Congratulations to The Hoffman Agency (HA) for 20 years in Asia Pacific. Lou, Ray Schuster and Maureen Tseng had one heck of a vision. It is great to see that their vision has materialized. From the outside, it seems like the company is as strong as ever having reinvented itself as a business storytelling firm.
As one of the first participants in The Hoffman Agency’s Building Bridges program, I arrived in Hong Kong a day before 9/11. Michelle Herman, Hoffman’s managing director for the region at the time, welcomed me and immediately made me part of the team.
When I reflect on those times, I certainly get a case of “the feels.” The kindness and quality of the people make the memories of my time in Asia so fresh and unforgettable. To this day, I cannot look at a mango without being reminded of Ah For’s legendary mango pudding.
Honestly, I am not sure where to start. My most vivid memories are about food (no surprise there) and getting to know my colleagues around the region. There is one other element of my experience that made it special. As many of you know, I met a woman while in Hong Kong, and on March 7, we will celebrate 13 years of wedded bliss. Ours is not the first marriage that came about because of Hoffman, but this one was mine. And I am extremely grateful. If you want to hear an extended story about my love connection, you can click on the audio clip. I mention it because it is another example of why I am so grateful for the opportunity.
First Work Project
Perhaps the first time I ever used storytelling techniques to achieve a business objective was the initial project Michelle assigned me in Hong Kong. She asked me to collect input from the team to compile our entry for the PR Week Awards. We were gunning for the Network of the Year award. Michelle had a great idea because it gave me a chance to get to know my colleagues and also learn more about what the team worked on during the past year.
I pitched Michelle and Lynn Furrow that we craft a feature story similar to one a reader might see in an actual edition of PR Week for our entry rather than put together a traditional RFP-style response. They let me go for it. Thanks to some great teamwork, we won. The unique story approach we took had a strong impact on me in terms of the importance of creativity and the need to avoid being dull. I still try to apply that kind of thinking.
Here are a few things that are popping into my mind right now:
- Florence’s curiosity and friendliness … She was the essence of cool
- Angela giving me my Chinese name Sung Wei Xian (love it)
- Kaori treating me like a king in Tokyo
- Lilian’s sense of humor
- Lydia being the rock
- Paul’s pickup of Putonghua
- Everyone tormenting me till I learned how to use chopsticks
- Evelyn being my confidant
- Sue Kim letting Iris and me cook risotto for her
- Janice taking care of everything
- Sandra’s willingness to learn
- Michelle’s laughter and leadership
- Lynn’s Maine toughness and ability to not take gruff from anyone
This list doesn’t even mention the 1 a.m. client calls or the experience of walking up the hill when the escalators were running downward; or the night time in Tsim Sha Tsui. It is the people I remember first.
I wish I worked harder to learn more Cantonese. Though in my defense, I did learn the two most important phrases a gweilo (white guy) needs to know; “Leedo,” which tells the taxi driver to stop, and “leng lui,” which tells your girlfriend she is pretty.
Looking back, the most important lesson I learned is the value of difference. Difference is not to be feared. It enrichens us and makes us stronger. As great a country as the U.S. is, we do not have a monopoly on innovation. Often, my colleagues in Asia had different perspectives on issues than I did. Not better or worse, just different. I feel like I appreciate the world more because of the HA folks in Asia. I know what durian is and know to avoid it. But I have also shared boba tea and red bean ice cream with friends. I sweated in Singapore and froze in Tokyo. I met the most amazing woman who actually liked me and who is the most incredible mother I could possibly imagine for my daughter. And, oh by the way, I had a bunch of placements in SCMP, Computerworld, etc. — but that’s not the most important stuff 15 years later.
So I remain humbled and grateful for the opportunity that Lou, Susan, Rachel and Michelle gave me along with the kindness of all the folks throughout HA AP that I got to meet.
Congrats again on 20 years, Hoffman. Mazel Tov. You up for 20 more, Lou?