In his own words

Interview by Eric Collins

Sunny Kok is the founder and CEO of Green Tomato Limited, a Hong Kong-based digital innovation consultancy which provides enterprise technology solutions to multinational clients. Here he talks about how the industry and his business have transformed over the past two decades. Sunny is a winner of College of Business Distinguished Alumni Award 2022.

Who are you?

I am a 100% “Made in Hong Kong product!” I can describe myself as a lucky guy because my dad got his own business when I was still a child. I remember the first time that I owned a computer, an “Apple IIe,” in my primary school time and I even made my own mouse using a soap container. I was quite amazed about what a computer could do at that time. Then when I was in form 4/ 5 my father's business failed, and I had to work very hard for the exams, and finally landed a place in the CityU's BBA Information Systems.

Your first job?

After I graduated I found a job in a very small company, only three people. I remember I needed to pick up my printer from home to take back to the office. My boss didn't have the budget to buy a printer and print the contract for me! After one year I met Johnny Wong and we formed what is nowadays called Green Tomato in 2003 and then I took over the CEO job in 2006.

Why Green Tomato?

“Green” stands for keeping fresh and ever-growing, and then “Tomato” for seasoning everyday life. So, you can find tomatoes in a western recipe or Chinese recipe, you can name it as a fruit or vegetable but whatever you call it, it is full of vitamins, and there are benefits to health and you can use it for seasoning in everyday life. So, when you put these two together it means we are an ever-growing tomato. Then in short form, GT meaning “Grow Together.”

Your first breakthrough?

We founded Green Tomato and then we started to do the web on mobile and after the iPhone launch in 2009, we did R&D on the apps. I think we were the first company to jump from web to mobile. We were just ten something people but the expansion was quite amazing because the App Store was launching. We launched three very early apps in the App Store in Hong Kong and one of them, Hong Kong Movie, is still very popular. And then our employee numbers jumped by a factor of ten.

What happened next?

Originally, we worked with app development, and we had collaborations with Apple Computers, even building apps for their internal use. Then we started to help our clients build the apps and this was the journey. After that we tried to invest in our own ecosystem in Hong Kong to provide a one-stop shop for the whole journey.

And nowadays?

We call ourselves a digital transformation consultancy. We have something like 400 people with offices in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Japan. We help our clients from design and discovery phases, do the stakeholder interviews, identify the problems that they have, using the design thinking process, and then through development, testing and deployment. After we have invested in the business, we can enrich the journey.

How do you add value?

Say, we have some data company right now helping us. After launching the services, we help them to collect the data to enrich the user experience. Maybe we have some marketing leads that can help get more people to use the apps or the website by providing some online traffic to them. So, we try to live up to the name Green Tomato. We try to be ever-growing, to be fruitful, to give enough vitamins to our clients. This is our nature and we work hand-in-hand with our clients to co-create products. Of course, in this process the clients teach us their own expertise. Many are multinationals in areas like banking, finance, insurance. If you ask me the detail about their vertical domain, of course, I'm not the expert. We are the technical arm that is helping them. We try to use agile methodology to work hand-in-hand to develop something new and the ultimate goal is to bring impactful experience to the world.

The current generation?

I think they are luckier than us because information is everywhere. I've got friends who have learnt diving and cooking through YouTube. In our generation we only had books. These days many have a self-growing mindset. Our time was a little bit harsher, and therefore perhaps we struck harder. When I was starting out, I learnt from my boss. Now never! You will hear: “Please go on to YouTube and take a look.”

How are you changing?

The new generation has much more experience in areas like the metaverse. I try my best to understand, really hard, but they just tell me “It's something like the game I am playing, and wearing the glasses is so cool.” But I feel a little bit old, so I really need to learn from them. Young people are much more willing to learn, and can teach me a lot of things.

Is the Pandemic a boost?

Yes, definitely, because everyone is looking online. But we also have our own challenges to face. Like, how can we work securely from home serving clients such as banks? The pandemic is something that we cannot avoid. We have to develop a new type of management. Right now, me and my team have a chat room always open. Every morning at 10 we start by saying good morning. If you think you need me to cheer up or maybe if you need to chat, just click in and then you will find me sitting here. This is not a possible in a physical office because I need to walk around the whole office. We have to accept the pandemic in a wider way, in a cleverer way, and change with it.

So, back to the office?

Yes, our office has a very beautiful swimming pool! Seriously, yes, that's the place where we normally mingle, and also where the clients have some project teams. There's more warmth. You can feel the temperature, the people, the conversation. Also in this pandemic a lot of people find it is impossible to work from home. You know in Hong Kong the flats are so small. So even in this situation they like to go into the office and they are welcome. We try to give our colleagues the feeling of home. Just make sure they protect themselves.

The next big thing?

Everyone is talking about the metaverse. I don't know if it is true, my comment is wait until they've got a very good hardware, not the goggles. And IoT is another big thing – you can see all the vehicles on internet. Then definitely we have a small team trying to understand more about the cryptocurrency about the blockchain thing, and also about some of the NFT stuff. You know blockchain was not originally designed for trading. It was about saving resources or the steps that we need to encounter when maybe selling out flats. So, we try to twist it back to the use that it should have.

A less digital future?

Oh yes. I always welcome the sun shining on my face and no mobile on. But I think I can't live without the internet! I have friends who are moving to Lantau island and have their own cows to produce milk. But seems like I would rather go online to order my meal, because it really is more convenient than doing all that stuff by ourselves. We wanted to send a little gift to our 400 employees. How did we do it? GOGO Van.

In 5 years' time?

I hope I can have an internship opportunity. I am trying to find a new boss to take care of me. It implies that the company can selfgrow. If Accenture would like to hire me I would go. Basically, I can't figure out how these big companies manage more than 100,000 people. That is a mystery to me. I would like to learn from them that the system that they are building, how to measure the efficiencies. All of this at the moment is trial and error without any references. I just want to be a small person in a big company and then feel the expectation and the experience that I have.

Advice to students?

In our company we have a value called GREAT. Growth, Responsibility, Excellence Ambition, Teamwork. This stands for mindset changing, not hard skills. Hard skills you can reach easily in this information-rich world. But I am always thinking of growth, and how to get equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset.