Rather more than just the service that develops your happy holiday snaps, today's imaging companies exist to serve commerce and industry as well as the consumer. Today, an imaging business offers anything from photo-finishing to digital media, high-tech mobile telephony-related products and colour management.
Indeed, Anthony Lee, the managing director and general manager for consumer imaging at Kodak (Hong Kong) Limited, believes that, despite the current SARS-induced blip in sales due to the drop in tourist numbers, the imaging market is going through a period of explosive growth, not only in Hong Kong but also in China. And, bearing in mind that Kodak has already invested some US$1.2 billion in the China region to date, he is unsurprisingly also optimistic about the industry's continued growth prospects within this region.
A Kodak man through and through and currently running the company's Hong Kong office, Mr Lee started out with the company 22 years ago as a sales representative in the commercial and industrial imaging field. "After graduating from the Chinese University [of Hong Kong] in Chemistry, I chose to work at Kodak as I felt that there were great opportunities for the imaging industry within the region," he explains.
"Expand your network and be aware of cultural differences. Even though you [may be] ethnic Chinese, you will still be considered a foreigner [in China]"
In 1995, Mr Lee was appointed the national sales manager for consumer imaging for the China market, becoming general manager in 1999. Although this involved him leaving home for Kodak's China headquarters in Shanghai, his new role was exciting: "I oversaw Kodak's expansion from five regional offices to now over 30 offices [and from] 360 staff to more than 5,000," he explains. "I [also] managed the development of three factories in the Shanghai area and sanitising plants in Xiamen and Shantou. China and Hong Kong are Kodak's biggest investment areas outside the continental US."
An expanding business
Since his return to Hong Kong last year, the new digital imaging market has been one of Mr Lee's most important projects. This growing business offers digital photographic products and services that complement traditional products and has had a significant impact on the imaging industry as a whole. "The advent of digital imaging has had a very positive effect on what we can offer to the consumer and it allows our business to expand," he notes.
"Through the use of digital media, we are able to offer a variety of value-added services. For example, if you bring a roll of film into a Kodak Express, you have a huge choice of output media - regular prints, contact sheets, CD-Rom with high-resolution images or lower resolution images for emails, t-shirts and the like," he explains. "In addition, with the advances in technology in other fields such as mobile telephony, we have been able to partner with companies such as Nokia to provide our services to users of high-tech telephone equipment."
Systematic and disciplined
Mr Lee does not consider either technical expertise or a technical education to be prerequisites for working in this industry, particularly as Kodak (Hong Kong) is mainly a sales and marketing centre, and notes that the field attracts people from "diverse backgrounds".
Rather, he believes this career has parallels with those in IT sales, where candidates are required to have some basic computer knowledge. However, noting that some people are easily distracted from their tasks, he also underlines the need for imaging professionals to be systematic and disciplined in their work.
What does the future hold? Mr Lee believes that digital media will not replace film as the major proponent in the consumer imaging market for at least the next five years. "On a price/performance level, film wins every time," he says, explaining that he views the two media not as competitors but, rather, as complementary to each other. According to him, colour management, where Kodak, for example, has a strong heritage, is the biggest growth segment, as the output business is the business area with most potential.
Kodak (China) has over 8500 Kodak Express shops, over 5,000 staff, three factories and 30 offices. Are there opportunities for Hong Kong-based workers?
"At Kodak (Hong Kong), in the last year, there have been 20 internal transfers to positions within Kodak (China)," notes Mr Lee. "However, at a graduate level, the opportunities for direct applications to China are few, as most of these positions are filled by locals. Positions open for Hong Kong-based workers would be those requiring some management experience."
Mr Lee is very bullish about China, and believes that China work experience is good for career expansion. However, he adds: "The ability to speak the local language well is important. Expand your network and be aware of cultural differences. Even though you [may be] ethnic Chinese, you will still be considered a foreigner and should be aware of this when conducting business."