Career Path

Practice makes perfect: over 20 years with the same corporation

by Jairam Parameswaram

Gary Cheung
Chief Executive
Hong Kong Securities Institute

Imagine a person working with the same organization for 22 years. No, I am not talking of times when your father was on the starting blocks of his career. This is about today, a new, nascent millennium. At a time when working with the same company for two years raises eyebrows, it is definitely refreshing (and intriguing, one may add) to come across someone who says, "My philosophy is that if you continue in one place long enough, you will prevail," and actually means it.

Meet Mr. Gary Wai Kwok Cheung, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Securities Institute (HKSI) and former Executive Director, Sun Hung Kai & Co, Ltd. (SHK). Mr. Cheung's appointment to the top echelon of HKSI today is the direct outcome of more than two decades of dedication and hard work he put in during his tenure with SHK.

Starting with SHK as an executive trainee in 1980, in the back office processing deal documents, he voluntarily spent time in the dealing room after work until midnight, learning the business and generally helping out. After a year of such learning, he asked to be transferred to the dealing room. "That experience is enough for you to start work in a dealing room. The job satisfaction is immense, since in the dealing room, you come to know your profit and loss position real time," says Mr. Cheung. The back office provides an understanding of the nitty-gritty of the business, the dealing room, a sense of accomplishment.

" should never oppose or obstruct anyone else moving up the ladder. I had ample faith in delegating work to people I trusted"

After dealing for two years, Mr. Cheung went to Zurich for training on the bullion broking business for six weeks. In 1982, he was sent over to London to develop the business, and stayed there till 1984. "This overseas stint was used to develop the forex business for SHK, since I had many friends there. Later, when I came back to Hong Kong in 1984, it was easy for them to do business through SHK as they knew I was dealing with them," says Mr. Cheung.

Back in Hong Kong as a Chief Dealer, Mr. Cheung assumed charge of the trading department. And in just the first six years of his career (1986), Mr Cheung was designated as Divisional Director and governing the trading, commodities, bullion, forex and equity businesses of his company - almost the entire gamut of finance. "This might sound very broad-based, but the underlying sets of economic and financial data is pretty much similar for all products under each category. Hence, an adept dealer should be able and ready to tackle these and implement them in various products," says Mr Cheung. "The only thing stopping growth in this line is your aptitude," he emphasizes.

In 1996, he progressed to becoming the Director of Sun Hung Kai Securities Limited and for the Fund Management business too. "Your career path in this industry depends on your outlook. I was always an extremely profitable employee. To succeed in this profession, you need to continually make money for the business. But more important, at every level, one should never oppose or obstruct anyone else moving up the ladder. I had ample faith in delegating work to people I trusted. Every manager should allow those under him or her to progress, because unless you can create a person to take your slot, you cannot go ahead," Mr. Cheung says.

Nevertheless, he also adds that there could be situations in everybody's career where progress depends on being in the right place at the right time. At different points in time, the departure of senior staff also aided Mr. Cheung's career moves. But the point to note is that one should work towards being ready or so to say, being the "chosen one" to take on broader portfolios when opportunity permits.

Before joining HKSI, Mr. Cheung was Executive Director of SHK for about four years and a member on the boards of another 20 odd companies, all under the SHK umbrella. The prime criteria for success once you reach the top are that same as that you had when you started. "Hard work and an honest mind are the two crucial ingredients required for success at any stage of your career," says Mr. Cheung. That's simple living, high thinking.

China Opportunities

"Hong Kong is an excellent conduit for the China market to raise capital and attain international recognition," says Mr. Cheung, highlighting the immense business potential from China's liberalized market. China's priority is to gain training, management and international exposure and lend global credibility to its market. Hence, it is already recruiting people with such experience at the very top level (financial, regulatory, etc.) from the Hong Kong stock market.

"More generally, I think opportunities in this industry in China exist only for people with more than 10 years global experience - people who can upgrade the China market to internationally acceptable levels," says Mr. Cheung. At the lower levels, the chances, in fact, are of the Chinese workforce coming over to train in Hong Kong. Moreover, so far as technology for this industry is concerned, Mr. Cheung feels Hong Kong can learn a thing or two from China, so opportunities are limited.


Taken from Career Times 19 July 2002, p. 28
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