Increasing globalisation has brought a keener focus on customer service, more stringent transaction management and, subsequently, an increasingly complex business infrastructure to the trade industry.
In order to stay ahead of the game, one leading trading company is planning to launch a two-year management trainee (MT) programme in July 2009.
"We plan to recruit four to six quality candidates," says Francis Mok, group human resources director, Jebsen & Co Ltd.
Established in 1895, Jebsen comprises four business units: fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), beverage group, industrial goods and luxury products. The company has a leading market presence in Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea.
With an ultimate aim of increasing trainees' exposure, the MT programme will focus on strategic job rotation. "Trainees will be attached to all four business units, each posting lasting between four to six months," Mr Mok notes.
Trainees will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the company's corporate culture and business operations through a group orientation in Hong Kong and on the mainland. They will also have the opportunity to explore their potential and learn how to build teams, and acquire necessary skills and knowledge through a structured training programme.
A mentoring scheme will be implemented along with regular training. "A senior manager will pair up with a trainee to help the individual develop both hard and soft skills," Mr Mok says. "In addition to this, a career development manager will keep track of their progress."
Once they have completed the MT programme, the trainees will be placed in a business unit. "Successful trainees will have ample opportunities for fast-track development, plus exposure beyond Hong Kong. They can expect job rotations in mainland China and even Korea," Mr Mok says. "Outstanding performers will be closely monitored by our talent management panel chaired by the group managing director."
Fresh graduates or graduates with less than three years' work experience in any discipline may apply. Candidates will undergo psychometric assessments and an English test before going through an assessment centre. Successful candidates will be offered places in the programme by March or April next year.
"Be yourself and demonstrate your best attributes," Mr Mok advises prospective applicants. He is confident that the programme, with a monthly salary of HK$16,000, will attract top candidates.
"We can either buy talent through head-hunting, or build our own," Mr Mok explains, adding that nurturing the company's own management team is more cost-effective from a human resources perspective, since staff tend to feel a stronger sense of belonging and corporate identity.
The "buy-and-sell only" trading model is being phased out because of competitive pricing and communication technology advancement, according to Mr Mok. Only companies such as Jebsen, which has taken up a role as brand builder and service agent for clients, will ultimately prevail, he believes.
"We help our suppliers with brand building and offer them a one-stop service, which includes sales and distribution, marketing and logistics management," Mr Mok remarks. The company also keeps an eye on new products and markets particularly the mainland in order to sustain business growth.
"As the world's largest manufacturer, the mainland also has a huge internal consumption market, especially for luxury goods and FMCG," he says. "On the mainland alone, Jebsen's car sales have doubled in volume, while the FMCG section has grown rapidly over the past few years."
Mr Mok believes it is crucial for trading professionals to be prepared to tap into mainland China. "Candidates should be open-minded and aware of the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the mainland, as well as the legal and political systems and economic development," he remarks, adding that negotiation skills, networking and client relationships are fundamentally important. "They should also learn to create a win-win situation for all parties involved."
He remarks that business acumen is not difficult to build: "Today's graduates are fast learners. They tend to be more adaptable than their predecessors and more willing to work in China."
The company now employs more than 700 staff on the mainland and another 700 in Hong Kong. Mr Mok concludes, "We're still expanding on the mainland and there will be plenty of opportunities for our future management trainees."