Forging a Beautiful and Caring Path to Success
When HKUST Engineering Alumna Eva TSANG Chin-Lam (1999 BEng in Chemical Engineering), currently Executive Director of Opal Cosmetics (HK) Limited, walked gracefully down the red carpet in a glittering gown to accept the Greater Bay Area (GBA) Outstanding Young Women Entrepreneur Award 2020, she was buoyed by the belief that the honor was an endorsement of her two decades of entrepreneurship. Having been blessed with a career without dramatic turning points, she shares that she has simply kept moving forward one step at a time. She skims over the difficulties, diffusing any bitterness with her bright smile, demonstrating the strong positive spirit that propelled her forward.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have spent a year entirely in Hong Kong for the first time in over a decade,” Eva shares. “A few years after I graduated, I went to mainland China to work. I am normally there from Monday to Friday and come back to Hong Kong for the weekends.”
“I chose to work on the mainland firstly because I saw the opportunity for the engineering profession there. My life plan was to learn as much as I could,” she says, acknowledging that basing herself in China was not easy, especially in the early years.
“There was much I needed to adapt to, I had to deal with innumerable small challenges with my colleagues. For example, sudden power outages or the lightning rod not being set up properly,” she recalls, with amusement. None of this dimmed her desire to learn and explore.
Over the years, Eva has witnessed the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, in terms of people, industry, living standards and technology. She encourages young people to bravely venture into the area, saying, “Just give it a try when you are young.”
Woman on the go
As a woman with a family, whose job involved frequent travel, managing her schedule was tricky. “I have to plan ahead. Let’s just say I had to raise my child and guide his schoolwork remotely, sometimes using pre-recorded videos. I saw my friends regularly traveling for leisure, when I was busy all the time,” she says, then adds firmly: “It all depends on your choices and priorities. Having a life plan is of vital importance.”
Nevertheless, she believes gender is irrelevant to success, that it is talent that matters. “Girls need not pay attention to other people’s opinions on whether they should study engineering or be entrepreneurs as long as they can prove themselves.” She believes that women who choose engineering tend to be open-minded and have strong wills.
Asked why she chose HKUST, Eva cheerfully explains it was because she wanted to accept the challenge as it was a new university at the time and that she chose chemical engineering as she wanted to study an applied science. “The university has had a great influence on both my career and life. I am grateful to HKUST students and faculty for maintaining the university’s reputation and scaling new heights, so that alumni are always proud of their alma mater.”
Eva’s leadership skills were already in evidence at university, where she was the first female chairperson of the Engineering Students’ Union. “While there was hesitation about my ability in the beginning, I took action to prove myself. I gained precious experience on how to form a team and had the opportunity to organize international events which brought students from over 10 countries and regions to the HKUST campus.” All this broadened her horizons by showing her how big the world is.
Luck and opportunity
“I have been lucky to find a company that knows how to appreciate my talents,” Eva says of Opal Cosmetics, which she joined in 2004.
She believes a beautiful life depends on your attitude to managing it. This philosophy is in sync with the values of the industry. “Cosmetics enable people to project beauty. The industry is concerned with developing better products to add value to customers’ lifestyles,” she observes.
Asked what contributed to her success, Eva first cites “being proactive and knowing how to seize opportunities”. Deciding to go to China when she did is an example of this. She has been constantly seeking change and learning to adapt over the years. “Second, you have to be forward-looking. Even if you consider your job an ordinary one, are you able to identify opportunities when they arise?”
Having acceded to top management, Eva sees great value in being caring. “How can we create a caring work environment? A salary increase or promotion alone cannot achieve this, but could it help employees design their own career path or recognize their strengths, thus discovering the value of existence? That’s my ultimate concern, and it is also an important factor in motivating staff, retaining talent and fostering corporate development.”
Eva realized a long time ago that success does not depend on a single person but on a team, and the enterprise as a whole. “What people need most is hope, whether in the company or in the project. Entrepreneurs must pay attention to this.”
Decathlon in 2020
It is perhaps fitting that Eva was recognized for her achievements last year, which she describes as the most challenging year of her career. Responsible for overseeing the operations and management of the company’s sales and marketing department, she reveals she had to make full use of all the skills she has developed, particularly in crisis management.
“The whole team had to adapt to the market quickly yet accurately. In 2020, our flexibility and experience were fully reflected in how we handled crises.”
With many companies in the industry facing bankruptcy, Eva reflected deeply on which direction to take in response to market needs. “I realized we could no longer focus on our regular business and had to immediately pivot and devote ourselves to the introduction of PPE (personal protective equipment) products.”
She is profoundly impressed by her team’s agility. “I could not go back to the mainland, and our factories faced questions over whether they could operate and how to ensure safety. In Hong Kong, we had to overcome marketing, logistical and other problems while preventing the spread of infection. It seemed like we were running a decathlon.”
The silver lining is that the company’s business has grown significantly while Eva witnessed the resilience of her team. “After the experience of 2020, we are no longer afraid of 2021, which may be even worse,” she says with confidence.
She has also been inspired by the industry’s sense of mission last year. “Instead of making money, we were motivated by the idea that we had the ability to do something for the people of Hong Kong.”
The events of the past year have prompted her to reflect on history and how to face it. “Hong Kong has faced an economic recession almost every 10 years. Even if the crisis is more serious this time, as long as you have the ability to manage it, you can find opportunities and go on with hope.”