Fresh out of his graduation robe in 1977 with a mechanical engineering qualification and a master's degree in production management and manufacturing technology under his belt, Joseph Poon did what was expected of him — tending to his family's manufacturing equipment business.
Making mistakes and facing the consequences are hard ways to navigate the business world and Mr Poon owns that in his salad days he learned many lessons that stand him in good stead today. "Everybody could use some experience to make sound judgements or decisions," he notes.
All that time however, he was beset with an exasperating urge to fulfil his aspirations as an engineer. "My dream was to obtain chartered status," he says. It was some eight years later, tougher and savvier, that he finally took the plunge. "I signed on with the HKPC as an assistant consultant in industrial automation," says Mr Poon, who is currently general manager of the organisation's innovation & IP division.
Feeling inept at business consulting, Mr Poon spent his initial days at the HKPC learning the ropes.
"Back then the HKPC was a comparatively smaller operation and we particularly needed to work as well independently as in a team," Mr Poon recalls. However, he was quick to climb the corporate stairs.
Now a leader of a team of 33 and versed in areas like IP (intellectual property) management, product and process innovation, and commercialisation, he welcomes every challenge that the fast-paced global economy has to present.
His latest projects include the development of ICM (intellectual capital management), a new business line. "In a nutshell, ICM means translating qualitative human intelligence, network and best practice into quantifiable assets and in turn capital," he explains. "Hong Kong must strengthen its position as a knowledge-based economy to preserve its pre-eminence in global trade."
"Everybody could use some experience to make sound judgements or decisions"
The role as HKPC consultants carries heavy responsibilities, Mr Poon stresses. These include, for example, bringing clients up to speed with the latest developments of management and technology in the industry.
To keep abreast of change, Mr Poon usually starts his day reading newspapers. "We must keep pace with global business and pay extra attention to public policies as in industrial protocols, manufacturing standards and environmental protection," he says. "There's no room for us to lag behind."
A senior member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and an eager participant in industry seminars and conferences, Mr Poon is also keen to learn the news and views on technology advancement and management practice from his professional counterparts around the world.
Serving up a hectic work schedule, Mr Poon gets an extra lift from weekly games of tennis and ping-pong. He also enjoys a few laps in a swimming pool near the office and never misses a good read. "A well-paced novel allows you the time and space to process information. It helps you to develop the logic you need, particularly when presenting your ideas to your team mates and clients" he says.
"Soft skills are equally important," he adds. "In our line of work there are ample opportunities to develop technical know-how and management skills but true success lies in the relationships with clients who entrust their business to us."
Competent consultants are in short supply, according to Mr Poon. While patent and trademark consulting requires from candidates a science or engineering background; other areas such as automation and production have different requirements. He remarks, "Clients may not know what they need so we must learn their businesses, ask questions and guide them through the process, gaining their trust as we go. The best recruits are sharp-eyed communicators with relevant experience."
New regulations are pushing up labour costs on the mainland. Faced with mounting competition from other developing countries, Manufacturers in China must look to automation for keeping quality up and costs low. "Mainland companies will increasingly leverage off Hong Kong innovation," Mr Poon states. "Hong Kong must in turn continue its niche role in R&D (research and development)." Currently, he is looking to grow a stronger automation team to capitalise on the mainland's soaring need for hard and soft automation but finds it hard going. "Northbound travel or relocation is still holding some young people back," he says. "Over the last decade, a great number of engineering graduates have been lured by the commercial sector. People looking to tap into this field now will surely find better prospects."