Accounting Study Mission: Hong Kong From All Perspectives

By Shaun CHANG Xiao Yi, SMU School of Accountancy, GOH Jun Rui, Elizabeth Ariel YIM and Nigel LIM Cheng Yip, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

As university students preparing to join the working world, it is important for us to have a global perspective. SMU provides students with a myriad of opportunities to broaden our horizons. Being able to explore the numerous streets and soak in the vastly different environment allows us to really learn about a country. That was precisely what we did during the Accounting Study Mission (ASM) to Hong Kong.

What used to be a fishing community has now evolved into a bustling city acting as a crucial gateway to the world’s largest economy. We saw first-hand how companies across industries operated and gained deep insights of Hong Kong that a regular tourist would not have had. The wonderful memories and friendships forged would not have been possible without the time and effort spent by Assistant Professor Yuanto Kusnadi, Ms Regina Kuan (Senior Manager, School of Accountancy), and our Teaching Assistant Alvan Ng. On behalf of the students, we would like to extend our gratitude to them.

Our trip proceeded extremely smoothly. There were virtually no hiccups, and everything had been carefully scheduled. As we stepped into a foreign land, we were greeted by our tour guide. She was friendly and always unfailingly jovial. Upon her introduction, she invited us to call her ‘Beauty’, and that became our de facto name for her. Throughout our journey, she supplied us with snippets of Hong Kong’s history, as well as a fair amount of gossip endemic to Hong Kong’s denizens.

When we first stepped into the hotel, the immediate detail that stood out was the cleanliness of the place. Hong Kong has a reputation for being a gritty, energetic city that never sleeps. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our accommodations were so comfortable. It was also conveniently located close to Mong Kok, which furnished us with an abundance of sights and food. The hotel even provided us with smart phones to serve as virtual maps as we travelled around the city.

 

A typical street in Hong Kong

 

Our daily ASM schedule in Hong Kong involved a few company visits in the day and our own free time in the night. The company visits were truly a once in a lifetime opportunity as we were often given behind the scenes tours and explanations about the company’s operations and structure. The companies also shared their strengths and plans as they forge ahead into the future. These companies were purposefully selected to cover all the major industries of Hong Kong to optimise our exposure. Amongst the companies we visited, three companies (Hutchison Port HoldingsLee Kum Kee and DHL) stood out to us. The segments below cover in more detail about our experiences with these companies.

Hutchison Port Holdings was the company that we were assigned to for our group project. In our visit, we were given a walking tour of the control station and a bus tour of the port itself. Mr Anthony who hosted us explained how the port operates and the advanced technology behind the success of the port. During the sharing session, we were most impressed with the openness and willingness of Mr Anthony in answering our questions. He showed us complex systems and explained how the ports function daily. He also shared with us the challenges faced by the port industry, which was very insightful. Overall, this engagement was certainly one of the most enriching ones and we definitely learnt much more onsite than through our findings from secondary research.

 

A close up view of the port during the bus tour

 

(From Left) Prof Yuanto, Jonathan Goh, Nigel Lim, Mr Anthony, Shaun Chang and Elizabeth Yim

 

Lee Kum Kee was another company that really left an impression on us. This family business has flourished and grown through five generations and still maintains strong family ties and control. During our visit, we were received warmly and were given a tour of their offices and factory.  We learnt of the history behind the Oyster Sauce – which is one of their core products. We were impressed by the structure of the company and values they prioritised. The company has a family board that oversees the management of the firm, which is rather unique to a family business like Lee Kum Kee, and something that other family businesses could model after. Their value of family first is truly remarkable and it ensures that all employees feel included and treasured in the workplace.

Finally, DHL taught us much about the importance of putting people first in business. We were privileged to be hosted by Mr Tony Khan, General Manager, DHL Central Asia Hub, Hong Kong. Mr Khan was truly a leader who demonstrated humility and passion. I believe we were all touched when we found out that he took time off to host us even though his time could have been better spent elsewhere in the business. From Mr Khan, we learnt of how DHL’s emphasis on the people has led to a work force that is motivated and driven, which in turn drives the company to greater heights. He even gave us a tour around the DHL cargo facility and explained how the latest technologies work to provide excellent service.

At the end of every day’s company visits, we had the night off to ourselves to explore Hong Kong. We spent our time on carefree and relaxing outings wandering through the streets of Hong Kong, searching for the myriad of food options and quaint corners. But the most memorable experience must have been the evening where our group bumped into Prof Yuanto at Soho. If you’ve been to Hong Kong, you’ll know that Hong Kong’s central area (of which Soho is but a part of) has many hilly and winding roads that may be a bit of a challenge to navigate, much less at night in winter. As it was, chancing upon our Prof was quite an amazing coincidence, given that we had lost our way a few times just searching for the famous Mak’s beef brisket noodles shop. Wandering from street to street, we got to enjoy the crisp night air while getting a quick workout from climbing up and down hills.

 

Meeting Prof Yuanto at Soho

 

The city comes to life at night as neon signs line every street

 

While we did not have the opportunity for many cultural visits, we did manage to visit the Tai Fu Tai Mansion. Situated at San Tin or San Ti Heung, which is almost at the border with Shenzhen, this unexpected jewel was a pleasant and unexpected surprise for even the most seasoned Hong Kong travellers in our group. Built in the 19th century by Man Chung-luen of the Man Clan, the mansion is a glimpse into the lives of the Chinese elite. Our tour guide not only shared the history of the mansion and the clan, she also explained the various features of the house from the kitchen, with its numerous stoves for the wives and mother of the head of the house, to the study rooms embellished with auspicious carvings to encourage studiousness. The scenic view of the mansion and the quiet town offered us a chance to unwind in the splendour of years past.

On the second last day, the group took a day trip to Macau where we explored touristy areas such as the ruins of St. Paul, Taipa village and A-Ma Temple as well as the various casinos. However, as typical Singaporeans, we took the greatest interest in Macau’s local food. From the famous pork buns to Portuguese egg tarts, we ate to our hearts’ content, searching through the various food courts and side alleys for titbits and sweets. We sampled some excellent egg tarts from the most famous bakery in Macau and munched our way through almond cookies and ginger treats.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Roaming the streets of Hong Kong was truly the best way to learn about the country’s culture. We immersed ourselves with the most amazing bits of culture; from watching salarymen rushing for work to spotting a man walking leisurely with a cat slung across his shoulders.

 

Meeting people from all walks of life on the Hong Kong street

 

Once again, Assistant Professor Yuanto Kusnadi and our Teaching Assistant, Alvan Ng, should be lauded for their efforts in making this trip a successful one. Every corporate visit was an eye-opening experience, and the trip was well paced, giving us a fair balance of industry exposure and self-discovery. Both parties were also very approachable and gregarious, open to sharing their experiences and thoughts on any subject matter.

All in all, the trip was very enjoyable and informative. We gained insights into a broad spectrum of industries, while also learning much about Hong Kong’s history and culture. Given the similarities between Singapore and Hong Kong, and in light of China’s rising influence in the world, this was an opportune moment for us to experience a touch of China’s work culture and society blended with the bustling commercial city life prevalent in Hong Kong. This study mission will definitely be a defining moment of our lives in SMU.

 

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