Home' A Plus Magazine : July 2013 Contents July 2013 31
Otis is a household name in vertical
transport. Its finance director for Hong
Kong and Macau, May Ip, tells George W.
Russell about the financial ups and downs
of an essential industry that most people
take for granted
Hong Kong is, as every-
one can see, a metrop-
olis of skyscrapers.
Often heralded as the
world's most "vertical
city," a reflection of its
more than 1,200 buildings above 100 metres
tall, Hong Kong reputedly has more skyscrap-
ers than New York and Tokyo put together.
As a result, Hong Kong's population is a
heavy user of lifts and escalators, modes of
transport, whether at work or at home, that
are entered and exited almost without a
thought. Unless, of course, they are how you
make a living.
When it comes to lifts and escalators,
May Ip, finance director of the Otis Elevator
Company (Hong Kong) and a Hong Kong In-
stitute of CPAs member, sees more than most
passengers: impatient lift riders unneces-
sarily pressing buttons several times, people
holding lift doors open with their hands, or
children who aren't paying attention on the
"If I see kids standing close to the escala-
tor edges I have to say something," she says,
adding that people wearing Crocs -- the popu-
lar and colourful plastic clogs -- are another
type of problematic rider.
Ip says her concern is all part of the com-
pany's "three pillars" -- of which safety is
number one. The others, she adds, are inter-
nal controls and ethics. "We spend a lot of
money on safety issues, which are our highest
Founded in the mid-19th century by a
pragmatic American engineer named Elisha
Graves Otis, the company has been able to
turn the simple idea of vertical transport into
an innovative and competitive industry.
"Innovation is how we sustain ourselves,"
says Ip, pointing to "green" technology such
as a machine drive that regenerates energy
back to the system, cutting electricity costs,
and composite lift cables that are lighter
than steel but just as strong, saving on wear
Ip got to where she is today through hard
work. "I come from what we called a lower
income class in the old days," she says. "We
lived in public housing, in an old seven-sto-
rey building just below Lion Rock." Today,
the neighbourhood is called Lok Fu, near
Kowloon City, but back then it was known as
Lo Fu Ngam -- the Tiger's Den. "Everything
was public, like toilets," she recalls.
People there often struggled to earn a
living. Many factory workers brought home
piecework like sewing to earn a little extra
on the side. Ip quickly learned the value of
labour, and worked part-time as a secondary
"I loved numbers right from the begin-
ning," she says. "My mathematics was very
good in secondary school. All the teachers
pushed me towards the science field, but I
think I'm not that kind of person. In the very
early days, I already decided I want to be an
Her family's tough work ethic paid off,
as the teenager was one of the few from her
class to go beyond high school and the only
one to attend the University of Hong Kong.
"Getting into HKU is every secondary school
student's dream," she says.
Ip majored in management studies and
joined Deloitte as an audit junior. "At that
time, I did not know how tough a CPA life
would be," she acknowledges. However,
given her upbringing, Ip was unfazed. She
stayed at Deloitte for four years and won her
CPA designation in her third year.
She left to join the Trade Development
Council -- which gave her a different kind
of shock. "In Deloitte we worked very hard
with a lot of midnight jobs, or overnight jobs
if you have a client in the U.S. Then I changed
to where you leave the office around 5 p.m. I
couldn't fit in."
Ip left after two months to join a company
that she had helped list while at Deloitte. She
has worked in business ever since, often for
companies with an extensive Mainland pres-
ence. "I had nine years' experience working
with China," she says.
Her career has been diverse, and not
every job had a happy ending. "I've been
through acquisitions and disposals, which
can be very tough. I joined one company
only to find it was in financial difficulties.
There were so many things going wrong that
people asked me if I had come in as a crisis
Ip was considering taking a short break when
Hong Kong was hit by the SARS crisis. "You
went outside and it was very empty. Every-
thing had stopped. You couldn't find a job be-
Photography by Kees Metselaar
Links Archive June 2013 August 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page