#MeetTheLeaders: Alex Ng
‘Working smart’ and honesty guide the mindset of Alex Ng, CEO of Thailand-based Kerry Express. These concepts allow the company to remain agile when faced with rapidly changing consumer behaviours and demand.
Alex Ng’s current LinkedIn position states “Position doesn’t count”, but the Hong Kong native has been leading Kerry Express since 2013. From joining Kerry Logistics Hong Kong in 2001, Alex rose through the ranks in Shanghai and Thailand, ultimately volunteering to manage the company that was seeing a decline after 2013’s first quarter.
The tide of ecommerce growth rose just as Alex joined the company. “There were no such things as online shopping before 2013 in this country. Growth started in early 2013 and when I joined this company it was a very small B2B, packages delivery company. We were considering closing down the company, however because we are positive with ecommerce, taking reference from China, Japan, the US, we were pretty sure it would happen. I volunteered myself and we forced ourselves to go in to serve the ecommerce platform.”
Stakeholders and colleagues challenged this decision and its attempt was not without risk. However, Alex perceived it to be ‘calculated risk’.
“It was calculated because we had no downside, we were already at the ground. We had nothing to lose; two hundred people delivering a few thousand parcels. Worst case is we close it down. The calculated risk was there was only one way, so we went all in.” This decision was pulled off successfully, leading to what Alex defines as ‘paradigm shifts’ within the industry.
Fast forward to 2017 and Kerry Express was thriving. During this time more than 30% of revenue was derived from B2C transactions and the company held 50% of shares within the market of major ecommerce providers. Since then ecommerce has developed alongside consumer behaviour; this reflects on Kerry Express’ sector focus.
“In the previous few years our C2C sector grew a lot. People do not only buy on B2C platforms anymore, they are also buying from individual sellers. Today I would say B2C and C2C segments account for the absolute majority of our business.”
Alex determines that the hardwork and success of the company is the result of a strong company culture, describing it as the key to long term sustainability.
“In compiling the corporate culture in Kerry, we are very honest to ourselves in the way that we understand human nature. We [create] very high motivational programs for our managers, for our leaders, and even for our front line couriers and workers. High incentives and high motivation are number one. Number two is about how we structure the company. We dislike office politics, we dislike bureaucracy, so we try to manage and organise our structure in a very flat manner.” By delivering ‘results without many formalities’, Kerry Express is able to ‘react faster than [their] peer competitors’.
His company’s culture embraces the “stupid boss policy”. “Clever bosses are very dangerous to the company. We see that many corporate seniors like to talk nonsense in meetings, but no one dares to say no to the boss… As a result, this causes most of the smart people to shut up. We want to avoid this, so we remain open-minded and only embrace the best ideas that come through.” He encourages clear thinking and logical speech, instead of complicated jargon to impress colleagues and higher-ups.
The immense strength of Kerry’s company culture stems from the talent they recruit. To find this talent, Alex makes sure to keep an open mind as to not limit his options. “We don’t define the industry [of talent that we recruit], as it narrows down the candidates who we can match with our requirement. We don’t want to confine things to a narrow scope… We welcome people with very high energy levels… those who want to make big changes, from a personal level, to a company level, to a country level.”
Even with COVID, the company manages to keep culture and community on the forefront of their priorities. “I think working from home or using Zoom brings our people closer, because even before COVID, most of our people were not sitting together. We are in thousands of offices all around the country, in different provinces and towns and cities. However with online telecommunication services like Zoom, we see people discussing things more and more online, which is amazing.”
Alex credits his past mistakes in obtaining the values and leadership mindset he has today. “In my early years, my career progression was very fast…when I got promoted to General Management level, I thought I was very smart.” At the time, he believed that only by working hard would he be able to achieve success; he was proven wrong at his first leadership job in Thailand in 2008, where he found himself ‘punished’ for this misconception.
“I was playing football when everyone else was playing basketball… This made me learn that you need to know the rules of the game before you start to play”. Alex finds that working smart, remaining humble, and being honest about one’s faults is at the centre of being a great leader. “In the company, I use this motto a lot: ‘You are not how good you are but as good as people think you are’”.
The future of Kerry Express holds many opportunities. The company aims to establish itself as an icon of Thailand, given it is their country of origin. “We do not want to be viewed as a foreign company going into such a strategic industry in the country. 99.9% of our workforce and managers are Thai people, so we are very Thai. We want to be more local, we want to be blended into the Thai way of life,” says Alex.