Archive for the ‘Sick’ Category

There was an interview of a 26 year-old Mr. Leung on a local newspaper two days ago that has created a heated sensation in the city.  Mr. Leung has a graduate degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, though his qualifications haven’t brought him any luck in the job front for the past two years.  On the news video, you can see Mr. Leung describing himself as a victim who is oppressed by society and discriminated by employers because of his lack of work experience and overqualified CV. 

The news story failed to draw sympathies from anyone, except today’s paper posted a follow-up story about a local restaurant offering Mr. Leung a position waiting tables.  Leung’s response was: “I am having three or four offers now and I would like to think about it for a few days before responding.”

Well, nothing wrong with that, but not after painting a sob story in front of millions of onlookers in the city.

My verdict?  It will be a few more years before Mr. Leung finds a stable job, I’m sad to say.

  • Attitude.  With tens of thousands of fresh graduates coming out every year with similar background, why Mr. Leung thinks jobs would be handed to him on a silver platter is beyond me.  He thinks his qualifications are being looked down upon by the employers.  I will be too, and it’s not about the certificate he is holding.  I am just questioning how he got to graduate in the first place with such poor critical thinking skills.
  • Presence.  Unmanaged hair, poor posture, stunted speech, lack of eye contact… are just a few physical traits anyone can witness from the news video.  Again, this has nothing to do with him being a grad school graduate.  Mr. Leung claimed that McDonald’s rejected him because he was overqualified, though I bet no fast food chain would have hired someone with an obvious challenge in human interaction.
  • Rationale.  Without reflecting on himself, Leung believes his pain and ordeal is inflicted by the Hong Kong government.  He claims that Hong Kong’s spoon-fed education system creates graduates with less than adequate socializing skills.  That is just a slap on the face to all the other teenagers.  If Mr. Leung has so successfully completed his studies with flying colors, what will he say to the hard-working kids who cannot even afford the tuition to complete their studies in the first place? 
  • Tactic.  I cannot imagine a grad school graduate attacking the job market with a total loss of focus.  Interviewing for 200 jobs?  It’s not how eager or how many posts one would go for that proves dertermination.  It’s about building a compelling case in front of the employers how our distinctive qualifications, personality and mindset can bring to the posts.  There should be at least a drawn path of application.  Leung might have done it, but from the short abrupt answers he provided for the employment agency representative, I am hardly convinced.

This, is scarier than the horror movie I watched last night.

The Cantonese video coverage of the story can be found here.  Part 1   Part 2


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Civility & The City

I admit I walk fast, and I mean really fast.  I seldom wander around aimlessly on the streets of crowded and densely populated Hong Kong, and walking in the city for me is a mission to get from point A to point B.  Yes I know it sounds robotic and industrious, but to me there’s not much fun rubbing shoulders with thousands of strangers, be stepped on by people behind me, or bumping into people who have no intention looking forward when they walk.  I am rather impatient with people like that and hence walking on the streets for me is like steering myself in a video game: sliding through as many pedestrians as possible while picking the shortest, more direct routes.

It’s exactly the opposite when I am in the countryside.  I want to soak up all the fresh air, scenery and the hard-earned quietness.  I really could sit down on the grass and let my mind ponders, perhaps into absolutely nothing.

Back to the city.  To add to all the craziness, there are plenty of product and restaurant promoters standing in the middle of the most crowded streets holding up large signboards with one hand, and handing out pamphlets that will give you nasty paper cuts if you don’t have your arms and fists protected.   These days, there are also plenty of street donation booths popping up everywhere, usually coupled with supposedly volunteers holding out donation boxes approaching each and every person passing by.  They would sometimes stand guard at all the zebra crossings so that you have nowhere to run whiling waiting to cross the roads.  There are simply obstacles everywhere.

Yes I do have a thing with all the street side donation booths.  Even if you don’t count the possible scams out there, I still do not give out donations on the streets.  When I donate to charities, I will make an informed choice based on reasearch I have done both on the mission as well as to the handling agencies.  I respect those who donate on the streets, but it is just not my thing.  I seriously think it is an invasion of my privacy by anyone trying to stop me for whatever agenda they have.  It is downright harassment.   I will still smile at the volunteers but at the same time shaking my head signalling my unwillingness to slow down.

I don’t mind being approached by innocent tourists asking for directions, because I know how helpless I can get if I am lost in a foreign land.  I get approached in all the weirdest places you can think of, and virtually in every foreign city that I have been.  I don’t know why even when I look nothing like the locals.  Perhaps it’s my hectic pace that convinces people as if I know where I am going?  Though one thing I particularly have a problem with is when they try to grab my attention by patting or even pinching me.  Body contact by strangers creeps me out.  I think it is downright rude and I usually would simply stare right back at them.   What happens with civility these days?

