Fostering talent in the next generation

Mr James Liu

Mr James Liu started his first garment business back in 1976 and is now Managing Director of the global Hanbo Group, a leading supply chain management service provider in the garment industry. Hanbo has an international operation with a production base in China and Southeast Asian countries. Its comprehensive supply chain covers everything from material sourcing, production management, quality assurance to logistics services, and research and development. Mr Liu has recently pledged a benefaction to the College of Business which will enable outstanding students to study at Columbia University. He talks to City Business Magazine about mentoring at CityU, waiting half a year to get the results of homework, and helping the next generation…

It's raining outside as Mr James Liu walks in and takes off his coat.

"I bought this raincoat 30 years ago, in England, see Regent Street," he says, pointing at the label. Immediately you note the eye for detail, a result perhaps of working three decades in the garment business.

Life has been full of challenges.

"I come from what you might call the grassroots level. When I graduated from school in 1961 there was only Hong Kong University, no Chinese University, and the family couldn't afford for me to study abroad. I worked in a bank for eight years – but I always knew that I needed some higher qualifications."

In order to further his career, he looked to the professional bodies: The Chartered Institute of Bankers, Institute of Chartered Secretaries, The Chartered Institute of Marketing, back in the sixties all of these were available through Rapid Results Correspondence Schools.

"Rapid would be an exaggeration: airmail was too expensive, so what with the distance to London, it was three months out, three months back. That's half a year to get the results of your homework!"

Still it wasn't a guarantee of success. "I studied hard after work and completed several UK and Australia professional examinations. These provided me with a good foundation which benefited me a lot when I started my own business in the early seventies."

"In 1972, I obtained my securities broker licence and opened a securities house trading Hong Kong listed company shares on behalf of customers. In 1976 when the bottom fell out of the stock market I began my garment manufacturing and trading business with friends. Most of the garments were destined for the US and European markets. I accumulated and traded US and European textile quotas and also worked in property market investments."

"In retrospect, securities trading, garments imports and exports, and property investments all rely heavily on financing. My prior banking experience helped me a lot. Up till now, I am still doing these three lines of business."

But the study habit never quite left Mr Liu, and in the late nineties he found himself back in education – this time at the College of Business at CityU: "With more than 30 years' of working experience in securities trading and garment manufacturing, the EMBA programme allowed me to test my theories with academia. It also taught me a more structured approach when solving problems in business and in life. And management skills, particularly risk management."

"It was a real challenge and achievement in my late fifties, to set and complete personal goals whilst juggling family and work life."

He graduated from the EMBA programme in 2001 but has kept close connections with the university ever since.

"Working as an adjunct faculty member has been an invaluable experience. As a mentor you're more a convener of discussion – we're sharing working experiences. From my side I have my work experience in securities, property investment, garment manufacturing, and the import and export business. It's been fascinating learning from CB's elite students. I've developed friendships with leaders in various industries, people who are still good friends and we meet frequently."

From time to time he wants to give back to his alma mater.

"I am delighted that CityU has launched a dual degree programme with Columbia University, one of the top US business schools. I believe this is a golden opportunity to nurture and stimulate our CB students to not only learn business, but to lead. It is heartening to know that CityU values diversity and the future of business education."

He has earmarked his donation to go directly to the Columbia University scholarship: "I wish to help fellow students learn their strengths and build up self-confidence in a leading university like Columbia, to help young people to realize their dreams and meet inspiring people along the way who might change their vision for a better world."

Mr Liu is no stranger to working in global contexts.

"My company deals with customers worldwide – the US, Europe, and China. Hanbo started production in Hong Kong, China, and Sri Lanka, then moved on to Cambodia and now we're expanding in Indonesia and Vietnam."

To stay ahead of the curve, he sees innovation as crucial: "Many of the innovations are brought up by my colleagues through their own initiative. For example we built instead of buying an Enterprise Resource Planning system – because my colleagues' ideas and suggestions could be better implemented that way. Today our system can keep track of transaction flow and status. It also has supplier and customer score cards that enable us to screen reliable customers and suppliers."

How does he see Hong Kong entrepreneurs adapting to the challenges of the 21st Century?

"I believe that entrepreneurs need to embrace technology but respect heritage. Customs (tradition) still have a lot of value. The next generation will have to develop a passion for the good of the industry, not just be money-driven."

Mr Liu also sees a future where more Hong Kong business people start to make donations to their alma mater: "CityU is a relatively new university in Hong Kong. I am sure that as more and more of our CB graduates advance to senior level, our status will be more recognized by the business community. Donations will naturally flow with this recognition."

His advice to students is a perhaps familiar, pithy message, one that has been handed down through the ages: "Work hard – your dream will come true. And save some of your income to start a family."

Will Mr Liu be tracking the impact of his donations? "Sure. I am concerned with the scholarship winner's academic progress."

But it won't be data for the Enterprise Resource Planning system; rather his concern is with developing people: "Talent is our asset and all my company's directors have open doors. Any colleague who has suggestions is always welcome to talk to any one of us. We respect ideas and reward innovations."

And it is that kind of innovative talent that Mr Liu wishes to foster in the next generation.

Thanks to his generous benefaction a stream of CB students are going to have the opportunity to flourish in the College of Business and at Columbia University.

Sustainability at Hanbo

Hanbo is committed to ethical social responsibility standards, and holds all of its business partners to the same standards throughout the supply chain. In recent years social responsibility has been widened to include environmental protection and restructured as Sustainability. A social responsibility department monitors and assists factory partners to improve the system of social responsibility, green management and brand protection. As part of the Better Schools Project in Cambodia a series of activities have been organized for two government-owned schools in Kampot. This includes new stationery, furniture, books and the repair and decoration of classrooms and fences to provide a better studying environment.

photo by Hanbo Better School Porject Committee ©2013 All Right Reserved