Keep it in the family

Keep it in the family

A young man has returned from Canada to take up the challenge of running his late father's business

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Young entrepreneur Kalok Ng has had to learn quickly since taking over the family's Hong Kong metalworking business.
Young entrepreneur Kalok Ng has had to learn quickly since taking over the family's Hong Kong metalworking business.
Photo: K. Y. Cheng
While most 20-year-olds are lugging their bags to university or setting off to see the world, Kalok Ng is trying to learn a new language and to obtain his forklift truck licence.

Ng could have gone to university; he had been accepted by a university in Canada. But he chose to come to Hong Kong to work at WEW, a metalworking company in Tsuen Wan owned by his father. His decision followed the death of his father, from cancer, in 2007. Kalok was studying in Grade Eleven, in Vancouver, when the news came.

"It was heartbreaking. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to quit school and come back to Hong Kong then, but my family wanted me to stay and finish school. And I knew my father would have wanted the same," Kalok says.

He went on to finish high school and two years of college; last year he gained a place to study at university, but instead chose to return to Hong Kong.

"When my father passed away, my sister gave up her job [as an engineer] to take on my father's business. I thought to myself: I should come back and help her."

He began by learning the basic operations of the business and doing daily chores - from driving to delivery to working in the mainland factory. But it was not easy. The first obstacle he faced was communication: he can speak Cantonese, but not Putonghua and he cannot read or write any Chinese.

"To work in the factory, I had to learn how to read manuals in simplified Chinese. I also needed to study Putonghua to communicate with the workers."

Yet the most challenging task was gaining the trust of other staff. "Some workers knew me from birth and had watched me growing up. They didn't know what to make of me. Some even asked, "Do you eat lobster every day?".

He decided to take a hands-on approach by working and eating with them in the factory - a lesson he had learnt from his father.

"My Dad was a passionate and down-to-earth person. He didn't have much education and he worked his way up from the bottom. I am inspired by his humble attitude. I want others to see that I'm not some kid who sleeps in a king's bed. I can work with them."

His efforts paid off with growing respect from his staff. This has impressed his sister, Aries Ng Ka-man, who had been running the company since their father passed away.

"At first I was worried. I thought the culture shock would overwhelm my little brother," she says. "He had lived in Canada since he was two. There would be no more speaking English, or bacon and eggs for breakfast. But he has done so much better than I expected."

Luckily, Kalok has found friends with similar experiences. Both he and his sister are members of 2econd Generation Entrepreneur Association, a group started by people that have taken over their family businesses. About 100 members gather regularly to share their ups and downs and support each other.

"I've learnt that we should not limit ourselves by our age," Kalok says. "It does not define our maturity. One of my best friends is a 45-year-old company owner."

Looking back, he has no regrets about giving up life in Canada. "When I lived in Canada, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Now I have a clear goal: to expand the family business and continue the legacy of my father."

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