Career Path

The power of eloquence

by Martin Williams

Sam Cheung
president, Greater China
Photo: Lewis Wong

A keen learning attitude and a flair for interpersonal communication have all contributed to Sam Cheung's career success.

Now Greater China president of Englishtown, the online arm of EF Education First and the world's largest English language learning institution, Hong Kong-born Mr Cheung was once aspired to become a doctor, but changed his mind while at university in Canada where he studied business administration and marketing.

Upon graduation, Mr Cheung signed on with Toyota in Canada as a marketing officer. His seven-year tenure provided him with invaluable industry exposure, but he left for Hong Kong on New Year's Eve 1996, for a good reason. "I could see a bright future for the city," he says.

After a few stints in various industries, Mr Cheung wrote to Englishtown, explaining why the organisation should hire him and that he could help Englishtown "win" the China market. That was when he first realised his level of proficiency in English had always provided him a niche, particularly in communities where Chinese remains the dominant language.

Mr Cheung had known of Englishtown after briefly working as a consultant for a competitor, which was planning for an Asian expansion at that time.

"I have always been passionate about bringing English training to Chinese communities - not only does this make China stronger, but it also helps people change their lives," he adds.

His letter led to an interview with EF global chief executive officer Philip Hult and three consecutive job offers, the third of which he accepted. This was to build an Englishtown business in Hong Kong.

New page

With over 40 years of experience in English language teaching, and more than 29,000 professional teachers and staff in 450 offices and schools peppered across 75 countries and regions, Englishtown has thus far helped more than 15 million people around the world to enhance their English competency and professional confidence.

Englishtown now operates a dedicated sales centre and five schools in Hong Kong, 110 schools on the mainland, and is launching in Taiwan. "Since I started out, we have added a lot more content and substance," he notes. "Our corporate clientele comprises more than 1,000 multinationals and household names."

While EF is about bringing students to teachers, Englishtown brings teachers and the environment to the students - the organisation has different ways of achieving the same mission, explains Mr Cheung. He and his colleagues have noticed that successful students tend to move up in their careers.

"We care about our students all-round development and believe in what we do," he says. "Students who find themselves inept could come out tops and run rings round their counterparts in a professional context," he adds.

Articulated vehicle

Mr Cheung's typical work week entails a lot of travelling between the Hong Kong and mainland operations. "My job is to devise strategy and to deliver results, as well as to find the best people for our business and to put them in the right jobs," he remarks.

Prerequisites for course consultants and teachers are integrity and a belief in the parent organisation's vision of breaking down cultural and language barriers to make a better world. Mr Cheung expands, "I often stress the importance of a thorough understanding of people's lives as well as personal and professional development needs. In a socioeconomic situation where cultural diversity is a way of life, a certain level of English proficiency is as much a necessity as a lifestyle."

This may well explain the organisation's meticulously formulated blended learning solutions model and its stimulating social life club programme, which help students to find their way around complex and intriguing social discourses. The wide range of university-certified multimedia courseware and all-hours VoIP access to native-speaking teacher services also give the organisation as well as its students the upper hand.

"When teaching a language it is best we incorporated flexibility and interaction because students' ability to communication effectively with others is of paramount importance," Mr Cheung says. "It is also part of my job to ensure that our teaching staff and course consultants are aligned with this particular philosophy and adopt the most appropriate approach at all times."

In fact, he draws the best satisfaction from working with smart people. "We want as many good people as possible - we're always hiring teachers and course consultants," he points out.

Aspirants who possess the right attributes and attitude can expect a long-term career. "We do not simply present our people with jobs and incentives. Every member of our staff plays a key part in our succession plans and each one of them receives the same opportunity for growth and exposure to different products and customer segments as well as the chance to assume management responsibilities including perhaps those of the company's president in Greater China," Mr Cheung confirms. "For instance, one of our centre managers started a career here as a telemarketer and then a course consultant. The opportunities for growth are highly visible."


Taken from Career Times 04 September 2009, p. B12
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