Any don’t get me started on civility.  Countless times have I been stuck in the elevator because people jump right in without waiting for others to get out first.  What’s the rush of 10 seconds?  Same thing with getting on and off the subway and this is witnessed all around the world.   You can see people eating and drinking on the subway and buses all the time.  People are leaning their entire body on railings so that they can free their hands holding up newspapers to read, leaving zero room for others to hold on.  People screaming at the top of their lungs into their mobile phones.   When I see parents praising their kids who literally run pass the line and jump into subway carts grabbing the 4 empty seats for the whole family, I lose all hope in mankind.

I have friends who tell me that I need to contain my rage by avoiding all forms of public transportation and crowded public areas.  They told me driving would be my best alternative.  But seriously, wouldn’t I do a lot more damage with a high-speed motor vehicle?  Who says this city’s driving manners are anything more civilized?

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I’m Lovin’ It

Some of us may remember a former Managing Director of McDonald’s Hong Kong was jailed for 4 years and 5 months last year, who was tried for bribery charges 3 years ago.  The 47-year old MD accepted bribes for recommending and approving a Thai food company to become the corn supplier of McDonald’s.   The bribe is said to be 10% commission of total corn sales, amounting to around 330 thousand US dollars.   To cover up for the bribe, the MD advised the corn supplier to answer law enforcement officers that the money was used for a joint venture property investment in China.  The city’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, for all the right reasons and evidence, did not buy the cover up.  The MD was head of McDonald’s Philippines for 3 years before taking up the top post in Hong Kong in May 2004.  According to reports, he spent 10 years expanding McDonald’s business in mainland China.

I have no idea why senior executives would throw away their hard-earned career, naive enough to hope that their illegal acts would not be uncovered.   However I am now told that such dealings are not at all rare in the food industry.  I admit that all I am hearing are rumors with absolutely no proof whatsoever, but I am amazed as to how short-sighted these supposedly professionals are.  Is it all about the money?  Is it about the perceived power as well?  I guess it probably feels great to have potential suppliers begging for your business and even offering to provide certain concessions.  Earlier I wrote about what a fine line procurement professionals could walk while accepting gifts, and here I would like to share a question which a former boss of mine used to raise in an internal training session which I co-hosted.

For the immense support you generated to their business over the past years, your supplier delivered a gift to you during a year-end business function.  You opened it and it was an expensive Swiss branded watch – the kind that you would only reward yourself after getting a sizable bonus at work.  Since the value is way above the company’s gift policy guideline, you reported it to your boss, company management and compliance.  Now suppose that everyone has cleared you of any illicit under-the-table insinuations, your boss told you that the decision is up to you.   Nothing is illegal, and the company has endorsed it as a genuine personal gift.

Would you take the watch?


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It cannot get any more disillusioned when you find out your leaders are insecure.  Leaders are there to provide vision, boost morale, remove obstacles and I believe most importantly, identify and groom talent. 

How do leaders get to be insecure?  Well to be fair, it applies to everyone including you and me, but we naturally hold higher standards for our bosses.  We all just got to watch it and not fall into the same trap.

1. Lack of confidence.  It happens to all of us.  We know we aren’t good with everything and sometimes it’s simply because we are less than enthusiastic with certain parts of our work.  We all know that if our hearts aren’t there, there is just no way we can deliver a satisfactory job.  In addition, it just sounds like everyone else is so much smarter than us, and we seem to be the only ones who have no idea what everyone else is talking about. 

The truth is, yes we are not good with everything and no one really is.  There should however at least be a few things that you do well for others to remember you by.  Capitalize on that, know what your weaknesses are and work on them.  There is just nothing more attractive than people who are confident and positive.  Needless to say, watch the line between confidence and cockiness.  I have seen so many people on far ends of this spectrum and too few can balance it well.

2. Threat.  Afraid of overshadowed by colleagues or subordinates?  Think that they may get noticed more and take your position away?  Same case with leaders.  Insecure leaders get so paranoid about the possibilities and make every effort to control information, stir up arguments, micro-manage, set up bureaucracies to make sure they themselves are useful, rather than thinking for the company’s interest.   Unfortunately they seldom know how naked they are.  If I can see it, everyone else can too.

3. Inexperienced to lead.  Leading talent is no easy matter.  Every one of us are different entities and we are motivated by different means.  Some want stability, some want power and some want money.  Bad leaders do not take the time to get to know their team and lead by cookie-cutter techniques – yes, very old-school techniques.  Some leaders do not pay attention even after you honestly share with them what you want.  In my opinion, I know I will probably never be able to provide all that my staff wanted, but I would remember it by heart, check-in with them constantly, and explain to them what I can or cannot do, with a timeline whenever possible.   Leading is very much a tailor-made approach, and I always believe staff responds to honesty and feeling recognized as a distinct individual instead of a generic “team member”.

