also looking closely at developments in other clean-energy alternatives, such as coal-based alcohol and ether fuel technology and the corresponding market trends and investment opportunities.
"With 145 years of service in Hong Kong, we have earned customers' trust through the provision of a safe, reliable gas supply and quality services. We believe that our team has always played an integral part in that success," Mrs Cheng notes.
Executives and professionals from managerial, financial and engineering fields are currently assigned from Hong Kong to oversee the 60 joint ventures in the mainland. By creating such appointments, staff are encouraged to adopt a more regional perspective, sharing ideas and human resources to ensure continuous dynamism between the different regional teams.
"Practically, skills from all disciplines are required for projects in China. From the building stage of a venture that involves our experienced engineers, to the opening of a retail shop where the customer service team transfers and shares skills, Hong Kong employees with the appropriate talent will be sent to the corresponding locations whenever necessary," Mrs Cheng adds.
Employees undertaking Towngas' two-year graduate training programme enjoy the opportunity of a joint venture placement in China, which offers trainees valuable experience and the chance to learn practically rather than theoretically.
To find the right candidates, tri-lingual interviews are conducted to ensure applicants possess the basic language proficiency in Cantonese, English and Putonghua. An occupational personality test is also used to target high-calibre university graduates who possess the most sought-after traits such as dynamism, confidence and empathy. The ability and willingness to learn fast is also essential to fast track them for key positions.
"Working in our Chinese joint ventures is never easy. It takes more than good academic results," Mrs Cheng explains. "Instead, it is the motivation within the person that counts. Plus, this person should have a high emotional quotient, or better still, multiple quotient."
In assessing whether a recruit is suitable for the career challenge, Mrs Cheng and her team will look at integrated ability, such as general academic participation and extra-curricular activities during his or her university life.
Successful candidates will embark upon a series of job assignments, in which they are given the chance to stand up in front of crowds, for example taking the role as master of ceremonies at a public event or performing at the staff annual dinner. Such "facing the public" soft skills are a key component of success as future leaders.
"The energy business can be demanding and working away from home is often a challenge. What we are offering in China is not simply staff quarters and air tickets. We believe that the unique experience and career development are invaluable to our employees who will continue to flourish with Towngas," Mrs Cheng concludes.