Archive for December, 2010

A Date With Franco Dragone

Last night I joined a group of out-of-town visitors to watch Franco Dragone’s 250 million US dollars production of “The House of Dancing Water”.   The show is a resident program of City of Dreams, across the street from the Venetian.   Being an employee of the latter, and having been back and forth in Macau for business countless number of times including attending a few similar entertainment programs, I admit I wasn’t having too much hope when I entered the theatre.

Boy was I wrong.  For those of us not new to Vegas-style productions and Cirque du Soleil’s shows, I can’t say there are too many original elements in Dancing Water.  However, the physical setup of the theatre is an art of itself.  Every audience seems to be participating since we are all seated in a sports auditorium setting instead of a traditional movie theatre seating.  The stage constantly evolves from a 26-feet world’s largest swimming and diving pool to solid flooring onwards to a sea of 5 storey high water fountains.  The 90 minute show was filled with cheers, applause and gasps from the audience.  The motor bike stunts were simply amazing and truly Vegas-inspired.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The ticket prices aren’t exactly inexpensive to Hong Kong’s standards.  However, unlike the Zaia show across the street, while exiting the theatre I overheard a number of fellow audience members exclaiming that this new Dancing Water show is “definitely worth every penny”.  It is by no means a modest compliment since Hong Kong people are known to be spoiled.  It just seems like nothing can excite us anymore.  The two shows really can’t be directly compared this way.  One is slightly geared towards European taste while the newest Franco Dragone’s show incorporates more Chinese elements, and he frankly admitted that he has taken advantage of Zaia’s “failures” while planning this number.  Asians in general feel that they better be excited paying a hundred US dollars per person for a show, and Franco gives them non-stop sky diving, motor bike jumping, acrobats and gymnastics.  I remember people telling me that Zaia is the most boring circus show they have ever seen.  Little do they know that Cirque du Soleil never proclaims it is a circus performance!

To me, last night was a pleasant surprise, and a truly happy ending to my love/hate affair with Macau.  It will be a while before I come back to this not-so-quaint city, a place that is so near but also at the same time so different, from Hong Kong.

So long, farewell. 

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If you have been following my earlier blog entries, you will know why my job covers at least regional if not global markets.  It makes both strategic and financial sense in order to fulfill my promised ROI for the company.  Taking any regional roles means that we have to manage teams virtually, and by teams it can be my colleagues in procurement, or my internal and external clients across various countries and time zones.

Handling all these conference calls is exhausting.  First there are bi-weekly calls with my boss, and then there are monthly regional calls where they have to happen during our lunch hour because it is the only time that fits everyone’s time zones from Australia to India.  The global calls happen either in our early mornings or late evenings when my European and American colleagues attend.   It seems that all I do at work is babbling on the telephone all day, and not til 5 or 6pm can I return to my quieter time at work. 

This is all a fact of life, but I still have to rant about a few of my frustrations on this topic.

1. Physical endangerment

No time for proper meals.  One could really develop a bad case of stomach ulcer from irregular eating times.  Sometimes I won’t have time for lunch until 4pm.  Plus, whenever people on my floor see me running (apologetically) across, it’s for the restroom.  Speaking on the phone all day requires the intake of plenty of water, and naturally all that intake needs an outlet.  While my rich neighboring department staff can afford those fancy wireless headsets that they can carry around everywhere (including restroom, which I surely won’t recommend), I have to leave my clumsily-wired headset and run to the restroom, hopefully all within a minute and a half.  “Yes…..exactly and I agree….,” I continued babbling as if I have never left.

2. Idiots on the phone

You would think that in the year 2010, people would have developed a proper sense of phone etiquette.   Oh no.  There are people who put everyone on hold forcing all of us to listen to blaring elevator music.  There are dogs barking and TV noises in the background.  There are people seemingly eating potato chips while talking.  Alright, I know everyone is multi-tasking, but please don’t insult us by yapping on your cell phone while everyone can hear.  Your signals provide much hated interference to line quality.  I cannot believe we still need to repeat call etiquette guidelines every time when we start a call, and every time there will be idiots repeating the same mistakes.

