The long and winding road

Hactl employs over 2,400 staff across numerous departments. An employee may join the company expecting to be an engineer, then encounter an opportunity to develop within departments and fields that he or she had never previously considered. He might even uncover a hidden talent, coming into his own in a totally different environment to the one he anticipated. In this edition of Hactlink, we invite Business Development Manager Lawrence Cheung and Ground Services Assistant Manager Duncan Chan to recount how their journeys through Hactl have taken unexpected turns.

Lawrence Cheung
Manager - Business Development, Hacis

A 180 degree transformation

Lawrence Cheung’s job means communicating frequently both with external clients and internal departments. Talkative and enthusiastic nowadays, Lawrence shares how he transformed from a shy, retiring IT expert into an extroverted all round manager.

Back in 2001, when Lawrence had just joined Hactl, he was a typical “homebody”. At that time, his best friend was the computer on his desk. “When my colleagues needed help developing digital functions, I would write a programme. But if anyone wanted to talk to me face to face, I got quite nervous. I preferred email or texting,” he recalls.

Building trust over breakfast

After 4 years in IT, Lawrence reached a turning point. In 2005, he was offered the opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong Air Cargo Industry Services Limited (Hacis), Hactl’s subsidiary, as System Support Officer. His task was observing Hacis’ freight and warehouse processes, and designing digital and simplified alternatives to traditional manual methods.

His first challenge was initiating dialogue with, and integrating into the ranks of front-line staff, in order to “market” his ideas. “In the past,” continues Lawrence, “front-line colleagues manually counted cargo and reconciled paperwork, which was time-consuming and error-prone. So, I wanted to introduce barcode scanning. Nothing unusual in that, right? However, if we want people to change working processes they have always used, we must first persuade them to adapt and adjust. We can’t rush into it.”

As an IT worker with no front-line experience, Lawrence went to the canteen every day to eat breakfast with the operations colleagues, and gain their trust. “At first it was a little awkward, but I bit the bullet - talking about football matches, news and stars. Through these casual chats, we gradually found common ground and became friends.”

That made things a lot easier, when Lawrence later asked his colleagues for help, or needed them to learn to use the new system. “Some of my co-workers hadn’t much experience with computer systems and found it hard to adjust to things like drop-down menus and keying in specific codes. But now everyone knew and trusted me, they were more willing to share their experiences and work with me to implement change.”

Change may initially cause some discomfort, but can also help to bring about a 180 degree transformation in yourself.

Confidence comes from being prepared

After two years, Lawrence encountered yet another new opportunity. This time, his manager suggested he should swap to a job in sales. “My boss told me: ‘Lawrence, if you want to fully understand how the company operates, you need to try your hand in the sales department, and meet our customers face to face.’”

So Lawrence took on the daunting challenge of meeting with unfamiliar clients. At first, when he made presentations, he was understandably nervous. “Afterwards, my boss told me not to keep asking the audience ‘OK?’, ‘OK?’. That was when I realised these frequent pet phrases originated from lack of self-confidence.

“Often, the root cause of stuttering is lack of preparation and being unfamiliar with the product.” The solution to the problem, he learned, is to fully familiarise yourself with the proposal you are introducing. “I challenged myself to smoothly express the contents of a proposal, even throwing away my script. I also anticipated what questions and concerns the clients might express.” He also decided to change his attitude towards people and work. “When meeting people you expect to be business partners, you cannot just be cold; you have to treat them as friends, and break the ice. Then everyone will interact in a more relaxed manner, and will be more ready to work with you in the future.”

Now heading up Hacis’ business development, Lawrence needs to meet clients and understand their needs, then communicate these to co-workers from the warehouse and other departments. He also has to ensure his colleagues in the warehouse have the necessary support to satisfy those needs, which constantly evolve. “I feel very fortunate to have made that career switch all those years ago. It allowed me to become the person I am today. Now that I manage other people, I often share my experiences with them, telling them that change may initially cause some discomfort, but can also help to bring about a 180 degree transformation in yourself.”