4. Unable to scout talents.  Admit it, we all get frustrated when we see bad sheep in the department.  It’s bad enough that our leaders fail to notice it, but there is nothing worse or demoralizing than seeing the wrong people get rewarded, or good people go unappreciated.   Leaders need to set good examples by recognizing and reinforcing talented individuals and behavior, so that whatever competition there is within the organization,  it’s a healthy one.  Good leaders attract good people, and I follow many good mentors because they are passionate, charismatic and down to earth.  I believe with year 2011 just around the corner, retaining and attracting new talent is only getting more and more critical and challenging.  But hey, that’s what we expect of good leaders!

 I don’t need my leaders to have super powers.  I am very realistic.  I also don’t expect them to know more than me in everything, and that’s why I am hired to work for them and contribute what’s needed of me.  I however want to see my leaders to be trusting, confident and have a stand.  We may disagree on things but I want to be able to respect them, because it says something.  If I have lost respect for my leaders because of one or more of the above reasons, I know it’s probably time to pull the plug.  Yes dear, we as subordinates have choices as well. 

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Thou Shalt Not Kill

In my earlier post Thou Shalt Not Covet, there is a cliffhanger about times when I thought my own security was at stake.  No I am not exaggerating, and I do not need to make this up to make myself look important.  Now that I am in a secure location and with critical names masked, it shall be presented in the spirit of how our decisions could alter people’s livelihoods – and vice versa. 

“Slumdog Millionaire”

First a case I wasn’t directly involved until the incident occurred.  The company was looking to entirely revamp the employee shuttle arrangements in New Delhi India.  There had been numerous incidents and complaints about the below-par performance of a few service providers and the company was determined to make some changes. Millions, if not billions had been invested in the Delhi operation with thousands of employees hired in the region.  Since the transportation infrastructure was far from developed, the company has an obligation to take care of its employees in terms of daily commute between their homes and our offices.

New service providers and management need to be brought in from abroad to break the local cartel.  A few of the incumbents are managed by the triads and they refuse to oblige to American ways of bidding and negotiations.  Of course, the dollar amount involved is in the millions so it is money not to be missed.  Any change from status quo is a permanent livelihood shift for anyone.

Next we heard that the head of procurement of India got personal life threats to him and his family.  The company was genuinely shocked because no one in their right minds had expected such barbaric acts to take place in this day and age.  The company also did not want to back down as a sign of weakness. 

Finally after consulting with security, legal and senior management, it was decided that the project would continue but the project leads had to be reassigned to ensure safety of the individual.  It was eventually assigned to my team in Hong Kong.  It was believed that moving the project offshore and leading it virtually would create the least amount of risks to everyone.  We were doing the negotiations via phone calls, and all e-mails exchanges were conducted via a generic, un-named, e-mail account and distribution list.

I didn’t see it coming: India outsourcing to Hong Kong.   Yet we were glad to be part of a team!



My client buys quite a lot of marine fuel for  its passenger liner operation, a figure close to US$70M a year.  The supply market is extremely limited and to make matters worse, harbor regulations and tight scheduling makes it very difficult to switch suppliers due to the huge investment they have put in especially for us.  The supplier naturally needs a longer contract to make up with their return on investment. 

My client for all the right reasons wants to make sure our rates are the most competitive in the market.  I am asked to run extensive studies of market pricing as well as to see whether it can be derived from process improvements.  After a couple of months of meetings and conversations it was time to physically inspect the current operation.  From my line of work, we need to be very astute of the surroundings in order to negotiate well by adapting to our counterparts.  In this case, I immediately felt that there was a strong sense of hostility upon us.

Remember we are talking about US$70M and above.  They also have other tying deals with us.  Me and my colleague needed to ride the water taxis to the fueling berth in the middle of the harbor to inspect the fueling process, and we had no protective gear.  Oh, I forgot to add that this all took place after midnight.

My colleague and I decided to make a full report to our boss prior to the inspection.  I told my boss if I am found missing or in the water, it will be no accident.  We really thought there could be this possibility.  Of course, I am still here writing this blog, but it was the first time I felt my job could risk my very wellbeing – a bizarre concept to me.

“The Break-Up”

I participated in a business meeting with an incumbent service provider who was about to receive bad news of not getting the new business volumes that we put out for bid.  The head of the user department was there in the meeting and did most of the talking.  Being procurement lead for the project, I had to be there to witness the conversation from start to finish, and it was me who controlled the entire bidding process in the first place with key requirements downloaded from the user representatives.