3. Lazy folks

Well, to be fair, they are perhaps not lazy.  Their bosses may not have given them the budget to buy head sets.  If this is the case, I won’t complain too much about them abusing the hands-free button on their desktop phones.  All we hear are people mumbling.  The hands-free function only works in quiet environment and not in open offices.  I am hearing everyone else’s conversation instead of this poor soul.  There is also nothing more insulting when I keep hearing a few conference attendees apparently sharing inside jokes while yapping away from the same hands-free desktop phone.  I feel like a clown performing for their amusement.  Not cool, guys.

Sometimes when things really get out of hand, I will simply suggest to reschedule the call altogether.  I don’t have time to waste on unproductive calls where people don’t even respect others.   Grow up.

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You see them staring at you on 5-storey high billboards.  You see their dashing smiles and authoritative poses on the city’s buses.  You see them on full-page newspaper ads where they are pictured with hundreds of students holding up their straight-A report cards.  Yes, they are the city’s star tutors, though they dress and behave like your TV and movie idols.  This, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

When I grew up there were a few tutor schools where we got ourselves enrolled to brush up for upcoming public exams.  Those were usually a few sessions only for each subject and the fees as I recall were nothing like what students today are paying.  The star tutors today have evolved to almost replace the normal daytime schools that students go to.  Their curriculum is tailor-made to survive public examinations, and hence the star tutors spend a considerable amount of time researching the latest examination trends and marking schemes.  Many of them possess enough star qualities to lure aspiring students.  They are well-groomed, articulate, and hardly much older than the kids themselves, making them extremely relatable and approachable – comparing to the day school teachers.  They hire assistants to help them prepare fancy notes and even run errands because their tutoring schedules are so hectic from running around several tutor centers in the city, usually on a daily basis.  They hire image consultants together with professional make-up artists, photographers and designers to make sure they are marketable in this lucrative business. 

I am not here to criticize whether these star tutors have twisted the idea of education, or whether it is unethical to make money out of young kids.  In fact, this is a common trend of fast food mentality of Hong Kong where everyone focus on only the results rather than the means.  The blame is with everyone.  I just see this as a classic example why training and teaching techniques need to be evolved according to times.  Everyone can find subject literature in books and over the internet, and they need no one to simply read to them and repeat case studies from textbooks. 

Students want to hear relatable material so that it helps with digesting and understanding the subject at hand.  In my field of strategic procurement training, we always make use of real life case studies to illustrate the theories we advocate.    Public sector case studies are often popular due to their wide coverage over TV and newspapers.   On the other hand, the trainees also don’t want to be preached  like young school kids.  They want to feel that they are also contributing to the class and hence we are often moderators instead of trainers.   I like the idea that the star tutors are organizing social activities to help bond with the students.  I know, you may argue that they are in fact sucking up to their paying customers, but if the students do not feel that the classes are enjoyable and effective, there are tons of other tutors out there.

I dream of the day that there will be similarly inspired tutor centers some day where we can offer consulting advice to working procurement professionals, whether it is in terms of career progression advice or anonymous yet real life work issues.  As the next generation of public-exam-tutors, will there also be star tutors for new career professionals?  Come to think of it, the “rules at work” are even less scripted and way more challenging.

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For those of us bloggers who are also partly creating a brand of ourselves, it is this time of the year where we could conduct an interesting assessment of our online identity.   If you have tried Googling yourself like most people did, you are in search of your online identity.   There is nothing narcissistic about this, as it is now what everyone should do on a periodic basis to help protect your reputation and security.  In today’s overly public sharing of status updates, work information and personal data on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter etc., you will not be surprised to see unflattering comments, pictures or even videos of yourself in some simple searches over the internet.

According to ExecuNet Study 2007, “83% of recruiters use search engines to learn about candidates and 43% of recruiters admit to eliminating candidates based on information they found online.” 

Sounds pretty scary, but for sure real.  I have recently come across this OnlineID Calculator tool from Reach Communications Consulting.  By answering a few simple and quick questions through this free online tool, you will able to discover whether your online identity turns out to be digitally distinct, disastrous, dabbling, or dissed.

After getting my results, I am now ready to start making plans to continue building my brand in the new year!

