Gilly Wong (BBA 1988), the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Consumer Council, has deftly stabilised the delicate balance between businesses and consumers for years. With the constant interplay of market forces, Gilly adopts the same balancing philosophy of tai chi to foster an equitable market environment for all.
It has been nearly 10 years since Gilly left the Hong Kong Tourism Board, her first venture outside of the private sector, and became the Chief Executive of the Consumer Council. Since taking up the job, Gilly’s colleagues have trained her to become a prudent and rational consumer. “In the past, I didn’t give too much thought about how I shopped,” Gilly said. “Now, I will do my homework and compare quality and prices. When I buy food, I will also examine the nutrition labels. My eating habits have changed because of this.” Infusing her work knowledge into daily life, she now finds immense joy in smart consumption. She has even identified as a consumption guru among her friends.
Stepping up for Vulnerable Consumers
The Consumer Council receives an average of 20,000 to 30,000 complaints every year. Gilly said while the cases come with all sorts of peculiarities, a sizeable proportion involves unfair trade practices targeting vulnerable consumers: “Some traders applied high-pressure sales tactics on mentally challenged consumers, coercing them to max out their credit cards and also compelling the victims to withdraw money from their bank accounts or even borrow from money lenders. Others have coaxed students from families receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance to spend their entire tuition allowance on their programmes or treatments.” Certain cases even ran up to over a million dollars and the victims had no choice but to declare bankruptcy, causing enormous financial loss and psychological strain on their families. For this reason, the Consumer Council not only helps consumers resolve conflicts but also organises public education campaigns to help vulnerable consumers better protect themselves, learn how to turn down high-pressure sales tactics and avoid becoming victims.
Tackling Internal and External Challenges with a Cool Head
Heading the Consumer Council’s nine divisions each day, Gilly considers identifying and deploying the right people for the right job to be the key. She is glad that all of her colleagues embrace a sense of purpose in their work and perform all their duties with utmost professionalism. When asked about her management philosophy, Gilly repeatedly emphasised “equanimity”, explaining that only a calm mind can generate intelligence. She has remained a cool-headed person since she was young, and her tai chi and meditation practice enabled her to channel the relevant wisdom into her life and work. According to her, challenges should be handled with poise and finesse, and fire should never be fought with fire.
Gilly’s office is decorated with plants and Chinese paintings to inspire calmness and tranquillity.
As a statutory body, the Consumer Council is required to be fair in all its decisions. Decisions can easily become biased or misguided with just a hint of impatience or carelessness. “On my door is a calligraphy artwork of a saying from Tao Te Ching — ‘the supreme virtue is to be like water’. It is a motto of mine and a reminder to my colleagues.” When faced with many unresolved problems, Gilly said it is important to be shrewd and to always consider the time, the place and the people involved during decision-making to make the right judgement. “Take the example of purchasing property outside of Hong Kong. When the economy dipped seven years ago, not many people would pay attention to our report pertaining to this type of consumption. Now with more people purchasing property overseas, it is time for our work to come into play.”
While some people opine that the Consumer Council tends to side with consumers, Gilly vehemently disagrees: “Our responsibility is to maintain a fair market shared equitably by consumers and traders. The market will flourish when more valuable choices are available for consumers, and traders will certainly benefit in return.” In addition to educating the public, Gilly and her team maintain close communication with industry players, even helping them at times to establish codes and provide guidelines. She said the Consumer Council seeks to understand the concerns of businesses and consumers to help industries grow while protecting the fair choice of consumers. Although the Council has received legal complaints from traders over the years, it has never failed to maintain its objective, stringent product testing methods and procedures. The truth speaks for itself, eventually.
“Opportunities abound in the Hong Kong market. As long as traders adhere to a good balance between profits and business ethics, and to do their part, consumers will take notice,” says Gilly Wong (BBA 1988), Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Consumer Council.
Gilly revealed that e-commerce will be the Council’s upcoming focus: “Online shopping has already become a part of daily life. Yet, this has also spawned a gamut of new challenges, including consumers not receiving delivery even after payment, not getting what they purchased and eco-problems with over-packaging.”
2021 marks the 45th anniversary of the Consumer Council’s CHOICE magazine. Gilly noted that the magazine has stayed close to the trends, including featuring the boy band, Mirror, on the cover two years ago before they became a local sensation. Looking forward, she hopes that the Consumer Council can enhance its reach and ride on the digital wave to propagate its messages and promote sustainable consumption to more consumers, thereby improving everyone’s standard of living.
Cherishing Campus Learning Opportunities
As she reminisced her studies at the CUHK Business School, Gilly claimed to have been deeply influenced by CUHK’s motto, “Through learning and temperance to virtue”, and the always-learning spirit that the school instils in its students. She was grateful for the many learning opportunities that allowed her to build a solid foundation in business while expanding her knowledge in other subjects through elective courses and auditing classes she was interested in.
At university, Gilly actively involved herself in various extracurricular activities, such as jazz dancing, to cultivate diverse interests.
University life opened Gilly’s eyes in more ways than one. She is keen to give back to society through her work.
Gilly hopes that CUHK alumni will go on to become loyal supporters of the Consumer Council and adopt a proactive interest in consumption information and consumer rights: “Traders must conduct their business responsibly, while consumers should do well to consume rationally and smartly. It is only then that win-win balanced outcomes can be achieved.”
First published in the CUHK Business School Alumni Portal on 9 December 2021 and the iMoney magazine on 18 December 2021, this article was republished with permission from the School’s Alumni and Corporate Affairs Office.