Duncan Chan
Assistant Manager - Ground Services, Hactl

Developing a broader view

11 years ago, Duncan Chan was just a green graduate in engineering. And all he wanted was to become an engineer at Hactl. While still a university student, he had already worked in Hactl’s engineering department as a summer intern; so, after graduation, he naturally joined Hactl as an Engineering Trainee.

However, once in Hactl’s engineering department (Operation Services), he was soon confronted with opportunities to work in different departments, ultimately becoming involved in service delivery and transformation projects. Today, Duncan is no longer an engineer; he is a Ground Services Assistant Manager, involved in every aspect of the business on the ramp and in the terminal.

"Working in the engineering department was really interesting,” he begins. “As SuperTerminal 1 operates round the clock, all kinds of machinery and equipment run into issues from time to time. Whenever a problem popped up, our team rushed to the scene and did everything possible to fix it. The whole problem-solving process brought us a huge sense of accomplishment."

“I knew the CSS (Container Storage System) and BSS (Box Storage System) were important systems for Hactl, and I knew how to repair them. But how to operate them was a different matter. And how is cargo transported from the aircraft to the storage systems? In the engineering department, I only had a partial understanding of the systems’ operation, but I had a strong desire to learn more."

In 2013, his boss proposed him as a member of the Project Transform taskforce (fore-runner of Hactl’s renowned Performance Enhancement team). Full of enthusiasm, Duncan decided to give it a try. The taskforce comprised co-workers from departments such as Information Services, Service Delivery, and Commercial and Business Development. Together, they studied the project plan developed by the company, shared their views as specialists, and proffered solutions.

“The New Truck Flow Management system we use today is one example of our ideas put into practice. We put our heads together to design a set of solutions: colleagues from the Commercial and Business Development Department thought about the costs, while colleagues from Service Delivery considered the compatibility of the measures with cargo loading and unloading processes. As the representative from engineering, I had to think about how to support the project with technology and equipment.”

His experience on the Project Transform taskforce broadened Duncan's outlook: "I learned about the concerns of different departments, and built up a full picture of the company’s operations. My view is no longer restricted to the field of engineering.”

I felt I had to make my front-line co-workers understand that I was part of the team, not just someone standing on the sidelines giving orders.

A sponge for knowledge

Duncan wanted to learn more about the different departments in the company, and the one which interested him most was operations (Service Delivery) – the heart of Hactl’s business – where he felt he could acquire a comprehensive understanding of all the terminal’s processes. After discussion with his manager, Duncan waved goodbye to engineering and transferred to operations, getting to know all about the workings of the warehouse. Every day, he absorbed new knowledge like a sponge: learning about cargo build-up, loading and unloading. "Gaining new knowledge was a great pleasure, although I was not used to working shifts in the beginning." During that time, Duncan also studied for his master’s course out of hours: “Others went to school after work, but I went to school before rushing off to work," he says with a laugh.

"There were a lot of things I needed to learn when I transferred to the operations department, such as how to effectively communicate with front-line workers, but I didn’t find it hard to adjust. I felt I had to make my front-line co-workers understand that I was part of the team, not just someone standing on the sidelines giving orders.” Later, Duncan was promoted to Ground Services Duty Manager, managing nearly 600 colleagues. This involved added responsibilities, from scheduling work on the ramp, sometimes in extreme weather, to handling complaints.

"Handling flight arrivals and departures is a race against time. We need to finish all cargo unloading and loading processes within one to two hours. Even when typhoon signal number 8 is hoisted, we try our best to operate as usual. However, when the weather is so bad that it could affect safety, I have to make fast decisions and communicate with co-workers and airline customers to ensure all arrangements are in place.”

Duncan concludes with a smile: "There is definitely more pressure in this job. But I truly enjoy the moment when the aircraft closes its door and takes off on time. There is a sense of satisfaction from successfully completing a mission. So there’s pressure, but it’s also the source of my motivation.”