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I was looking for salary survey information for some research and just realize that the latest figures won’t be available until first quarter next year.  While surfing the two main industry certification bodies, namely The UK-based Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS), and US-based Institute for Supply Management (ISM), I come across some interesting facts of the year 2009.

I know and I have been advocating all along that the procurement profession has undergone a major transformation over the last few years.  However I am still quite shocked to read from the CIPS – Croner Reward salary survey (conducted between October and December 2009) that procurement and supply professionals get paid more than peers in marketing, finance, IT and human resources in graduate careers.  Salaries obviously reflect experience, qualifications and ability, so graduates entering the profession need to prove themselves by showing a willingness to learn, independent thinking and determination. 

This is definitely great news for us to recruit graduates into the profession. 

In terms of experienced procurement professionals, the ISM 2010 Salary Survey (covering 2009 data) shows average salaries by titles range from US$50,506 for entry level positions to US$240,408 for chief procurement officers.  Total average annual compensation is US$98,200, and 34% of respondents reported earning a salary of US$100,000 or more.  The reported high salary was US$620,000 for the men and US$690,000 for the women.  Bonuses are already included in these figures.

I know, salaries shouldn’t be the only luring factor for graduates, but I truly believe that it has to be appropriately measured up against the value and results we deliver.  There is never any excuse for corruption or bribery activities, but face it, the likelihood of that happening is higher with underpaid procurement professionals.  As covered in my pervious posts, we should always uphold the highest level of integrity at all times.

On the same CIPS site I discover a fabulous Graduate Guide to Procurement, aimed at introducing what procurement is to graduates.  It provides a wealth of information including industry 101, salaries, environment, industry outlook, job hunting, CV writing, personality tests, and a number of corporate case studies including British Airways, Rolls-Royce, Starbucks and Apple.  Highly recommended even for those who are just interested in knowing what we do for a living!

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U Buy I Buy?

In The United States, there have been over 200 sites, led by Groupon, offering discounted deals to the public over volume buying.  The leader Groupon is rumored to have rejected numerous buyout offers from Yahoo and Google offering as much as 6 billion US dollars.  Now the trend has blown to Hong Kong and China and some of those newly established sites are also rumored to be approached by Groupon itself (the tackily named local site UBuyIBuy).  It all sounds like a promising new shopping phenomenon.

In the States the targeted demographics is supposedly young, educated female customers.  I would say it is probably similar in this neck of the woods.  The deals I hear are largely focused on health, fitness, beauty and dining areas.  There are a lot of vacationers here and so I also see a whole lot of travel and hotel deals as well.

One common sociological drawback of buying coupons is that customers are always tempted to buy without really needing the merchandise.  The deals and coupons are so tempting that it feels stupid not to take advantage of them.  These bargain hunters fall into traps where they are stuck with expiring coupons and unwanted products.  In a highly competitive city like Hong Kong, I see people lining up for sales all the time, and more often than not, the need of not missing out on any opportunities shared or overheard from their friends and colleagues far outweighs the need of buying exactly what’s on offer.

No wonder why merchants see these portals as fantastic business partners to boost sales.

On the corporate side however, suppliers hate to recognize how much collective buying power we have, even within the same group of companies.  They can make more money by selling separately to different business groups, departments or users.  They will also try to differentiate as much as possible the requirements so that every sale appears to be a standalone product or service.  When we come on board, the number one task we perform is to go through the company’s spend records and run a full list of spend by suppliers.  With that we can approach each of them and negotiate the lowest price that benefits all cost centers of the company.  That also explains why we are now sourcing regionally if not globally, so that we can cover the biggest volumes possible.

So when I know my customers do check with their friends and relatives for bulk bargains in their personal lives, I do not understand why they wouldn’t pick up the phone and call us for assistance in the work place.  Well, is it just because it is the company’s money and not theirs?

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They Said I Was Responsible!

Saw this joke on the internet today.  I think it applies to every profession really!

Employer: “For this buyer’s job, we need someone who is responsible.”
Applicant: “I’m the one you want. In my last procurement job, every time there was a problem, they said I was responsible.”

