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Flying high - top tips for doing business in Asia from Virgin Atlantic's Stephen King

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Aerospace, Hong Kong
Catching up with Virgin's Stephen King (left) at the Hong Kong launch of the new 787
Catching up with Virgin's Stephen King (left) at the Hong Kong launch of the company's new 787 flights

With London-Hong Kong and London-Shanghai routes operating daily and airline partnerships across the region, Virgin Atlantic has a growing interest in Asia Pacific. At the Hong Kong launch of their new 787, I caught up with regional boss Stephen King to get his insights on working in Asia.

JH: After working for Virgin in London and India, you’ve been in this job for nearly a year now. How are you finding working and living in Hong Kong and China?

SK : It’s great fun – vibrant and fast-paced. The job is very diverse: from strategy to decisions on products. I love being in a job that needs to respond to current affairs and I’m always meeting interesting people. I live in Hong Kong which is a great hub for exploring the region. Travelling is such a great way to help you understand the different ways people think. These insights can make a huge difference to business decisions, so I’d advise anyone working in Asia to jump on a plane and get out and explore – though I would say that wouldn’t I!

JH: Why is Virgin successful in Asia?

SK: A huge focus for us – worldwide – is the customer experience. This is crucial in all markets. Taking service to a new level has always been the main driver for what we do at Virgin. We have invested in new aircraft, designing spaces to move around and with better atmospherics, seats and windows that promote better sleep and health. We have modern, comfortable lounges which create a sense of place and really enhance the customer experience. We are also very people-led and staff here appreciate that and are very loyal to us. They tell us that they like working for Virgin both for the variety of the work and the support they get from the organisation.  

JH: What cultural differences do you notice working in Hong Kong compared to elsewhere?

SK: I’ve found that you have to trust that things will be delivered – just maybe not in the way you might expect. Things always get done, but it often happens at the last minute. I also find that local colleagues are less likely to offer their opinions, so it’s crucial as a manager to dig a bit deeper and give staff lots of opportunities to speak up. This is so important, as listening to that local expertise before taking decisions can avoid all sorts of unexpected problems down the line.

JH: How would you advise other people preparing for a role in Asia?

SK: Certainly don’t believe everything you are told before you arrive. I was told that the Hong Kong weather would be dreadful for business, but it’s been great since I got here! I’d advise learning some of the local language to help you understand your colleagues better. I also read as many books as I could on the region. My favourite novel on Hong Kong is Nobel House by James Clavell – a great read I’d recommend to anyone.

JH: What advice do you have for those of us based in Asia, but working for organisations HQ’ed in London?

SK: Make the most of the time zone difference. You have an advantage that by the time London has woken up, you can offer them considered advice on events taking place during their night. Virgin are also very considerate with conference calls, so I don't have to do too many late night phone calls to the UK. If you have to travel a lot between Europe and Asia, make sure you get lots of sleep on the plane – we can help you with that!

JH: Indeed! You just showed us round your shiny new 787. It was great to see so many British elements being showcased.

SK: Yes – from Rolls Royce engines to Green and Blacks chocolate! We have Dyson technology in the lounge, English sparkling wine on the aircraft, a partnership with JLR…We are very proudly a British brand and use many British products as they emphasise quality and are seen as very trendy in Asia.

JH: And finally…what are you finding most difficult out here?

SK: Learning Mandarin! It’s not an easy language to learn, but I’m trying. I think that learning languages gives you such great insights into people, communities and cultures.

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