Corporate Hong Kong still lauds the virtues of academic qualifications and the ubiquitous advertisements in periodicals for MBA programmes are testimony to this. But the city's burgeoning fitness industry is proof that university degrees are not the only indicators of an employee's zeal and initiative, two qualities much sought after in the fitness business.
Peter Soon, a district manager for California Fitness, believes that, while academic qualifications have their place, a genuine desire to develop professionally is fundamental if one is to succeed in fitness.
"I'm not really too concerned whether someone has an MBA or a degree. The main thing is that they have the interest there and they are willing to learn and develop themselves," he says. Mr Soon, a UK native who has been resident in Hong Kong for nearly ten years, explains he was attracted to the fitness industry because of the energy he discovered while training at a gym. "I just kind of stumbled into the fitness industry because my passion was working out. You could say I was a bit of a gym rat."
Mr Soon's career with California Fitness began in 1998 as a fitness professional, but he soon moved up and, in November 2002, became the first fitness manager in Asia to be cross promoted to the sales department as a general manager. Remarkably, after only eleven months as general manager, he was promoted yet again to his current post as district manager overseeing club facilities in Wanchai, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.
"I just kind of stumbled into the fitness industry because my passion was working out"
Aspiring employees should note there are distinct advantages in coming from a fitness background, though terms for admission into the profession are flexible. Following a stringent exercise regimen at home, holding an internationally-recognised qualification or possessing a passionate yearning to immerse oneself in the field - all are avenues that can lead to a career in fitness. However, Mr Soon emphasises that casual interest or passing fancies are not justification enough for this demanding type of work.
"It can be difficult and tough at times. You're dealing with a lot of variables." However intimidating these variables are, Mr. Soon realised how to deal with them and has used them to his obvious advantage.
That Mr Soon was given a managerial role after only two years in the job is the rule rather than the exception in the fitness industry. Zeal and initiative, rather than chiselled good looks, are the attributes company officials look for when considering employees for management posts. "We look at a person's performance in terms of personal production. We also look at their ability to lead from the front and their willingness to learn and get involved with the team as a whole, rather than do their own individual thing," he explains.
With plans for rapid expansion over the next three years, California Fitness may promote qualified employees to managerial posts with the opportunity to showcase their leadership abilities. Typical management positions range from branch manager up to regional director. The company consists of a fitness department and a sales department though most, if not all, management posts require incumbents to be very experienced in sales.
Branch managers are responsible for recruitment and retention, ensuring club members' needs are met and meeting weekly with other branch managers throughout the territory. District managers, of which there are two in Hong Kong, liaise with club managers to ensure high quality standards of service & facilities. They are also responsible for directing & training the sales teams for their area.
A regional director sits at the helm of the organisation's Asian operation and is heavily involved in formulating and implementing marketing strategies. Country managers are similar to a regional director except they are accountable for a smaller area.
China represents the biggest market for the local fitness industry. Mr Soon, who had one of his staff transfer to China and find a job position similar to his own, says there are good opportunities there. And though Hong Kong and the mainland are in close proximity, a cultural divide still exists, "In terms of dealing with customers it's very difficult because culturally and educationally people are at a lower standard than they are in Hong Kong," he says.
Certified personal trainers anxious to take on management responsibilities may find the prospects too tempting to resist. But Mr Soon believes that, although mainland China has a lot to offer, it is still a developing market and in terms of resources Hong Kong is much farther ahead.