Courtesy of Top 10 Supply Chain Jokes by Bill DuBois.

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I applaud what the territory’s Ombudsman Alan Lai Lin said during a press conference over the Water Supplies Department’s mixed-up meter readings screw-ups over the last 20 years.  Apparently over 100 cases of water-meter mix-ups are reported each year.  A complainant received water bills up to HK$900 even though her flat was vacant for 6 months.   The Ombudsman pointed out that although the installation of water meters has been contracted out in recent years, greater supervision is needed by the Department.  “Even though the work is contracted out, the responsibility should not be contracted out.”, said Mr. Lai.

This couldn’t be more spot on.  Whenever I lead contract negotiations on outsourcing deals, mediate issues and performance complaints with incumbent outsourced providers, or conduct qualification analysis over whether or not to outsource with senior business partners, I always see people with the wrong understanding over the objectives of outsourcing, or contracting out in the above scenario.  Aside from obvious savings on costs and headcount, many corporations look at moving part of their processes offshore so as to focus on core elements of their businesses.  This has been gaining traction over the last 10 to 15 years.  In fact, no one would be surprised to see that a lot of the customer facing functions are being contracted out.  Call handling, customer services, direct selling, payroll, HR, and installation like what we see above for water-meters.  Oh yes, procurement can be outsourced as well.

Many clients think that the worst is over once the decision is made and endorsed by management.  They believe that they can then sit comfortably and bark orders at the outsourced providers and transferring all business targets onwards.  These are clearly the most irresponsible clients.  Experienced leaders understand how much more difficult it is to manage outsourced providers, much more so than running their own team of staff in-house.   Businesses need to undergo what we call risk analysis.  They need to brainstorm and  list out everything that could go wrong, and then place relative likelihood and precautionary as well as handling guidelines for each scenario.    They need to assign specific resource (in-house) who is tasked with managing the outsourced provider on a daily basis.  Sometimes this resource needs to work on-site with the provider.  Accountability has to be set right from the start with clear distinctions.   I have seen too many clients who think that the outsourced providers are the only party shouldering responsibilities.  In fact they themselves are equally liable to provide the necessary direction, management and rectification whenever they see problems ahead.  Laying the blame on the outsourced provider only proves how incompetent the client really is.  To me, they share the biggest part of the blame.

Most outsourced relationships fail because of issues like this.  There is nothing wrong about the concept.  Technical competencies maybe, but it could easily be rectified by trainings and investment.  I see time and time again that my clients fail to grasp the right techniques, processes and mentality to manage the providers.  Whenever catastrophes appear like the water bill foul-ups cases above, they pass on the blame and ask for more money from the top!



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Buying apartments in Hong Kong is almost like shopping for groceries in the territory.  There is no advance appointment required, no checking on your credit, needs or even your affordability.  Just last Saturday I accompanied a friend to visit a property agency as walk-in customers, and within minutes, we were led to inspect a few open houses in the area.

Aside from the apartments being inspected, I paid some close attention to the realtor who served us.  I am quite impressed with her handling skills and I could relate a bit of what characteristics she possesses that are actually universal across industries, as salesperson.

1. Listening Skills

Hong Kong people are notoriously impatient and none of us would spend the time to answer a long list of questions of why we want what we want.  In order not to offend us, she decided to take the time during the inspections to figure out what we were focusing on.  We were looking for apartments that are elderly friendly, easily accessible and managed by a respected management firm.  She knew from our conversations that we weren’t particularly picky on views and club facilities.  This saved us a lot of time.

2. No Nonsense

I despise realtors who make false conclusions or assumptions about the neighborhood, resale value or interior design.  I know this is a very subjective matter particularly of the latter, but smart realtors would shut up and take the time to listen and define what kind of customers we are.  My theory is that unless you are an absolute genius about a topic or the neighborhood you are showing me, do not make generalizing statements or smart ass comments.  Your credibility is barely hanging by a piece of thread.  Our realtor this time around is a no nonsense kind of person.  She provided us with the facts and shut up.  When we raised standard questions about flat sizes, layout and facilities, she could download like a computer.  I like this type of realtors.  She is someone I could count on.

