Good leaders get the job done, but great leaders get the job done with everyone on board. With vision and a one-team mentality, leadership greats ascend far beyond good. But how do they do it? Associated Engineers, Limited (AEL) CEO Barry Lee is one of those great leaders.
He saw an opportunity and took a risk, leaving a company he spent nearly three decades of his career with to sign on with AEL in August 2019. And he hasn’t looked back. To him, it’s just what great leaders do. It’s part of who they are.
“Courage and commitment are essential elements of being a great leader,” Barry says. “Great leaders should have the courage to set up a plan for the company to grow and also have the commitment to get it done. And they look at the big picture.”
Recently elected as the Vice President of Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, Barry is a leader who “likes to get his hands dirty”. Not only does he participate right alongside his subordinates, but he also listens intently to their opinions, ideas and concerns.
Most of all, though, he values this astute leadership position for the vast scope of opportunity it presents. “I love the job,” he says.
“I have the trust from the board of directors, and I also have freedom. Compared to my last position, I have a wider scope to look over. It’s the main reason I decided to take on something new; it took me out of my comfort zone. The opportunities that I’m involved in now are quite different than the ones I’ve had over the past 20 years of my career.”
AEL is devoted to giving back to the community. In recognition of its commitment to caring for the community, its employees and the environment, the company was recently awarded the ‘10 Years Plus Caring Company’ logo by The Hong Kong Council of Social Service.
AEL was established in 1961 as a specialised electrical and mechanical service provider for airports. Since that time, it’s expanded its scope to include airport engineering, environmental engineering, infrastructure engineering, logistics and automation, as well as engineering services.
In its almost 60 years of success, the company has pioneered many industry firsts, such as the design and supply of the world’s first hydraulically driven mobile tail dock enclosure at Hong Kong International Airport and Hong Kong’s first vertical conveyor system at St Paul’s Hospital.
Now, Barry is leveraging that solid foundation to build AEL’s next prosperous chapter, equipped with an empowered workforce, cutting-edge technology and an unwavering commitment to providing value for its customers. For him, it’s all about striving for excellency and innovating for the future.
“I want to transform AEL from a specialised company to a multidisciplinary solution provider,” he shares. “We need to provide a turnkey solution for our customers. This will give us a unique position in the market. Not only will we still be able to offer specialisation, but we will also be able to provide our customers with entire solutions – an attractive reason for them to choose AEL as their solution provider.”
However, making this goal a reality is hinged heavily upon the business’s loyal employees. Many of them have been with AEL for decades. They’ve helped build the company’s success and are reluctant to embrace change.
“We need to transform our culture in order to grow,” Barry says. “We need to embrace a ‘can do’ culture and embed that in the mindset of our employees. So far, it’s been one of the most challenging tasks that I’ve had to take on. But it’s also the most important. A purpose-driven strategy is the way to convince employees to buy into your plan, so you can all go together.”
To prepare them for the journey, AEL provides ongoing training to refresh and expand their skillset. It’s conducted through experience sharing and external trainings. AEL also places new staff with different specialisations alongside long-time employees so they can support each other and work as a team towards a common goal.
A purpose-driven strategy is the way to convince employees to buy into your plan, so you can all go together.
“In order to provide a turnkey solution, our people need to have a broader sense of engineering and skillset,” Barry explains. “They also need to have a commercial mindset to be able to talk to customers and acquire new business. This will help us provide reliable, feasible solutions that generate better value for our clients, which is the most important thing.”
For a leading engineering business like AEL, it’s also imperative to stay abreast of new technology. The company constantly looks to improve R&D to support modular, integrated production while remaining committed to sustainability.
Through the integration of cross-field industries and cooperation with international academic institutions, AEL strives to develop unique technologies and products to contribute to society and the industries it’s present in.
“Innovation is the top priority for our company,” Barry stresses. “AEL should be technology-driven. We should be using our own technology, acquired either from our own innovations or by partnering with our suppliers and subcontractors. Doing so will help us stay at the forefront of the industry.”
When it comes to strategic business relationships, Barry says they’re especially important for a mid-size company like AEL. “These long-term relationships, like what we have with our local and overseas vendors and working partners, are the most important element for our company’s growth,” he says.
“Exclusive collaborations with suppliers, subcontractors and vendors are very important. They help us generate better value for each other.”
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