Q&A: Rosana Wong: “Being lean is what attracts young talent”

Author: Doveen Schecter | Date: 09 Dec 2015

Yau Lee Holdings’ executive director on creating a diverse, tech-savvy workforce in a highly conservative sector

Rosana WongTechnology and innovation are the watchwords that drive Rosana Wong in her working life, she says. But while they might be far from unexpected in an Asian business leader, they are far from universally understood terms in the construction sector, where Wong’s family business – Yau Lee Holdings – has become one of the largest players in Asia. Founded in 1958, Yau Lee has operations in Singapore and Macau, as well as around 1,600 employees in China. It oversees construction and development projects, as well as trading in and manufacturing building materials, which requires a highly diversified set of skills. People Management found out how the HR side of the operation keeps pace.
How does technology impact the way you manage people?
We manage more than 4,500 people and have customised software to meet our needs. Using smart card technology, we can store the personal data, training and education information for every employee. In respect to the personal data laws, each employer establishes strong controls for that data and must carefully evaluate and regularly examine it to ensure data security and accuracy.
As employees pass through to their office or construction site, the card keeps track of time and details that can go all the way through to payroll and into their bank accounts. Not only does this give each employee autonomy, and the organisation power to manage, it is also hygienic. Instead of fingerprint technology we use infrared finger vein technology, which works with no touch and with speed. If there is a payment discrepancy we can print it out and sort it out. The technology allows us to manage with efficiency, productivity and transparency.
What’s the key to making construction an attractive option for a younger generation of staff?
Innovation and technology are my passions and I want to convey that to a younger generation. Our engineers and project managers are using smartphones and iPads to see our drawings. They can add photos and voice notes in Chinese and English and can send drawings and plans to the site to headquarters or to the government offices when permits and registrations are needed.
We stay lean, exciting and fun to attract a younger generation to what was a more staid and traditional industry. By incorporating new technology and constantly seeking to innovate, we are attracting bright and creative people to our organisation.
What about the diversity issues in construction, a hugely male-dominated industry?
We have to be ourselves. To get respect from our peers, both men and women have to ‘do the right thing’ and I believe that good deeds done in the company and for society as a whole speak for themselves. Yau Lee as a developer, contractor and provider employs more men, but one-fifth of our workforce is female. In comparison to other organisations in Hong Kong, where the construction labour force is about seven per cent women, this is a good step forward.
Does running a family business bring additional challenges?
We are a family business that became publicly listed. Our shareholders are our bosses but the family ingredient is very positive and part of the goodwill behind our name. My father started Yau Lee Holdings Limited in 1958 and is still the chairman, working Monday to Saturday.
It is my goal to grow the good name built on this foundation. To retain our people and to grow our business, our goal and vision is that each person can follow their career path within our business. If someone wants to transfer from curtain-walling to our prefab subsidiary or transfer from Hong Kong to China, it is possible to secure the experience and to fund the education they need to make the move if the timing is right. That’s how we help people to grow.