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My Hong Kong Story: Cyril Aubin

By Cyril Aubin, Managing Director, Hong Kong Tramways, for HongKongEcho #100.


My Hong Kong story started four years ago, on a normal Monday, when I first entered the offices of Hong Kong Tramways in Sheung Wan. In the months prior, as is the case in international groups, I had been selected to take over this executive position thanks to a solid knowledge in my industry, a track record of achievements, an ability to lead international teams, and so on. Personally, I was confident in my core values, my emotional and situational intelligence, and of course the humility to admit that we only have a partial vision of reality.

The first three months were intense. I had a lot of decisions to make, which I always did with a caring mindset, active listening, and after having scrupulously studied the different options. I was quite satisfied by what I felt was a good start… until I met him. Who? Well, I won’t tell you exactly, but let’s just say he’s a mentor of sorts.

He listened to me with an incredible ability to keep me speaking (which is not difficult in reality!). Then he told me: “Cyril, you should walk more, and sweat a lot under the sun. Take some more enjoyment out of observing what surrounds you! Both the big and the small. It’s important in our culture”. His next piece of advice has stuck with me. He told me I didn’t need to totally abandon my personality, but rather, I just had to make some adaptations. I understood that despite my best efforts I had already unintentionally committed a few mistakes that could simmer beneath the surface.


Photography by Peter Parks and Anthony Wallace (Agence France-Presse)



This marvelous ceramic tram model was produced in a pottery workshop for Hong Kongers with special needs as part of a programme called ‘Our stories: memories preserved in clay’ that we did with St James’ Settlement Rehabilitation and under the supervision of renowned potter Chris Lo.


I continued to meet up with him. In a company where I’m the only non-Chinese among 600 staff, he has helped to initiate this never-ending journey to becoming a kind of ‘mixed-cultured-boss’. Since his advice, I observe and listen much more. “Here, we are collective by nature, this has been built during millenniums of history,” he said. I have learnt to pay more attention to details that I probably considered only marginal before.

Without this perspective, certainly I would have enjoyed the veil of the folklore, but I would have underestimated how important was the symbol of the leader undertaking rituals for wishing the best to the group. It makes everyone feel safer and protected. This provides collective moments of shared vision, which are at the very centre of an individual’s interest, and which are finally what any leader is looking for.


"I didn’t need to totally abandon my personality, but rather, I just had to make some adaptations."


Certainly, I would have enjoyed the multiple events and celebrations that the company organises. But I would have missed feeling the real intensity of the energy that individuals within the group strive to produce, which simply means missing the essential.

Certainly, I would have acknowledged great CSR activities with true sincerity, but I would have failed to see them as important as our core activities. All together they tell who we are as a company. I have factually experienced that it impacts the collective psyche in a much wider scope than what we can observe.

My Hong Kong story brought me the opportunity to evolve in how I observe. Not that I was seeing the world segmented, black-and-white or simplistic before, quite the opposite. But it helped me enrich the way I receive what is offered up to me to see.