• 8 minute read

Talking to CEO: Ken Ng

Chan, Andrew Chi-fai(陳志輝)

As the proverb says ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’, football is one of the roads that opens the door to university for many students

By China Business Knowledge @ CUHK

In this episode of Talking to CEO, hosted by Prof. Andrew Chan Chi-fai, Director of CUHK Business School’s Executive MBA Program, Kitchee’s owner Ken Ng (伍健) shares his passion for football and how the sport can benefit the growth of young people.

The Beginning of a Football Life

Prof. Chan: You are the President of Kitchee Football Club, and also the boss of an I.T. company. When did you come into contact with football?

Ken Ng: I started listening to radio commentary by Lee Wai Tong when I was four years old. My mother forbade me from playing football in secondary school, and I only learnt how to play when I studied overseas in Canada.

Due to a lack of proper training in secondary school, I could only play in positions that few would choose to – the goalkeeper. Later, it was also because of the same reason that I became a referee. Although my footballing skills wasn’t good, I knew the rules well. And I discovered that there were promotion opportunities for referees, and so I took the examinations and climbed the ladder. When I returned to Hong Kong, being a referee was the only opportunity for me to join professional football, therefore I continued being one.

Prof. Chan: How did you come to know about Kitchee Sports Club?

Ken Ng: I used to be a referee for them. Kitchee and the Hong Kong Chinese Football Referees’ Association went back a long way. Lots of football clubs ceased operations during World War II, so when the war ended Kitchee actively helped fellow clubs and football organizations get back into the game. I was the Chairman of the Referees’ Association, so I met lots of ex-Kitchee players and staff.

Football as Life Education

Prof. Chan: Football is not just a sport but also an excellent education tool. The project by the Kitchee Foundation and the Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School made students like going to school. Playing football boosted their self-confidence. Can you tell us about that?

Ken Ng: The school’s new principal at the time, Dr. Pan Yee Lin, was a founding teacher. She promoted the ‘Ternary Education’: Teaching and Learning (academic subjects); Creativity (film production); and Youth Training (football).

With regard to creativity, she identified movie production as a way to make a living. The school decided to convert a whole floor into a movie set, and the movie “Four in Life” (四季人生) that was shot there was nominated for the Hong Kong Film Awards. More than ten students in the production crew were later admitted to the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Through-Train University Scheme

Ken Ng: When we started the professional football training with the school, we accepted 84 students from Form 1 to 6. Whilst professional football is a trade skill, we could not take every one of them into our team. For the unselected students, they would be left with nothing after devoting six years to the sport. However, if they were to make it to a tertiary institution, it would be a different story. That’s where the ‘Through-train University Scheme’ created by Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School and Hong Kong Baptist University came in, and that we gave full credit.

Ever since those film students were admitted to university, other schools have also set up similar ‘through-train’ schemes. For example, trainees under Kitchee’s professional footballer training can participate in Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s ‘Outstanding Sportsmen Recommendation Scheme’, which offers outstanding footballers a chance to study at Polytechnic University. Other universities such as the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Open University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong College of Technology, the Hong Kong Institute of Technology, an American university and seven Taiwanese universities also run “through-train’ schemes.

To date, all our Form Six students who have undergone football training have gained conditional offers by these universities, and it is now up to them to gain formal acceptance with the required DSE results. Currently, university admission requires a minimum of four subjects, with two at Level 3 and the other two at Level 2. But we all know the minimum requirement is not good enough to enter a university in Hong Kong. Fortunately, these educational institutions appreciate that our syllabus offers something special that contributes to a young person’s growth, and admit our students.

The Five Minds Beyond Academic Ability

Prof. Chan: In the U.S., plenty of athletes are admitted by universities on the basis of their physical talent.

Ken Ng: In fact, these students are not unintelligent, it is just that their talent is not in scoring well in examinations. Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences look at intelligence beyond being book smart, such as the Respectful Mind and the Ethical Mind. Modern education emphasizes the Discipline Mind but a lot of times what we really need is the Sympathizing Mind and the Creative Mind. But I don’t see the Hong Kong education are training our students these elements. If our students possess them, they will not only know how to answer questions, but also find solutions. For example, in film production requires advanced project management skills to handle the schedule of actors and venue arrangement.

These five ‘Minds’ are equally important but they might not be reflected in academic results, and that’s why we invite professors and senior lecturers as consultants in our training. If you ask me why these consultants are so interested in working with us, I would say it is because they are passionate about alternative education in Hong Kong, as the existing education system fails to meet the needs of all students.

Prof. Chan: Now, the football standard in Tung Chi Ying School is quite extraordinary, and is known as the ‘Barca of Hong Kong’ and the ‘Real Madrid’. It is impressive.

School football teams usually teach their players to kick the ball into the opponents’ half so that if an opposing player commits a foul, an opportunity to score would more likely come about. Professional teams, on the other hand, train players to pass the ball back to the defenders and gradually move the ball towards the opponents’ goal. Inculcating such attacking techniques opens students up to mistakes and even losing matches, but this is fine because education is not about results.

This year, Tung Chi Ying made it to the final in the Jing Ying school sports competition by the Hong Kong School Sports Federation but lost in the penalty shootout. I have no problem with that because I am more interested in seeing students doing their best in the match. They’ve learnt from former Kitchee coach and Hong Kong captain Cristiano Cordeiro not just about football skills but also respect for the referee and opponents. Losing is part of learning, and that match was a perfect learning opportunity for them.

Kitchee’s Two 10-Year Plans

Prof. Chan: What are your plans for Kitchee?

Ken Ng: When I took the helm at Kitchee in 2004, I proposed two 10-year projects. The first was to make Kitchee a household name in the field. We have won many trophies during the period so I would say that target has been achieved.

The second 10-year project is to make Kitchee an Asian giant that plays in the AFC Champions League regularly. We made it to the AFC Champions League qualifiers in 2017 against Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai FC [and also made it to the Group Stage in the 2018 Champions League].

Some critics might say that Kitchee has only one or two local players, but everyone is equal in football – you play if you are good enough. Otherwise, you will only hold the team back. We encourage local players to join the competition. If we want to compete with the best in Asia, local players must catch up to their standard. Kitchee hopes that local players can make the breakthrough and we have signed eight local players born between 1997 and 1999. We believe that three or four of them will star for Kitchee and the National team in a year or two, and do Kitchee proud on the Asian stage.

Prof. Chan: I hope Kitchee does not rely on star players. I notice you play a team game, and I hope you maintain this playing style.

Ken Ng: Thank you for your kind words. However, football is about idols and heroes, so for Hong Kong football to prosper you need to find figures such as Yap Hung Fai. But we cannot rely on just one Yap Hung Fai – we need 11 players as good as him in every position.

FC Barcelona has a saying, which I agree as a youth coach: Youth training should be relentless like a factory assembly line, training six- to 18-year-olds day after day, year after year, and eventually there will be a Messi or an Iniesta. I, too, believe that today’s youth trainees will one day become the heroes of tomorrow to lead Hong Kong’s football development.

About Talking to CEO

Since 2002, CUHK EMBA has been running the Talking to CEO TV/radio program with Radio Television Hong Kong. Distinguished business leaders, academics and government officials have been invited to share their experiences and insights with CUHK alumni and students.

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