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Q&A with Kit Fan of Towngas

Via Human Resources : Kit Fan, corporate head of human resources at The Hong Kong and China Gas Company Limited (Towngas) shares how creating an internal caring community has spurred a positive cultural change in the firm.

VITAL STATS: With almost 30 years of experience in human resources, Kit Fan was made one of the seven members of the executive community of Towngas in 2012 – to lead HR for the 154-year-old brand name.

Why did you decide to have a career in HR?

I was trained in the UK as a city planner. After I graduated from university I returned to Hong Kong. At that time there were no city planning jobs available so I had to pursue other careers.

As I was job hunting, I was offered a job that was related to people management and that was how I started my HR career. I consider myself a people person. I love to interact with others, so a career in HR is perfect for me.

HR fascinates me because it is a dynamic function with many variables. People who work with machines are able to get straightforward results, it is either right or wrong.

Working with people is much more complicated and interesting; individuals have different responses towards the same issues. It is a lot of fun working with HR because everything is so unpredictable.

HR is a bridge between management and staff. The challenging, but also fascinating part of the job is that you have to find a right balance of the benefits for the different parties.

What are your strategies in retaining and inspiring talent?

The company understands that staff will leave if they don’t see career advancement. We organise various leadership programmes for managers at all levels and encourage supervisors to talk to staff regularly about their career path, ensuring staff know where their careers are going.

We believe in nurturing talent from within. Towngas’ graduate trainee programmes, which date back to 1982, are a major breeding ground for the company’s leaders of the future.

Today, several members of our senior management, including the general manager, have been promoted from graduate trainees.

The scope of our business is ever-growing. Besides city gas pipelines, we have more than 200 projects, including green energy and water supply and waste water treatment, on the Mainland.

There is always something new for staff to try and chances to develop their career so most of our staff have stayed with us for their entire career or have been with us for more than 20 years.

Training is another element that we have invested heavily in for our staff. Developing leaders internally is our priority which is why we put in a lot of effort in identifying and nurturing high flyers into leaders.

Senior managers will have the chance to attend courses tailor-made for Towngas by Tsinghua University and join business leaders from around the world in classes at Harvard Business School.

The fact that we are a brand name with a long history also adds to the confidence that employees have in us, but more importantly we provide them with career prospects and the opportunity to grow.

What makes Towngas a caring employer?

Our management culture is people-focused, we always listen to what our staff have to say and try to cater to their needs.

We are one of the first employers in Hong Kong to offer a breastfeeding room, ensuring a clean and quiet environment for working mothers.

As our workforce is ageing, more staff are suffering from chronic diseases. There is an in-house doctor stationed at our headquarters who can provide medication for staff suffering from chronic diseases and attend to those who are not well. This saves staff the trouble of having to go out to consult a doctor if they fall ill at work.

The management team is hands-on in creating a caring culture. Every year, during the hottest summer days, members of the senior management will visit front line workers while they are working on outdoor assignments. Management will chat with staff and hand out herbal tea to them. The herbal tea does not cost a lot of money, but it shows how much we care for them.

In 2012, Towngas celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was a memorable moment for me and I experienced first-hand the great history of this organisation. During the celebration, retired staff, some of which were already residing overseas, shareholders, customers and business partners gathered together to witness the occasion.

I am glad I was part of such an important event. I guess in the next celebration, the 200th anniversary, I might not live to see it.

What are your thoughts on HR as a strategic partner of the business?

HR is so much more than recruitment, payroll and compensation. I always tell my staff, if you do not know the business, you cannot be in HR. HR needs to be proactive in finding out about the challenges the business is facing and try to come up with solutions.

Before I start my day, I will go through the newspaper looking at the energy or environmental section, in search for news that may affect the utilities industry.

HR needs to follow the market closely and be able to anticipate the changes in the workforce for the future. The skill set that is needed today is very different from the demands 10 years ago. HR needs to be able to think ahead to acquire the right talent for the company.

We impact the business by providing insights on keeping talent competitive and helping the organisation with long-term planning for talent.

At Towngas, HR has been a strategic partner of the business for many years. The senior management of the company consists of a seven-member executive community, and myself, the HR head, is one of them. HR carries the same weight in management as engineers and finance within the company.

What will be Towngas’ HR priorities for 2016?

A lack of young talent in manual jobs has been a long existing HR challenge for not only us, but all sectors that are looking for manual labour such as the construction and energy sector.

We have been in contact with vocational training schools and associate degree graduates in the hope of attracting new blood to the industry.

Today’s younger generation considers manual jobs to be undesirable so a lot of work has been done to try and change that perception.

We have organised awards to recognise the achievements of workers and to promote technical jobs as professional and rewarding careers.

The company also organised programmes to help new comers to the industry set up accelerated paths to get the necessary qualifications.

Dealing with the challenges of an ageing workforce, we are keen to bank on the experience of veteran workers. With rapid development of city pipelines on the Mainland, we invite experienced workers to be gas experts to support gas pipe development on the Mainland.

It creates a win-win situation. The veterans have the opportunity to move from the front line to be trainers and project managers for Mainland gas projects. The younger generation of workers benefit by learning from the very best in the industry.

Towngas upholds extremely high safety standards which is why we have not experienced any major mishaps such as the gas explosion in Kaohsiung in 2014 and last year’s accident in Tianjin.

We operate in a dynamic market and innovation is the key to success. Every company needs to innovate to keep up and Towngas believes growth is achieved through innovation and implementation.

Staff are highly encouraged to provide smart solutions to enhance efficiency.

In recent years, two of the most notable innovations were our self-developed Laparobot and mini flying devices.

The Laparobot received the Innovation and Creativity Grand Award at the 2013 Hong Kong Awards for Industries. It saved workers a lot of time in detecting leaks in underground gas pipes.

Another notable innovation was the mini-flying devices that help workmen look for faults in gas pipes installed on the walls of buildings.

These two examples perfectly demonstrate how Towngas works smarter through innovation.

How do you stay energetic to handle the busy life of an executive?

My nickname was “Miss Blackberry” because wherever I went, even when I was on holiday or out with friends, I buried my face in a phone.

Now I know how to put down work at the right time.

As I get more experienced, I understand the importance of prioritising tasks. I work smarter as I grow older.

Everyone has 24 hours a day, but success depends on how you utilise it. To begin my day, I will look at my priorities, pick out the focal points and get prepared. I like to run through my mind what I have to do before getting down to business.

Regular exercise is also very important to helping me stay energetic. Five times a week, I hit the gym before I return to the office.

Relaxing after hard work is what keeps me going. I love to travel to recharge. Attending concerts, afternoon tea with friends are also great ways for me to find a peace of mind amid the hectic working life.

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