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A Prime Mover in the Transformation of the Construction Industry
  • <p>“It was a pleasure to see how a traditional industry transformed into one with standardised procedures.”</p>
  • <p>“It was a pleasure to see how a traditional industry transformed into one with standardised procedures.”</p>

“It was a pleasure to see how a traditional industry transformed into one with standardised procedures.”

Aug 2013

More than three decades ago, Ir Thomas Ho JP, Chief Executive of Gammon Construction joined the construction industry by chance, and little did he know that it would mark the beginning of a lifelong career in the construction industry. Even today, when Ir Ho takes the helm of Gammon Construction, one of the leading construction companies in Asia, he still finds himself meeting new challenges and learning different things every day.

“After graduation from secondary school, I had to study for diploma at the Hong Kong Polytechnic (now renamed as the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), and there was a course named Building and Technology Management. I thought the title was cool,” said a chuckling Ir Ho. “I was attracted by the title, yet I did not know anything about the construction industry.” Ir Ho’s interest in very construction-related matter grew, however, as he discovered the subject entailed a wide range of knowledge, including materials, design, management and surveying.

Ir Ho started his career as a trainee working in a construction site. Seemingly a humble beginning, the job offered an all-rounded training, preparing him for taking on management roles in the future. Two years later, Ir Ho flew to the United Kingdom to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (now became part of the University of Manchester), where he learnt about the latest building technology.

Upon his return to Hong Kong, Ir Ho took up a site manager position. It was an interesting moment, as Ir Ho, fresh with different ideas, was hoping to modernise the practices in the age-old building industry. “At that time, the industry used very traditional methods, and there was no scientific management,” Ir Ho said. While introducing new mindset and practices is often met with opposition, the transition turned out to be a smooth one in this particular case. “There was no tension between us and the old workers. You have to inquire them about everything, treasure their experiences, and figure out ways to help them. It was a pleasure to see how a traditional industry transformed into one with standardised procedures.”

Sixteen years ago, Ir Ho joined Gammon Construction, a company which has branched out its business regionally. “There are many challenges when managing such a large company, especially I have to look after different areas. It is very satisfying to take the company to a new level,” Ir Ho said. During Ir Ho’s tenure, Gammon Construction has been assigned as the building contractor for many mega projects, such as the Tamar Government Headquarters and Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor.

In his decades-long career, Ir Ho has witnessed the changing requirements in the field of construction. “Customers no longer only look at the price. They have to build their own brand, and they also take environmental friendliness, quality and safety into account,” Ir Ho said. “For example, Hysan Place is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environ- mental Design) Platinum building in Hong Kong, which is also quite rare in the world. The property owner has such kind of visions, and they will hire your company if you can tie in with their philosophy.”

As one of the biggest employers in the construction industry, Ir Ho reminds of future graduates that the company does not only seek talents specialising in construction. “It is our standard practice to hire over 100 graduates each year,” Ir Ho said. “We need a lot of talents. Our company has over 7,500 staff-members, so we need people from various disciplines, including civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, geotechnical engineering, computer science, surveying and finance. All our employees have clear tracks of career development.”

Any tips for students who have an interest in entering the construction industry? “They cannot be confined to their own areas of specialisation, and they have to master different skills and knowledge. They will only succeed if they appreciate the expertise of others,” Ir Ho said. Aside from technical knowledge, Ir Ho also stresses that students should be informed about current affairs. “The political environment has also changed tremendously in the past years. It is essential for a successful project manager or an architect to know about the political culture and system.”

Construction industry has made significant contributions to the economy of Hong Kong, and Ir Ho believes that a bright future lies ahead for the industry. “The industry has stepped into another golden decade. The Government has emphasised that it will spend more than 70 billion dollars in infrastructure in the coming five years,” Ir Ho said. “This is the best moment to enter the industry, and you can learn a lot because all our projects are of world class, which involve billions of dollars and are in a large scale, such as MTR’s West Island Line.”

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