Going back to school gave Amelia Cho the thinking and personal skills that took her to the top of the office furniture industry
Programme pursued at Lingnan University: Bachelor of Business Management, 1981
Present career: Adviser, Element Plus Group (Holdings) Limited
Without those four years at Lingnan, my life would not have been the same.Amelia Cho
Amelia Cho started out as the secretary to a business owner in the garment trade before a spur-of-the-moment decision took her to Lingnan. She eventually retired after spending almost 30 years as the director and CEO of a group of office furniture companies based in Hong Kong and mainland China, and is convinced that the Lingnan experience changed her life.
The four years that changed my life
"Education is the right way to equip a young person for life," she says. "The theories are there to support you and it is up to you how you use these later in life, but they helped me a lot. Without those four years, my life would not have been the same," adds Amelia, who headed the Salotto group in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Foshan, and Dongguan before taking early retirement.
She knew from the start she wanted to be in business, but realised, after more than a year in her secretarial job, that she lacked the tools only education can offer to reach management level. Amelia made a last-minute decision to apply for a BA in Business Management at Lingnan. The academic year had already started and students had formed their groups. Amelia’s working experience also set her apart from her peers in the first month. This taught Amelia a vital lesson she would make good use of in business. She not only learned not to give up without a fight, but also to examine problems from different angles and, if one approach failed, to find another. Amelia also realised that joining the student union was the most direct way to meet people, and that working together on projects would lead to friendships.
Lingnan was comparatively small. Students and lecturers stayed close, soon getting to know one another. The experience Amelia gained in working with people helped in organising events like variety shows, folk song evenings and festival celebrations.
To give back to society, Amelia joined the school’s social services. One of her most treasured memories is the pride she felt on the completion of a project to pave a school road in a remote village in Tiu Keng Leng. Amelia enjoyed organising activities, realising how it boosted her time management, teamwork, communication, organisation, and leadership skills. It also provided strong foundations for her future business life working with staff and clients. She immersed herself in her studies, and particularly enjoyed marketing - which allowed her imagination to soar - and business management, which taught her the principles, concepts and rules of doing business.
Falling in love with form and colour
Although she eventually made her career in the furniture business, Amelia insists: "I didn’t choose the industry, the industry chose me." She fell in love with the forms and colours, and the connection with the art of living. She also loved the better-than-average environment of the high-end office furniture market. In 1987, she joined Hong Kong’s Salotto furniture company which had less than 20 staff at the time, working 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week including frequent travel developed it into a group of companies (with four companies in the mainland) boasting more than 350 employees. Amelia’s management philosophy was based on straightforward principles: establish good relationships between staff and management, be decisive, be transparent in order to avoid speculation and guesswork, and deal with any conflict with staff or clients fairly. In business, she aimed to create win-win situations, while recognising that one cannot always win.
Lingnan taught her the analytical and creative thinking skills that enabled her to develop a vision for the business. In the 1980’s and 90’s, both the economy and the political situation were strong and stable. Amelia’s hard work achieved great results. "I never regretted going back to school," she says. "If we are not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, we need education and training in using our brains." Apart from her education, the support she received from her teachers, classmates and alumni during those years was fundamental to Amelia’s success. As Lingnan is comparatively smaller than other Hong Kong universities, bonding between lecturers and among students is tighter. The annual Lingnan dinners provide a framework for maintaining these relationships.
Now enjoying her retirement, Amelia is happy to share her wisdom as a consultant to young business owners, helping their business to move forward.