• 7 minute read

Does Your Personality Play a Role in Your Success?

Does one’s business success have anything to do with his personality? Two CUHK alumni share their views

Richard Ho, Managing Director of Zhen Hua Group of Companies,graduated from CUHK in 1980 with a bachelor degree in social science, majoring in economics. Before starting his own business, Richard Ho has had more than 10 years’ experience in the banking sector and another decade of experience as general managers for multinational food and beverage companies. He was the one who helped McDonald’s and Pizza Hut open their first China franchises. In 2000 he opened his own company to manufacture and export charcoal briquettes to overseas clients. Here are some reflections from this veteran entrepreneur on what made him successful.

Why did you decide to start your own business if you were having such a brilliant corporate career?

Richard: I had twin daughters at a young age at that time, and it just broke my heart to see how they missed me every time I went for a business trip. I wanted to spend more time with them as they grew up. After I started my own business, I managed to remain close to them, so I don’t regret giving up my cushy corporate career. Besides, I didn’t like the politics in huge multinational corporations. Since I had saved quite a lot of money from my previous jobs and my small business on the side, I knew I would be able to support my family while starting a new venture. That is what allowed me to take the bold step to become a full-time entrepreneur.

Is work experience or education more important for entrepreneurial success?

Richard: I believe work experience is more important. School gives us a good general education, but working in the real world requires common sense and wisdom. Of course you can start a business with a school friend or two right after graduation. You might have the impetus and courage to do so. But the chances of failure are big.

What would increase the chances of success then?

Richard: Having solid capital and accumulated work experience and wisdom. When it comes to capital, when I first started my business, I didn’t make any profits. After two years, I started to make profits and get more clients. So an entrepreneur must be patient in the beginning. If you face difficulties and failure in the beginning and just give up and go back to working for others, then you would never succeed as an entrepreneur.

What are the qualities that have contributed to your success?

Richard: I believe patience and perseverance are paramount. It’s like boiling water. It takes very little time to go from 0 to 99 degrees. But it takes the longest time to get from 99 to 100 degrees. Similarly, the path to success may be the most difficult just when you are about to reach the peak. If you don’t persevere, you will fail.

How much role does personality play when it comes to entrepreneurial success?

Richard: A lot. I am an extrovert with a high EQ. In running a business, you may encounter a lot of obstacles and failures. It would be easier to run your business if you are an optimist like me.

How important is it for an entrepreneur to play by the rule of giving and saving face?

Richard: It is very important when you interact with suppliers, buyers or government officials [in China]. You need to do something to uphold their self-esteem. Sometimes it is about the choice of language. One has to be careful how to say something according to someone’s position.

How do you define “success” and how does this apply to you specifically?

Richard: First of all, it means financial success. Second, it means that I personally feel a sense of achievement. Starting from scratch, my company has now become the largest manufacturer of charcoal briquettes in China, with products shipped all over the world. I also provide jobs to several hundred workers. This gives me a great sense of satisfaction. For me, however, success also goes beyond the career. Because my business is on track, I can entrust my staff to take care of the day-to-day activities. So I can devote more time to activities that I feel passionate about.

“In running a business, you may encounter a lot of obstacles and failures. It would be easier to run your business if you are an optimist like me.” – Richard Ho

Steve Lau, Chairman and Executive Director, China Fortune Holdings Limited, graduated from CUHK in 1988 with a BBA degree in marketing and international business. Lau discovered the potential of telecom infrastructure development in China while visiting the mainland at his first job with Hutchison Whampoa in the early 1990’s. He believed the relatively unknown brand Nokia would have a great future in Asia so he decided to start his own company to distribute its products in China. In 1993, at 28, he started his own company and subsequently took the company public. In the following interview, he gives some quick tips on the do’s and don’ts of starting a new business.

What are the personality traits that you believe have contributed to your success?

Steve: To succeed, I think you need to be a decisive person. You must be able to make up your own mind and believe in yourself and then persevere. Starting business is a long-term game. Other people may give you opinions but they may not be accurate as they are only seeing a stage of your business. So you must be very sure about whether you want or are suitable to start a business.

How can you be sure?

Steve: It’s very important if you are passionate about something. If you don’t enjoy that, your business won’t last long.

What else is important that will keep your business going once you’ve started?

Steve: You must be psychologically prepared that at the end of the day, nobody else will help you even if you are in serious trouble, such as problems with cash flow. You must carry the responsibility to the end no matter how big the problems are. It’s a very big responsibility.

How important is it to know how to play by the rule of face in terms of your career success?

Steve: To have a successful business, you must be smart, but being too blunt is not OK. If you are not smooth or diplomatic, clients, partners and employees won’t like you. If you are good with people, others will approach you first so there will be more opportunities. On the other hand, if you are too much of an extrovert, you’re more suited to being a salesperson.

Besides having a high EQ, what other qualities are indispensible?

Steve: Having a high financial quotient (FQ). An entrepreneur must be able to look at the financial resources at hand and figure out whether future resources can support the company’s growth. The skills of how to handle capital and cash flow must be upgraded over time. Entrepreneurship is a learning process. You might lose money, but you will learn how to handle the issue and then you keep going.

How much role does luck play?

Steve: I’d say  a lot! I was really lucky when I started. You can say I had the three elements mentioned in the Chinese concept of what’s behind a lucky event — the right time, the right place, the right people. I happened to have met a Nokia representative in a trade show in Switzerland and that kick-started my own business.

It wasn’t just pure luck, was it? You’ve got to have a sharp eye for hidden opportunities too, right?

Steve: Yes, I believe so. I’m from Chiu Chow. It is said that we, along with people from some other coastal provinces, are natural-born entrepreneurs. We just love doing business. It’s in our blood. My parents have influenced me since I was a child. They told me that being an employee for the whole life wouldn’t be good enough. That’s why I have always aimed at building my own business from day one.

Are you a big risk taker?

Steve: Yes. I’m not scared of losing or failing. Even if I were to be defeated by a big wave today, I believe I have the wisdom to start all over again. I am good at commercializing opportunities and I have invested in many different projects. So I am always ready to take the risk and step into something new.

“To succeed, I think you need to be a decisive person. You must be able to make up your own mind and believe in yourself and then persevere.” – Steven Lau

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