Not your average CEO – Andrew Wong, Group Chief Executive, Jardine Restaurant Group
“I wasn’t into numbers,” Andrew Wong (BBA Accounting, 2001) said plainly, “but I remember a conversation with my father about going into business, and he told me the importance of learning numbers as it’s the foundation of running a business.“
Since joining the company in 2018, Andrew, Group Chief Executive of Jardine Restaurant Group (JRG), has led the company’s transformation by digitalising the business operations, building an e-commerce team from scratch, fostering collaborations with some unlikely brands, promoting workplace diversity and inclusion – all while managing a business with over 900 outlets and 27,000 employees spanning five markets in the region, each with very distinct cultures. JRG is a member of the Jardine Matheson Group.
A trustful and inclusive workplace fuels growth
At the helm of one of Asia’s leading food and beverage groups with brands so close to the local community’s daily lives, Andrew shares his number one rule as a CEO to make things work– “avoid doing typical things CEOs do: interfering too much.”
“It is often one’s ego that gets in the way of building trust and idea exchange. Getting the ego out of the system and respecting each other’s professions or each market’s own culture, that is where trust starts building, and things will get so much easier and smoother when trust is built.”
Without a fixed office for himself, Andrew actually enjoys working around the open-plan office, which he believes would facilitate communication with colleagues with an open mind, literally. To further break the hierarchy, he has created a standard ‘on-boarding procedure’ for every new joiner – to allow him to make a cup of coffee for each of them during orientation.
“This provides an opportunity for them to experience first-hand the company culture – it’s rather bottom-up than top-down, and open communication is always valued,” Andrew adds. “We want to make sure that people have no fear to share their thoughts and ideas, and that would in turn promote creativity and innovation, ultimately benefiting the company as well as the colleagues’ own development.”
As a keen supporter of diversity and inclusion, JRG piloted a coffee training programme for people in mental health recovery with MINDSET, a registered charity in Hong Kong founded by the Jardine Matheson Group. The company has ultimately welcomed one of the trainees as its in-house barista in the office’s welcoming pantry, which is now pleasingly full of coffee aroma.
“This is just the beginning of a meaningful journey,” continued Andrew, “With the first job placement, we hope to inspire the broader business community to promote an inclusive workplace, open up opportunities for people in mental health recovery to reconnect with the community, and, ultimately, reduce the stigma towards mental illness.”
Teamwork with an open mind brings more creativity
When Andrew joined JRG, one of his first tasks was to set up an e-commerce team to expand and drive the company’s online business. As it turned out, it was a timely effort to meet the surging demand for out-of-store orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the collective efforts of different teams, more than 40% of the company’s transactions are coming from online.
“We were lucky to be able to set up a team with the right people for the right positions and with great minds,” Andrew shared. “Not only do we work together as a team, we also challenge each other from time to time. It allows us to look at things from different perspectives, have a more comprehensive picture of the pros and cons and make a more informed decision.”
Earlier this year, the company held two rounds of virtual gatherings where young colleagues and senior leaders pitched their ideas to each other. Andrew was part of it with one of his ideas being ‘dismissed’. “I find it fascinating though, and I’m really proud of the fact that this company isn’t run by whatever the CEO says. CEO is a just position, but that doesn’t mean he or she knows everything.”
A list of innovative ideas has thus been generated from the gatherings. “We have simplified the process for them. They don’t have to go through layers of approvals, and they can simply work out the pitch, present it to get the support they need, and then set out to realise their plan. This may sound spontaneous, but we want to encourage and give room for innovation – whenever you’ve got a great idea, just work on it.”
Such an open and collaborative management philosophy has proven effective in inspiring creativity, bringing about award-winning collaborations like the Pizza Hut x IKEA Swedish meatball pizza (where the final product actually diverged from Andrew’s initial idea of pasta) and a recent talk-of-the-town Pizza Hut x Yung Kee roasted goose pizza.
Follow your heart and be humble
Early signs of Andrew’s unconventional and entrepreneurial spirit were seen during his undergraduate years. A football lover himself, he set up the HKBU Accounting Football Team from scratch and led to win a number of games. He built three start-ups (all while studying!), and eventually pivoted from the accounting profession and joined the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC) as a management trainee upon graduation. In short, he enjoys challenging himself and pushing boundaries to go above and beyond.
“Going to university is not just about picking a job. I simply followed my heart and picked what best suited my personality and strengths. With plenty of internship and part-time opportunities out there, it’s a great opportunity to gain all sorts of learning in a real-life setting – how to work with your co-workers, how to follow a system, and eventually how to question a system and make positive changes.”
Andrew also encourages students and young graduates to eye on the long-term development of their career, and hence soft skills are as important as technical knowledge. “A humble mind to keep learning will help you go a long way.”