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【ALUMNI INTERVIEW】Unrelenting quest for new knowledge Powers Peter Yan’s 40-year journey in the IT industry

Unrelenting quest for new knowledge
Powers Peter Yan's 40-year journey in the IT industry

Since graduating from CUHK, Peter Yan(85/UC/Marketing) has been fully-dedicated to the information technology sector. Starting from his first job as a consultant to his current role as Cyberport's Chief Executive Officer, his love for technologies has never waned. He credits the drive to keep up with technological advancements as the secret in sustaining the passion throughout his almost 40-year journey, which began with his first computer.

While business administration is quite common in today's university education, it was still an emerging discipline in the 1980's. “Even though the entry requirements were quite tough back then, I had made up my mind to study business administration. It encompasses an array of aspects with promising potential for future development. My gut feeling was that I could learn a lot from marketing, which was novel and challenging,” Peter recalls the various factors leading to his decision to pursue marketing for his undergraduate studies. “My family did not have many comments on my choice of subject, but my teachers and friends encouraged me to opt for something interesting and challenging that would broaden my horizons. Looking back, I could not thank them enough for the invaluable suggestions which paves the way for me.”

In recollecting his time at CUHK, Peter found the precious bonds with his classmates the most memorable. “Being young and like-minded, we continuously inspire each other. An unforgettable highlight was founding the Society of Business Administration. It was not an easy task to build the executive committee, but I thoroughly enjoyed making friends and networking, learning new skills and developing teamwork. We were so lucky to be successfully elected. During our tenure, the team injected fresh ideas like the exchange programme. I grasped the opportunity to go on an exchange to Sweden for four months, where I conducted research into marketing and promotions. It was eye-opening to experience the Nordic way of life, which is very different to that in Hong Kong, and to visit other parts of Europe. Although we have graduated a long time ago, the marketing classmates still meet up at least once a year.”

Peter (back row, third from left) has fond memories of forming the executive council of the Society of Business Administration.

Hostel life is another instrumental part of one's university journey. “Due to limited residential facilities, the students who were actively engaged in organizing activities were normally allotted a place for only one year out of the four years in university. The situation for other students was even worse,” he reminiscences. “I had a splendid time during my year in the student residences; but the three other years when I boarded ‘illegally’ were equally, if not more interesting! After working on activities until late, I would stay in the hostel with friends, enjoy the sweet soup, star-gazing and chat the night away…those were happy and unforgettable times.”

The marketing classmates still meet regularly, a testimony to the great bond that they share for 40 years.

The summer job that inspired a career

Upon graduating with a marketing degree, Peter began involved in the IT industry in different capacities and never looked back. This first step in his decorated career began with a summer job at a computer shop. “Personal computers were not so common at that time. My summer job has helped me to appreciate the amount of work that a desktop computer could do with relevant software applications. I can still vividly recall building my first computer using motherboards and other parts that were readily available at the shopping malls in Sham Shui Po, and following the instructions. This may give a false impression that it is very hi-tech. This experience cultivated my deep interest in IT. While I was lucky to be offered jobs in management, banking and the financial sectors, I felt like I am most interested in technologies.”

Peter joined Accenture as a consultant, where he learned invaluable lessons that supported his career with various jobs in reputable firms like Tradelink, Computer and Technologies Holdings Limited, and SUNeVision, before eventually landing his current role as Chief Executive Officer of Cyberport. All of these roles are closely related to new and innovative technologies.

“The tech scene 30 years ago is very different to that of today. If we want to see a movie 30 years ago, for example, we have to physically visit the cinemas to get tickets. Nowadays, streaming platforms enable mini-cinema experiences in the comfort of our living rooms. Technologies will continue to make our lives even better.”

Senior citizens enjoy a fresh experience at the eSports experience day at Cyberport.

