If Hong Kong is to continue to compete successfullly as regional air cargo hub and logistics centre, it will have to take steps to liberalise its aviation regime.
That is the view of Clifton Chua, managing director of Hong Kong, Macau and the Philippines for FedEx Express, who is in a perfect position to assess the potential impact of such a move.
"Rather than granting incremental rights over time, Hong Kong should adopt a completely open regime," Mr Chua says. "This would ensure that local air transportation services help to facilitate continued bilateral economic growth. An all-cargo 'open skies' agreement will benefit not only the air express industry, but also contribute to Hong Kong's free economy and allow market forces to thrive."
He notes that a series of new air service agreements are being put in place across the region and, especially in China, these will change operating patterns and flight frequencies in some significant ways. Nevertheless, Mr Chua is quick to emphasise that Hong Kong will remain a focus for the company's new corporate intiatives in terms of developing employees and enhancing the range and level of services available to customers.
Some of the more recent improvements have included the deployment of a new "PowerPad" device for the use of couriers. It provides immediate access to information, even when couriers are away from their delivery vans, with the major advantage that it enables dispatchers to schedule faster and more efficient pick-ups from customers. In addition, the extension of call-in cut-off times by more than two hours to 8:30pm for shipments to Europe has been a resounding success. As intended, it has given shippers more time and greater flexibility in arranging shipments late in the working day, thus creating extra convenience.
In such a fast-evolving sector, the role of technology can never be underestimated, so the company is constantly looking for new applications.
"Technology has always been a strategic competitive advantage for FedEx," notes Mr Chua. "It has allowed us to set new delivery standards, and create a best-in-class customer experience." Innovative online tools now make it possible for customers to access international markets and get accurate, up-to-the-minute information about the cargo status of their shipments. In this way, they can manage their own supply chains and easily circumvent potential obstacles to doing business with suppliers or buyers at the other side of the world.
"One online feature allows customers to track deliveries around the clock, giving them absolute control over shipments to multiple destinations." Mr Chua explains. "Another offers online access to printable forms and the regulations required for international shipping, and calculates the duty and tax for more than 200 countries. These upgraded tools help every type of business reduce the complexities associated with modern international trade."
He adds that status updates have also been made available in 17 languages. Depending on customer preference, email messages can be sent to a computer or a mobile device.
Despite the benefits brought by technology, Mr Chua says the company's real strength lies in the quality of its employees. This is built on what is known internally as a "purple promise" — the commitment to making every customer experience outstanding. In order to maintain service standards and the rate of business growth, special attention is paid to recruitment.
"There is a lot of talent in the market," says Mr Chua. "However, to attract and retain outstanding people, it is important for companies to create an environment that makes it easy for employees to want to stay and contribute."
Following through on this, FedEx practises a "People-Service-Profit" philosophy. The objective is to establish a culture which is respectful and rewards employees who deliver exceptional service for customers.
FedEx has also committed itself to a policy of promoting from within, wherever possible, and ensuring that no limits are placed on potential career progress.
"We have a tradition of training locals to assume management positions to help drive our business forward," Mr Chua explains. "Our leadership programme for developing first-rate managers is a model for other companies."
In the Asia Pacific region, roughly 25 per cent of the senior management team is made up of Hong Kong citizens. Typically, they may have started in frontline roles and developed themselves through various internal and external training opportunities.
"As part of our people-first philosophy, we are committed to workforce training and have a life-long learning environment," says Mr Chua. The company also offers tuition assistance for both full-time and part-time employees. The former are entitled to receive US$2,500 a year, while the latter may get US$1,250 a year under a special tuition reimbursement programme.
"We believe we can also recruit and retain top employees through our commitment to being a responsible company," Mr Chau adds. "By maintaining strong community links wherever we do business, both through proactive efforts in building ties to local institutions and through our people development policies, we hope to attract people with attitude and aptitude."