Career Path

Seasoned executive transcends Drucker and Maharishi

by Charles Mak

Andrew Leung, managing director
Swire Travel Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

Driven by a desire to explore the world, Andrew Leung has set his foot on every continent over the years but his journey of enlightenment is yet to end. A recent visit to Osaka and Kyoto during the harami (cherry blossom) festival proved another inspirational breeze. "A shared passion brings people together, creating a social phenomenon of cultural significance," says Mr Leung, currently managing director of Swire Travel Ltd, a subsidiary of Swire Group. "Given a chance, you must experience the world first-hand."

It was this fervent passion for world experience that landed him the trainee position at Swire Group immediately after he graduated with a first-class honours degree in social science from the University of Hong Kong. In a branded career spanning 30-odd years, Mr Leung has held an array of key positions at the multinational's various business units across the globe. For instance, he was one of the select few in Hong Kong to have been stationed in Papua New Guinea for a new Cathay Pacific air route. "When my son was born I undertook another overseas assignment to set up a Cathay base in Zurich. I remember the trips to Milan, Austria, Geneva, Paris and other neighbouring countries with my family. Those experiences have helped shape my life and are by no means replicable," he reveals.

Mr Leung is by no means blase about his experience, however. He admits staff management can be challenging. "Irrespective of the specific nature of a business or its scope, staff are any company's most important asset," he notes. "A responsible employer should inspire staff, helping them confirm their aspirations, build their competence and stretch their potential to the full."

In fact, during his tenure as executive director of Swire Beverages' greater China operations, he was responsible for building a talent management infrastructure for the company's Hefei manufacturing plant. "We sought to offer mainland staff a stimulating environment for career escalation," he says. "Nobody is good at everything but you must find your own niche while developing a broad commercial acumen. Therefore, job rotation has always been a focal point in Swire's long-running management trainee programme. I grew up in such a nurturing corporate environment and so consider it a duty to extend it for the next generations.

In every person there's a positive wolf and a negative wolf, so which will win over the other?

Upbeat sentiment in Hong Kong's employment market is creating a career springboard for the competent and ambitious. However, Mr Leung believes that the quest for career achievement is part of a long-term whole-person development process. "If you cannot consolidate your knowledge and experience in a job, hopping from one position to another won't help," he says. "You must consider the growth environment that is being presented to you and leave the monetary prospects on the sideline."

A positive attitude helps sustain life enhancement and career advancement, adds Mr Leung. "You may choose to feed the negative wolf and put the positive in the shade but how far can you go? It is therefore essential to be positive and confident about your potential and capability and most importantly have the courage to go far," he advises.

Continuous learning is one way to personal empowerment, Mr Leung notes. "I've been with Swire for decades, but never stagnated," he says. "Peter Drucker1 advocates that we're all knowledge workers. Knowledge sees no boundaries and the notion of knowledge acquisition is a mentality. You must grow incessantly in a learning environment of your creation."

"If you cannot consolidate your knowledge and experience in a job, hopping from one position to another won't help"

A bold shift from travel into the insurance business in 1990 best demonstrates his belief in life-long learning. When Mr Leung was given the job of underwriting manager of Taikoo Royal Insurance Company Limited in Melbourne Australia, he welcomed it with open arms. From the outset, he worked hard towards professional qualifications and despite being the eldest in the class, set the record for achieving the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance fellowship in the shortest period of time. He was managing director of the company's Hong Kong and Taiwan operations when he left for yet another challenge as executive director for Swire Beverages (corporate development) in Hong Kong.

If you're asked to undertake certain tasks, what is the first thing you need to know?

Mr Leung believes that following a routine does not help meet objectives. "This is a competitive world and all of us are riding on time. You ought to identify the things you want accomplished within a certain time frame and then set out working on them. Good time management is vital," Mr Leung explains.

Observing a healthy balance is key to life and work quality. In this regard, Mr Leung maintains a balanced lifestyle with at least two to three swimming sessions and a game of golf weekly, plus a daily practice of transcendental meditation2. "I started meditating at university and it has since then become an instrumental part of my behavioural and cognitive existence," he remarks. In addition, to nurture his artistic flair, he frequents concert halls and Chinese opera houses.

Cultivating a harmonious family life is also vital in every aspect, Mr Leung stresses. "Nobody can afford to compromise friends and family for work," he remarks. "Career achievements give you satisfaction but a sustainable system must be able to revitalise itself and in essence only continuous nourishment will enable you to blossom."

Mr Leung's career came full circle when he was offered his current position in 2003. Since then, he leverages on his rich experience in the travel industry and plays an active role for the various committees of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong. "Partaking in public services facilitates information and idea exchange, helping to contribute to the development of the wider business world. But then again it's not all about work. I take pleasure in meeting people from all walks of life," he notes.

1 Father of modern management and inventor of the term "knowledge worker", Peter Drucker (1909-2005) prophesied 20th century business trends like privatisation and decentralisation, the domineering power of marketing, the rise of the information era and lifelong learning. In his teaching, he attached great emphasis to the value of employees (as assets and not liabilities) and the innovative "management by objectives" concept.
2 Transcendental meditation, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1917-2008) is clinically proven to boost emotional, perceptual and cognitive functions like IQ, creativity and practical intelligence.

Taken from Career Times 13 June 2008, p. B20
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