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Dressing for success

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Being multi-talented himself, Edgar Tung knows how to assess and value human capital.

A Harvard Business School MBA alumnus, and a chartered financial analyst, Tung is managing director of group human resources, organisation development and communications at Esquel Group, one of the world’s biggest shirt makers.

A software engineer by training, Tung is a product of the University of London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology.

Aside from founding an internet start-up, he has also worked in government, structured equity derivatives products for wealthy clients, and notched up stints with an apparel technology service provider, a quality assurance and laboratory testing company, and a listed F&B retailer.

Named one of China’s Most Innovative Leaders by Innovation China in 2009, Tung is also chairman of Youth Arch Foundation, a group that helps nurture young leaders.

Tung would be the first to concede that the fashion and apparel industry is not one that pays the highest. It’s also not one that’s typically associated with advanced technology.

It is full of extremes, from haute couture and fancy highstreet labels to sweatshops in blighted communities. But it still encompasses valuable luxury brands and companies that are as innovative as blue-chip firms in cultivating human capital.

“The company matters more to me than the industry itself,” Tung says. “Esquel’s vision is ‘making a difference’.

“While we are in a traditional industry, we like to think in a non-traditional way about how we bring about sustainable development, how we improve productivity, and how we create quality employment for our 57,000-strong workforce.

“We are trying to leverage technology and modern management to transform the industry from being labourintensive to being knowledgebased. We often ask young job applicants, ‘Why do you want to be one of us?’ We look for passion, ability and some sparkle in their eyes,” Tung says.

When it comes to hiring at Esquel, Tung says the right attitude can sometimes trump professional qualifications or experience. “It’s a cliché, but the attitude, not the aptitude, determines one’s altitude.

“We prefer recruiting people who have no prior exposure to the industry so that we can groom them from within the company, based on our best practices,” he explains.

For key management orleadership positions, Esquel prescribes three defining traits.

“Firstly, leaders do not command excellence; they build excellence. A good leader is not necessarily the brightest person in the team, but one who has the ability to attract others, and bring out the best in them.

Secondly, a good leader is a visionary, with the ability to analyse complicated situations and come up with simple solutions. Finally, a leader always possesses a positive and courageous mind which enables the team to sail through rough waters calmly and confidently,” Tung says.

So how can one attain these defining traits? Tung cites the 70-20-10 model of learning and development. That claims 70 per cent of our knowledge is acquired from job-related experiences, 20 per cent comes from our interaction with others, and 10 per cent comes from educational events.

“It is also important to look for good role models at work, to read more, to talk to people, and to be exposed to different ways of thinking,” Tung says.

Esquel offers some structured talent development programmes to help its staff. These include three graduate traineeships for management, operations, and production trainees.

The company’s GOAL programme – Growth Opportunities for Accelerated Leaders – helps to build the talent pipeline by rotating trainees through different tasks globally, involving them in cross-functional projects, and providing them with mentorship by senior management.

Tung believes that postgraduate qualifications are helpful, but may not be essential for career success. “It largely depends on the specific needs of individuals. In my case, the two years I invested in a full-time MBA course in the US was transformational.

“It provided me with the business training I needed, and it also broadened my vision and led me to my current career through the alumni network,” he says.

Tung advises prospective candidates eyeing key leadership roles to assess their career goals and development needs. “If these are skills that can be acquired through on-the-job training or other means, there’s no need to chase fancy degrees.

“But if candidates see a genuine need to boost specific skills through formal training, then a relevant postgraduate degree maybe a sensible option,” he comments.

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