3. Reading People

A good salesperson should always master how to read people and characters.   Without asking specific questions, good salespeople can gauge customers by their education level, lifestyle and etiquette by many obvious traits.  Of course it can’t be all that accurate all the time, but I can always use this simple test to filter out those who won’t get my business.  They could tell whether you will be a potential long-term customer with return businesses.  Similarly, they know whether you are wasting their time.  While treatment appears to be identical on the surface, there are a few subtle handling differences.  In addition, some bad realtors can’t seem to take clues.  They keep babbling on and on regardless of my reactions, on top of using a few scare tactics.  To me, this type of salesmanship skills is so behind the times.

4. Tough

Ok, I know it’s a rather broad term, but we all need to keep ourselves physically fit for the jobs we do.   Last Saturday, we walked up and down the hill a few times and it is harder than it seems, particularly in Hong Kong’s humidity.

5. Follow-through

Finally, we all know how frustrating that is when someone doesn’t follow through promises or every bit of details that you depend upon them.  I have my share of complaints with bank relationship managers and headhunters, for example. 

Well well, I think I just figured out what I will write later!

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Swipe Baby, Swipe!

Trying to take advantage of all the bargains and promotional offers in town is not an easy task.  It takes efforts to do the necessary homework to hopefully save a few bucks.  Lately I have been following closely to all the promotional cash back deals offered by virtually every other credit card issuing bank in the city, and I have to admit it is much harder than it looks.

A couple of years ago cash back promotions were less common.  The banks were more focused on acquisitions and to grow their card holder base as quickly as possible.  Most deals were focused on flat screen TV, Sony Playstation, or the latest mobile phone model as welcome gifts.  It seems that most cardholders nowadays own enough cards that the acquisition base is getting smaller.  The issuers need to now focus on initiating spend value on cards.  If we don’t swipe, they will not make merchant fees. 

So you now have all the major supermarkets, electronics stores, department stores and pharmacies linked up with different card issuers, offering cash back to induce spend on cards.  The catch is that they make it so complicated that it requires diligence, preparation and photographic memory to figure all this out.

1. Get the mailings

First you need to know what deals there are available for your card(s).  Some issuers send you direct mailing, but usually by the time you receive them, a few days have passed since the limited promotional period begins.  For those issuers who have a huge card base, they advertise on newspapers instead since direct mailings are relatively more expensive.  The digitally inclined may get to hear about the offers via e-mail. 

2. Remember the promotional period

Each offer is valid only through limited time.  Most concentrate around the holiday season when we do most of our purchases.  Some however limit the offers only from Fridays to Sundays. 

3. Know the qualification spending threshold

Each offer requires a minimum spending amount per transaction in order to qualify for the cash back.  It’s not entirely out of reach, but it means you should accumulate your purchases to a particular day during the weekend to meet the threshold.

4. Register

I don’t know why they cannot let everyone just enjoy the offer provided the above criteria is met.  No no, they need you to register for it by dialling their hotline, or online via their website.  If you don’t, you have no cash back.

5. Figure out how much cash back you are entitled

They make it so tempting on the flyers that your cash back entitlement can go as high as 50% of your purchase amount.   So when you register, you will get into a draw and realize how much percentage cash back you will get for the entire promotional period.  You register once and the same percentage stays on throughout the whole period.  Of course, I presume most cardholders get the lowest cash back entitlement, which is normally around 8%.

6. Understand the maximum cash back you can get

Even if you are satisfied with the 8% cash back (a penny is a penny), they also tell you what maximum cash back amount you can ever get within the period.  So no point of making any advance purchase if you have already met your rebate ceiling.

7. When will I see the cash?

Finally, you will be pleased to find out the rebate will be credited back into your account 6 months after the promotional period ends.  Remember to check your account, and hopefully you wouldn’t have forgotten about the whole thing or terminated your card for whatever reason.

Alright, multiply the above steps by 3 or 4 times for the total participating issuers and I guarantee you will be as lost as I am.  Now when I need to make a purchase, I have lost count as to what else I should buy, which card I should use, what day today is, and most likely, why I am seduced to spend more by the illusionary savings programs. 

Bravo on the marketers!

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