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Two Young Firefighters

A song by the 80s group Tat Ming Duo "Ten Young Firefighters" tells the story of ten young people who dedicate themselves to firefighting. Passionate they might have been at first, but when a fire breaks out, these young firefighters retreat from the frontline one after another, all with different excuses.

For this issue of the "UST Link", we interviewed two HKUST alumni and were told their story of determination and persistence. They are Francis Kwok, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Radica Systems Limited, and the company's Executive Director Irene Cheung. Kwok graduated from the UST’s Department of Physics, School of Science and Cheung from the Department of Marketing, School of Business and Management.

The two HKUST alumni and a third partner founded the Radica Systems Limited in 2000 which specializes in personalized eMarketing solutions. Radica now has the largest market share and an impressive clientele spanning a wide range of industries including LV, Chanel, Canon, TDC, Bank of East Asia and a Mainland tourism website "Ctrip".

The Success Formula

Francis and Irene's success formula is pretty straight forward – persistence + innovation + gathering the right people to help you.

They had anticipated tough battles from the very beginning. Sure enough, their road to success was anything but easy: meltdown of the internet bubble at the dawn of the millennium, followed by the third partner leaving the company, followed by the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the global financial crisis in 2008, followed by...followed by... They would have been easily blown away by any of the crises had they been less determined.

It was not a desire to be rich and famous, but the persistence of doing what is right even if it means flying against the wind, that has driven them to strive for their dreams.

Visiting Kwok's office gives us a better idea of his vision of success. There hangs several portraits but not what one might expect – no Microsoft founder Bill Gates (the richest man on earth) or any of the internet wonderboys. We find portraits of Mahatma Gandhi; Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson; master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso – all great men who created history and whose works and teachings have inspired generations of people. They are Kwok’s role models.

Kwok admires Richard Branson's innovative mind and adventurous spirit. He enthusiastically recommends Branson’s autobiography "Losing my Virginity" and describes Branson’s life as a process of continuous improvement through self-reflection and overcoming personal limitations.

Courage and Innovation

Radica's success is a story of a relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. The company is always improving their products and services  – every six months, the company offers either new software or a better version of existing ones.

The company's first software Radica Obert, according to Irene Cheung, is "an online salesman". "Radica Obert collects online customer shopping data, analyses them, predicts customers' shopping behavior, then decides which products suit them best," said Cheung. "The data is very important. It offers insight into customer behavior.

"Radica Obert helps us predict customers' online shopping behavior but it does not establish relationship with them." They soon developed a second generation of the software – the "Radica Intimate" which was an instant hit and has become the company's flagship product.

"The great thing about ‘Radica Intimate' is it allows our clients to identify target customer groups using demographic data and information of their purchasing habits. Our clients may email target groups marketing messages and start building relationship with potential customers," Cheung said.

They are bold. They are daring. And the spirit led them go beyond limitations.

The Radica spirit was clearly demonstrated at the company's very first product promotion presentation. While most marketers would give a power-point presentation at a hotel conference room, Radica chose to do it with a movie premiere. Product promotion and movie premiere might seem completely unrelated. It was simply different. And everyone was surprised. They got what they had wanted – attention. Radica's presentation cum movie premiere was a great hit and fully-packed a 500-seat theatre. A start-up Radica with only five staff (three of which partners) stunned everyone like a young and brave David shocked the giant Goliath.

Managing a Football Team

The "Kwok-Chueng Duo" inspired a group of energetic young people to join their team like birds of a feather flock together.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Radica Systems for a decade, Kwok has developed a unique management style. He loves sports and likes to think he is managing a football team  – he himself as captain and coach.

"I do not think there is any football player who does not know how to play. But it is quite another issue if he is playing the right position and performing his best."

When it comes to finding the right person to work with, "The most important thing is to have a positive attitude," Irene Cheung said. Educational background and other factors are secondary concerns. Radica is not looking for graduates with outstanding academic performance because the smartest students more often than not would have planned a future in the financial sector or are on their way to become investment bankers. They would try to earn their "first pot of gold in the shortest time possible."

A Word for the Post-80s

Many consider young people today (post 80's generation) less capable. Kwok disagrees. "I've met many creative and innovative high school students. May be they are less motivated to achieve their dreams. That is because they grew up better off financially than their parents - one of the reasons that they tend to follow their instincts and more likely to give up once they encounter setbacks," Kwok added.

He encourages young people to think forward, think big and think beyond boundaries. "Go see the world. Go wherever needs you."

"Think less about what you’ll get today and be prepared to make short-term sacrifices. Hold on to your convictions," Kwok stressed.

He had something to say about today's teachers and parents. "Grown-ups' may impose their dreams and wishes to their children and teachers may want to elevate school reputation. Students would be influenced by parents and teachers. They may give up their own interests and try to fulfill the wishes of parents and teachers.

"Studying something one enjoys and having the freedom to pursue one’s personal goals could be the single best thing that could ever happen. Why would teachers and parents have students study something they are not interested in or not particularly good at?" Kwok asked.

Kwok said he was lucky to have made the right decision without being influenced much.

"To study at the UST might well be the best decision I've ever made. It is open and it encourages students to break new grounds. This suits me perfectly. I took to it like a duck to water," he said.