Keep up or fall behind

With his solid background, however, Peter understands how challenging the IT industry is – whether it was 30 years ago or today. “Change in the only constant. In technologies, past experiences may become the excess baggage that holds you back. If you rely too much on previous experiences in decision making, you are at risk of becoming irrelevant. When I first began in the industry, solutions were relatively simple. A proficiency in some technical skills may already be sufficient for 8 to 10 years. But in today's fast-pace environment, advancements are more diversified and more rapid. We hear of game-changing innovations around every three years. It is vital to keep an open mind and always look out for the next big thing, so as to avoid becoming obsolete.”

How does Peter find the time to learn, amid his public duties and a packed schedule? “It is powered by interest. When you learn things of interest, the process is enjoyable and it does not feel like a chore,” he explains. “Everyone in the world gets 24 hours in a day. In order to achieve more, you could either sacrifice your sleep or manage your waking hours. In this regard, discipline and habits are most important. When you make the greatest impact in the most efficient manner, you can squeeze out spare time to gain new knowledge.”

In addition to staying abreast with the latest trends, Peter has been taking his aspirations to another level. “I had been involved in helping enterprises optimize their return on investment prior to joining Cyberport in 2018. To certain extent, Cyberport could be considered as a business operation because it is self-funded and requires vigorous management. At this stage in my career, however, it is more meaningful to nurture a spirit of innovation in Hong Kong and facilitate aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly young people, to achieve success. I have gained so much from the tech industry in Hong Kong, how can I return the favour and contribute to society? This is my primary goal when I took up my job at Cyberport.”

An advocate for social services, Peter has invited over 280 students and parents to the movies and a tour of Cyberport.

Success but no failure, the only outcome in entrepreneurship

Since 2011, Cyberport had put in place the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Young Entrepreneur Programme. This was upgraded to the Cyberport Greater Bay Area Young Entrepreneurship Programme in 2018 at Peter's initiation. “The initiative aims to promote cultural and knowledge exchange among young people in Hong Kong and the burgeoning Greater Bay Area. Most importantly, it is a platform for them to expand their network which would be of great assistance in their future,” explains Peter. “I always tell the young people there are only two possible outcomes of starting a business – success, or it has not yet met the expected results. There is no failure. Irrespective of the results, the process is a unique way of learning about themselves as the entrepreneur must assume full responsibility of the business, often without fallbacks. If they eventually take up employment in the future, their willingness to explore ingenuous ideas would prove to be an asset in the job market. The entrepreneurship experience will always be fruitful.”

In addition to incubating young entrepreneurs, Cyberport also partners with the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau on the Youth Start-up Internship Programme. Peter is photographed with Miss Alice Mak, Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs.

In comparing young people from Hong Kong and the Mainland, Peter believes they have different strengths and advantages. “As Hong Kong is a metropolis, local youths are blessed with stronger international exposure. With more diversity in our daily encounters, it is easier to adapt in other parts of the world. Lastly, Hong Kong is more economically developed, which gives our youth more capacity to chase their dreams. Meanwhile, young people from the Mainland takes note of these differences, which is a driving force behind their yearning for change. They show greater curiosity and thirst for new knowledge, as well as a greater drive for success. The enormous internal market presents lucrative opportunities. This is also one of their advantages.”

Epilogue: A goal of running and life

A sports enthusiast, Peter has developed a keen interest in distance running in recent years. “In addition to the benefits for my physical health, running also trains my mind to overcome obstacles. Regular runners would certainly have heard comments like, ‘you've done enough for a day, don't push too hard’, or ‘why do you bother training at an old age?’. To me, every time I brush aside these obstructions and achieve my training goals, I get a great sense of accomplishment. This is very similar to my philosophy in life, and the reason why I enjoy distance running.”

Peter Yan's Profile

  • 1985‧Graduated in BBA in Marketing, CUHK
  • 1985‧Senior Consultant, Accenture
  • 1992‧Chief Operations Officer, Tradelink
  • 2000‧Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Computer and Technologies Holdings Ltd
  • 2013‧Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, SUNeVision Holdings Limited
  • 2018‧Chief Executive Officer, Cyberport

"CU Alumni Magazine" Video Interview: (Chinese only)

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 112 by Alumni Affairs Office 2022

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue No. 112 (Chinese Version Only)
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