The service provider came prepared and later I found out that they were actually worried about losing the current share of their business which was neither our intention nor within the scope of our bid.  They sat down and took out a mobile recorder asking to record the entire conversation.  There you could see that there was absolutely no trust between both sides, due to a range of incidents that took place for years between the two companies.  After a few candid exchanges, the service provider got less nervous (since they knew their current business stayed intact) and became a lot more outspoken.  They decided to point the fingers at me and put the blame on us bothering only on dollars and cents.  The business head explained to them that it was senior corporate management who had changed views.  The service provider continued to mock me saying that he wanted to throw up every time he sees me, and almost refused to shake my hands when we met that day.

The business team was actually apologetic to me and pulled me aside assuring me that it was only business and I should not take it personally.  I never did.  I knew perfectly the tactics we played and more often than not procurement is labeled as the bad guys anyway.  I actually think it is fine as I always use this as bait to look for new businesses and projects from first-time business partners, so that they can act as the good guys – which is welcoming to them since they are the ones who end up working with the supplier on a daily basis.

After the meeting ended out of professional courtesy I escorted the service provider to the parking lot.  I saw a long stretched black limo with an uniformed driver opening the limo door awaiting his master.  “Do you go to the gym?”, he asked.  “Hell I might not be able to beat you if I get into a fight with you!”

And the limo with the tinted windows sped away.

That evening, I worked out for a straight 3 hours at the gym.

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Sometimes people have this notion that as buyers we are on top of the world.  We get to bitch and yell at suppliers, say no to users, and enjoy all the perks and bonuses coming our way.  They couldn’t be more wrong.

As I covered in my previous post Measure Me This, there are indeed procurement people who draw a very gray line in business ethics, and I am extremely concerned over this.  Every respectable company has explicit gifts policies and anti-corruption codes of conduct. On top of that, procurement people should adhere to even stricter guidelines due to the power that we have.  We make supposedly unbiased recommendations or even decisions in deals that could worth millions of dollars.  If there is anything even remotely suspicious to being influenced by any one or more suppliers, we should get ourselves detached from that as early as possible.

I know how today’s businesses are run, and I know how difficult it is now to make a sale or even get ourselves 15 minutes in front of our targets to make a living.  Sales people, often with blessings from their management, offer all sorts of incentives to their client targets.  It can start from an innocent box of chocolates to movie tickets to holiday hamper of wine and cheese to fancy meals to golf games and to even so-called familiarization trips with business class flights and spa treatments all paid for.  Yes, I have seen many of my user departments in practically every company I work for, accepting these gifts with no remorse.  No they are not just the secretaries and junior officers who do not know any better.  They are also senior managers and directors.  They have all sat through hours of code of conduct trainings.  Their excuse?  It’s all part of building relationships with their partners and suppliers, for the good of the company.

I personally do not buy that.  I can perfectly manage fantastic professional relationships (and sometimes even personal) with my suppliers without accepting any gifts AND not hurting any of their feelings.  So don’t give me that “culture and customs” crap.  In any cultures, as long as I am sincere, humble and provide explanations as to why I cannot accept their generous offer, people are already grateful enough that I have been open-minded and helpful to them professionally.  When we start to build further business relationships and if somehow we get to become better friends personally, I don’t mind going for a drink with them while I pay my way through.  It’s THAT simple.

Sometimes suppliers send small gifts to us through courier and it lands at the reception without us having the chance to decline.  Instead of secretly sneaking those expensive hampers or chocolates home to their families or personal parties like I see time and time again in companies I have worked for, I send a broadcast e-mail to the entire office that ABC supplier has just sent in this fruit basket and everyone should feel free to pass by and grab whatever they want.  This way everyone knows that the gift is for the company and not for me.  If it is something not splitable then I report to management and decide together whether it should be donated to charity or reserved as lucky draw items at the year-end staff ball.  In all these cases, I make it formal and inform the giving supplier what I have done with the gifts they sent.  Sooner or later, everyone gets the message.

I ask my staff to brief me on how their site visit trips are arranged and paid for.  We do site visits to inspect suppliers’ plants, factories, offices, operations, or even their clients’ sites as references.  They may be located out of the country.  These are well warranted for but they should seldom be funded by the suppliers except for ground transportation, since some factories are hard to locate and there are just no efficient means of commute to and from those sites.  All other costs should be borne by the company because this is part of our job.  When a supplier loses a business, you cannot imagine the length they would go to make sure they can find any simple indication of corruption wrongdoing.   More often than not, you can kiss your career goodbye.

I am perfectly content with getting my fair paycheck from my employer without getting myself tempted by all the freebies.  After all I have a much bigger reputation to uphold for myself.  However, it’s a whole different dimension when you find yourself physically threatened by suppliers when large dollar is at stake.  Yes it does happen – and I will tell you more about it later…. from a secure location.

Now WHO says procurement is boring?

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