Hong Kong's unprecedented density of office skyscrapers and residential high-rises has made the city number one in the world in terms of elevator installation and usage.
As a result, the major manufacturers in the field all see this a key market and take every opportunity to introduce the very latest technology to local property developers, architects and building engineers.
According to Ho Shi-fun, director of service for Otis Elevator Company (HK) Limited, three factors are critical for success — product design, installation efficiency and maintenance services.
"Design is optimised to achieve a balance between the level of investment made by the developers and the waiting time for users," Mr Ho explains. "Then the installation process must be efficient. It may take just 30 days in Hong Kong, while 45 to 50 days are required overseas." He adds that the company's local standard for responding to a maintenance request is less than 30 minutes, a time that is less demanding in other cities.
In Mr Ho's view, Hong Kong greatly benefits from having the strictest rules and regulations for elevator safety. These require suppliers to be registered contractors, and technicians responsible for day-to-day operations and safety must possess professional qualifications.
For example, only qualified workers with at least four years' relevant experience can work independently. Specialist engineers need suitable academic qualifications and five years' experience, but must also have a thorough understanding of elevator theory and statutory requirements. Furthermore, they need to pass written and oral exams in order to gain registration.
We hire for attitude and train for skills
The company was founded in New York in 1853 and is the world's largest manufacturer of elevators, escalators and moving walkways.
The overall business is generally divided into two main parts — new equipment sales and installation, and maintenance and modernisation services. In recent years, with the slower pace of development in Hong Kong's construction sector, the focus of the industry has been more on generating a stable income from providing high-quality maintenance services. As more property owners are deciding to renovate, the demand for modernisation services is also expected to increase.
Nowadays, Otis has a total of 1,100 employees in Hong Kong and Macau, of whom more than 800 are in the service department.
The company's sales professionals are basically responsible for winning tenders. They must also make full use of the available products and technologies to develop customised solutions for customers. This is usually done in collaboration with sales engineers, who have the technical knowledge to help repackage a product to meet specific needs.
In contrast, field engineers oversee on-site installation and maintenance. Their work often involves solving technical problems and may extend to reprogramming the software used to manage the sequence and timing of the elevator systems.
The recruitment process is very thorough and focuses on identifying potential. "We hire for attitude and train for skills," says Mr Ho. Candidates are expected to reflect the company's values of regarding safety as a top priority, striving for service excellence, and being committed to delivering what they promise.
Engineers require other specific characteristics. They must be quality and cost conscious, have an organised approach to work and problem solving, and be looking for continuous improvement.
Candidates for sales positions should show determination to succeed and be self-motivated, flexible and presentable. They should also have a higher diploma or university degree in business, plus a year's work experience.
All new entrants complete an orientation programme and receive the training necessary for their respective duties. This will cover products, soft skills in presenting and negotiating, case studies, and experience sharing with other team members. Subsequently, there are further courses run by the in-house "Otis University".
The company also offers scholarships, which cover 100 per cent of tuition fees for employees studying for associate's, bachelor's or advanced college degrees offered by recognised educational institutions. On completion of the course, they will receive Otis parent company shares as a reward. In addition, top-performing employees have the chance to visit overseas offices for training and exchange programmes.
High standards Hong Kong is the world's leading market for elevators
Registered engineers must pass a tough series of tests to become qualified
Business comprises sales and installation of new equipment and maintenance and modernisation services
Recruitment process identifies potential and the company then trains for skills