Home' A Plus Magazine : Jan 2013 Contents 36 January 2013
'Forget it.' So I picked Sime Darby," he says.
He joined the Malaysian group as an ac-
countant in Hong Kong, working across its
car dealerships business selling BMWs, Mit-
subishis and Fords. He rose quickly through
the ranks, becoming the group's youngest
chief accountant at the age of 30.
It was a pivotal time for the company. Af-
ter years of political tension, relations had
thawed between Malaysia and China. The
bright young Hong Kong accountant with
the impressive language skills was hand-
picked to be the group's first China mergers
and acquisitions manager, with a mandate
to hunt out business opportunities on the
Au began travelling to China, brokering
deals to establish car dealerships there. "It
was very, very exciting. I can still remember
my first trip to Shenzhen -- we started the
market there. Everything was so different at
that time. It was like Hong Kong in the 1960s.
You couldn't see tall buildings or cars."
Au decided he needed to formalize his
skills and began studying for a master of
business administration degree at Hong
Kong University of Science and Technology.
"I was doing a lot of M&A work... I needed
more skills: commercial thinking, analytical
skills, logic, other disciplines such as mar-
keting, operations, logistics, IT."
While he was studying, Sime Darby asked
him to move to Guangzhou to be the man-
ager of a joint venture with Mitsubishi. It
was a tough time, he recalls, straddling the
cultural differences with a Japanese partner
and managing the difficulties of the emerg-
ing Mainland market.
Personal life began to intervene. Au
found it heartbreaking to leave his wife and
three young children behind in Hong Kong.
After two years he returned to his home-
town, first as the general manager of Sime
Darby's Suzuki business, then starting Nis-
san dealerships on the Mainland.
After a few years the business landscape
shifted. China had joined the World Trade
Organization and was trying to boost its lo-
cal enterprises before the country's entry on
to the international stage in 2005. Foreign
retailers such as Sime Darby suddenly found
themselves locked out.
Seeking a change, and with the lure of
unknown climes calling again, he joined
Lei Shing Hong, a rival conglomerate, as its
Indochina manager based in Vietnam. Au
was able to apply what he had learned from
China to the emerging Vietnamese market.
"Culturally they are both very Chinese, very
Confucian," he says.
Au received a personal letter of appre-
ciation from George W. Bush for helping
to organize the then United States Presi-
dent's visit to Vietnam in 2006, a moment
which Au describes as the "high point" of
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