citylinejosephlee500
Human Resources

HK IT career: From the tech stage to the biz stage

Joseph Lee, president and CEO of Cityline-- a former IBMer-- shares with Computerworld Hong Kong how he made a move from being a tech pro to heading a tech business and Cityline's diversification strategy.

CWHK: How long have you been with Cityline?

Joseph Lee: About nine years. I was a project manager when I joined the firm in 2004 and became the CEO in 2009.

CWHK: What was your first job? When did you decide to switch from tech to the business side of tech and why the change?

JL: Starting out as a technology professional, I landed my first job in data center operations at IBM. I eventually gained customer-facing experience there by providing mainframe training to customers. I was working in business development and technical sales roles after IBM, and took on project management at a later stage.

I never wanted to deal only with machines, but I'm keen to leverage technology to drive project success. So I decided early in my career that I'd move to the business side of tech.

CWHK: Who inspired you in your career?

JL: A former employer--someone I spent 10 years working for. His entrepreneurship inspired me. From him, I learned how to achieve my objectives with limited resources.

CWHK: Hong Kong aside, what other markets attract you?

JL: We target Guangzhou where Xinghai Concert Hall is a customer of our ticketing platform. We were also the exclusive ticketing agency for the Asian Games held in Guangzhou in 2010.

While there's still room for business growth in Hong Kong, the Pearl River Delta offers lots of opportunities. Cityline foresees demand for cross-border tickets between Hong Kong and the mainland that'll be driven by the creation of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) and the high-speed rail link that'll connect Hong Kong to various mainland locations.

CWHK: What's Hong Kong's ticketing landscape like? How did you expand Cityline's market share in the city?

JL: There are two major players--Cityline, and Hong Kong Ticketing: the in-house ticket management of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. While Cityline provides its own ticketing agency service to various organizations such as the Sunbeam Theatre, Macpherson Stadium, the Hong Kong Football Association, and shows in Macau including Taboo and The House of Dancing Water, we have also provided ticketing systems and services to URBTIX of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), Hong Kong Disneyland, and UA Cinemas.

We are targeting more events to be held at AsiaWorld-Expo and the Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Center, as well as shows by overseas performers. In addition, we have diversified into enrollment for educational programs and e-payment services for online retailers. While these new businesses are growing, ticketing at the moment accounts for the largest amount of revenue.

CWHK: Besides Tom Lee, have you teamed up with other ticking outlet partners?

JL: AsiaWorld-Expo and Lab Concept--a fashion retailer inside Queensway Plaza at Admiralty--are also our ticketing outlet partners.

CWHK: How many people work for the company? How many of them are R&D staffers? Is the R&D team Hong Kong-based?

JL: We have a 60-strong team. The entire R&D team--made up of more than 20 people--is Hong Kong-based. There are also eight people taking care of networks, servers, and our database.

CWHK: Does Cityline operate independently in Hong Kong even though it belongs to the Guangzhou-headquartered tech company Revenco?

JL: Our operations is independent though we get support from Revenco. Cityline is a Hong Kong-headquartered technology company.

CWHK: What is Cityline's business model? Do you charge your customers a fee for using your system or is there a revenue-sharing scheme in place?

JL: We take commissions from each ticket sold.

CWHK: What are the major challenges facing Cityline in Hong Kong?

JL: We are still seen as a ticketing agency for local shows. To increase our market share for shows by overseas performers, we are working hard on changing that perception.

We also need more shows from overseas such as concerts by Korean pop singers. Also, popular exhibitions like the digital version of the Along the River During the Qingming Festival, and international sport events. But we don't have control over who will come to Hong Kong to perform.

CWHK: What new technologies do you think are important to Cityline's business in the future? Are there any deployment plans?

JL: We're exploring print-at-home tickets that work like airline boarding passes you print at home. It's designed for assigned-seating events rather than free-seating ones, but it works for free-seating events if a venue is allowed to check IDs. We are also building mobile apps for customers like URBTIX, which is expected to be available next year.

CWHK: Do you find it difficult to hire R&D talent in Hong Kong?

JL: We must always emphasize that we are a tech company rather than a ticketing company. This is important when it comes to attracting talented tech professionals--we want them to know that Cityline offers opportunities by building systems that both we and our customers use.

CWHK: How important is innovation at Cityline?

JL: Innovation is always important in our organization. We were the first batch of firms in Asia to launch voice response-based phone ticketing system in the early 90s. At a later stage, we were an early adopter of WAP. We were also quick to build our own mobile app that supports ticketing.

CWHK: What do you think are the most important quality of a business leader?

JL: A leader must lead by example. If you tell an employee something is possible, he or she might not believe you. But when you can demonstrate to them how it's possible, they will follow. A leader must also get involved in solving tough problems and be able to bring the best out of people

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