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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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EY Chief Innovation Officer for APAC on breaking silos and staying agile

Steve Lo thinks the GBA will allow Hong Kong to become a global intellectual property hub.

Steve Lo, EY’s Asia-Pacific Chief Innovation Officer, a management consultant in the TMT sector with over two decades of experience in business performance improvement in enterprise sales and operations management for large-scale organisations in Asia.

He is also Managing Partner for EY’s TMT Industry Market Unit in Greater China, leading all service lines and market development within the sector.

A staunch supporter of employee engagement programmes that foster a culture of innovation, creativity and diversity, he started his career as a network design engineer with a global telecom equipment manufacturer in Canada, after graduating from the University of Toronto.

In an interview, Hong Kong Business chatted with Steve who will join the panel of judges at this year’s HKB Technology Excellence Awards, to celebrate the movers, shapers and innovators that are building a better working world in and out of Hong Kong.

Can you share with us your work experience and backstory that contributed to your professional career?

I have always been passionate about engineering and technology. With a STEM background, I started out as a network design engineer and then devoted most of my career to management and technology consulting in the TMT sector, where I had the opportunity to co-innovate with my clients. I have been fortunate enough to play my part in the tremendous developments of enabling technology to connect the world and witnessed the fascinating explosion of mobile digital technologies in the past couple of decades. Currently, I am devoted to work alongside innovators at EY to transform our businesses and advise our clients with new and innovative initiatives.

HKSTP announced that 108 startups just graduated their incubation programmes. What’s your view on Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem? Which new products or services do you think would thrive post-crisis, especially with 5G on the table?

I’m delighted that the startup activities in Hong Kong continued to gain momentum despite the challenges with the macro environment. It shows the ecosystem has not stopped coming up with brilliant innovative ideas, and investors are optimistic about the outlook. As Hong Kong adjusts to the situation and enters into a ‘new normal’ of conducting businesses, there will be an even higher demand for new and innovative ideas that challenge the status quo of existing products and services.

The crisis has brought a paradigm shift to how we view the workplace, how we work with colleagues, and how businesses interact with their customers. I believe there will be very exciting innovations in virtual presence and advanced connectivity, which will be accelerated with the rapid rollout of 5G networks.

HKMA and others recently floated a wealth management connect scheme to attract cross-border investments. What roles does the Greater Bay Area play in Hong Kong’s position as a financial and innovation hub?

In addition to the wealth management scheme by HKMA, the Greater Bay Area (GBA) brings tremendous opportunities for Hong Kong to set up an international intellectual properties (IP) registration hub. Hong Kong is uniquely positioned to excel at this area as it is the only city in the GBA that adopts the common law system. Hong Kong’s legal system has better compatibility with the international markets and this can help boost investors’ confidence.

Furthermore, with the strong demand for skilled finance professionals to execute deals, raise funding, and manage international investments; Hong Kong’s finance talent has unique opportunities to contribute their expertise to building the GBA a vibrant hub for innovations and investments.

Hong Kong has one of the most financial literate markets in the globe, says IFEC, but how is the city coping with COVID 19 and which industries are staying resilient in these trying times?

In early July, the financial markets were making tremendous strides recovering its losses to pre-COVID19 positions, and the daily activities of people in Hong Kong have gradually resumed to normal. Certainly, there are sectors that are less fortunate than the financial sector and are still in crisis. For example, tourism and hospitality sectors are still facing very challenging market conditions with international travels largely at halt. However, the hotel industry is staying resilient by carrying out overdue renovations, offering creative ‘staycation’ packages to attract local consumers, and managing their costs prudently. Businesses that are willing to challenge the status quo, and be creative in their business model would fare much better in the post-COVID19 period.

Aside from doubling down on tech and digital innovations, what do firms need to consider in order to become more profitable and sustainable in the future?

A main takeaway for businesses from the challenges in the past few months is that it is critical for them to build up their business agility. Businesses need to have plans in place to enable them to react quickly, deploy new strategies, and communicate to stakeholders with impact. Business leaders should leave no stones unturned when analysing what could go wrong and developing new responses.

Meanwhile, it is equally important to empower people across all levels of the organisation as the traditional top-down, siloed corporate structure often becomes a liability when managing a crisis. Companies can often begin with building genuine, in-depth understanding of what their stakeholders want, including major customers, regulators, alliance partners and employees. Building empathy and gaining insights into how these stakeholders would react to each disruptive scenario would allow the company to be much better prepared for future challenges. 

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