Dr. Conrad Wong BBS JP, Vice Chairman, Yau Lee Holdings Ltd
Challenges are part and parcel of the path to success. Especially in the entrepreneurial world, no journey comes without hardships. However, the way one responds to a challenge is what separates good leaders from great leaders. True business leaders never give up in the face of adversity. Rather, they take the challenges by the scruff of the neck and focus on finding solutions and bringing innovative changes to the industry. They learn from their experiences and work themselves to the bone to find a solution to a long-standing problem and thus make a difference in the lives of others. An embodiment of such exemplary leadership is Dr. Conrad Wong BBS JP, the Vice Chairman of Yau Lee Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-based investment holding company principally engaged in construction and related businesses.
After earning a BSc in Civil Engineering and an MSc in Foundation Engineering in the UK, Dr. Conrad decided to join his family business in Hong Kong, Yau Lee Construction Company Limited, headed by his father, Mr. I. K. Wong, at that time. It was a modest firm with no more than 200 direct staff. Solely focused on the Government housing project, the firm was facing severe competition from both overseas and mainland Chinese contractors at that time. So, it desperately needed to modernize and expand to create a critical mass to stay competitive. This is when Dr. Conrad realized that the company must transform itself, invest in R and D, supply chain and recruit more professionals. Most important of all, it needed more capital. Thus, he convinced the company’s partners to go public and was in charge of the project. As a result, Yau Lee Holdings Limited (Yau Lee) came into existence in 1991 and managed to raise over HK$ 300 million within 12 months. “We have over 3,300 direct employers with more than 160 professionals and a turnover of over HK$ 6.5 Billion in 2021. In short, despite severe challenges, we have become a major player in the industry,” asserts Dr. Conrad.
Committed to Optimising Construction Productivity and Sustainability
Under the indomitable leadership of Dr. Conrad, today Yau Lee Holdings stands tall as a leading green integrated corporation, committed to optimizing construction productivity, buildability and sustainability by spearheading new construction techniques and technologies. Besides the new building, it also branched off to maintenance work and became one of the largest maintenance and renovation contractors for the Government in HK. “We also export our construction technology to China and have opened four JV precast factories. To a certain degree, Yau Lee has contributed modernizing building technology in China. The software company has added Building Information Modelling (BIM) and laser scanning services. In addition, Yau Lee acquired a large building services company in 2008 and became a property developer in several hotels and residential projects,” elucidates Dr. Conrad. Yau Lee, as a developer, has designed and built one of the greenest hotels in the world, which managed to cut down nearly 60% of the energy used compared to the standard hotel in HK. It has successfully introduced the first concrete Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) project, a box-like precast system with finishing such as tiling and kitchen cupboards in more than four months of advanced completion with about 50% labor reduction.
Key Attributes to Entrepreneurial Success
As an engineer, Dr. Conrad defines entrepreneurship as the willingness and ability of an individual to identify a technical problem with potential market need, create a team to develop a cost-effective solution, communicate the solution to seek funding, and formulate a business plan to capture the value. “For instance, in a hotel, air conditioning energy consumption can be half the whole building. Our team created an AI software solution to minimize the energy used without compromising the occupant’s thermal comfort. A new company was formed to commercialize the technology and eventually have been adopted by several Government buildings, valuing over HK$ 1 million each. This new company now specializes in green building solutions for different developers in HK,” shares Dr. Conrad.
As a leader, he emphasizes on generating a ‘shared’ vision and having a common mission, actionable goals, and results that can be calibrated with reality. In addition, he also focuses on nurturing a work environment with mutual trust and respect. According to him, motivation by empowerment, through delegation with the necessary authority, allows employees to own their assigned tasks and grow to achieve their full potential. Hailing from a business family, entrepreneurship was a natural outcome for Dr. Conrad. But it’s his inherent passion and in-depth knowledge and expertise that led his path to success. Being a successful leader, his advice to budding entrepreneurs is to accumulate domain knowledge, reputation, and capital to build up a reputation so that colleagues and investors can trust and rely on them. He also urges them to show their determination and financial discipline to attract investors. According to him, without in-depth knowledge, it is tough to identify the pain point of the industry.
Driven By the Motto of “We Build We Serve We Create”
The work culture at Yau Lee is driven by “We Build We Serve We Create” approach. Keeping Innovation and sustainability as part of its DNA, Yau Lee continuously enhances its building processes and strives to be recognized as the most innovative contractor in HK.
“‘We build’ signifies we are in the building industry and strive to produce quality buildings in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. ‘We serve’ means we see the building industry as a service industry, which we serve with all our hearts. ‘We Create’ as we believe in creativity. We develop innovative solutions and technologies for our clients, increasing our competitiveness. ‘We’, everyone in the Group, despite different companies or departments, work as one team. That is the spirit of Yau Lee’s ONE team, “opines Dr. Conrad. The company also collaborates with various suppliers, subcontractors, and stakeholders alike, treating them fairly and justly to deliver a successful project for the client. Yau Lee treats its employees as extended family members and maintains long-term relationships with them. As a result, many of its employees have been working with the company for over twenty years, and it has the highest percentage of direct employees among the same class of contractors in HK.
Continues Enhancing Its Building Processes with Technology
Today, public housing is in great demand in HK, and the Government is under enormous pressure to provide more housing at a fast speed. Though Yau Lee is the pioneer in deploying the first concrete MiC project, it plans to continue enhancing this technology to build faster with less labor. It is in the process of introducing several types of MiC to suit different building types. Moving ahead, the company is also focusing on the adoption of artificial intelligence in various construction processes. Recently, Dr. Conrad completed a part-time Ph.D. specializing in using AI, Big Data to optimize energy required by the central air-conditioning system. “With such knowledge, I have established an AI center which researches to adopt AI and robots to perform various building activities such as welding, plastering, and wall painting. These novel applications will undoubtedly take Yau Lee and the building industry to another level,” concludes Dr. Conrad.