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A life in the day

December 2017

Keeping family traditions alive 

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist meets Institute member Rocky Lok

Picture a young boy on his way to see his father at work for the first time. It is the early 1970s, and the child knows that his father has been working in Hong Kong as a fisherman.

But as he arrives, Rocky Lok is interested to see that his ba-ba is not working on a boat these days, but in a store. The man’s hands flicker across an abacus as he handles the figures for a business. Despite having no formal training in accountancy, his natural intelligence enables him to be a key participant in running a shop.

Times were difficult for the family – and then got harder. Rocky’s father died of complications related to his diabetes, and his mother was left raising three children on her own.

They were always on the edge of poverty and even starvation, so she also had to show great skill with money.

As a teenager, Rocky wanted to become a doctor, so that he could help people suffering as his father had suffered. But he knew he would be unlikely to make it to medical school.

Then he remembered that memory of his father, working at an abacus. 

Rocky enrolled in the School of Accountancy at the institution then called The Hong Kong Polytechnic. He worked hard, graduating in 1987 and completing all his professional examinations the same year.

The young rising star was snapped up by the Hong Kong of office of Arthur Andersen, one of the then biggest accounting firms in the world, and began a stellar career, as he moved to play key roles at some of the most famous companies in Hong Kong and internationally. He worked for Hutchison Whampoa’s A.S. Watson manufacturing unit, the international luxury company LVMH, food company Campbell Soup, and beer maker Carlsberg.

He also expanded his skills beyond the normal chief financial officer remit, being at various times in charge of finance, IT, legal, merger and acquisitions, logistics, human resources, and customer service. From the 1990s to 2010, he travelled a great deal but quickly learned the art of “smart working”: if you have a lot on your plate, you need to plan your time carefully and find opportunities for synergy. Somehow he also found time to do an MBA.

Today, Rocky is the CFO of the Hong Kong unit of KFC, which has more than 70 branches and 3,000 employees. When he is away from the office, Rocky is a key member of the King’s Harmonica Quintet, a “chamber group” of harmonica players which has played in more than 30 cities around the world.

At various occasions, this super-busy human being had to carry three business cards. As well as his role as CFO, he led the Hong Kong Harmonica Association and was president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong MBA Alumni Association. “Time management was challenging,” he says, with admirable understatement.

These days, little has changed. Every morning, Rocky is awake and out of bed before the sun. Fortunately, his wife is an understanding woman – she is also a CPA and a graduate of the same CUHK executive MBA programme.

And for moments of quietness, Rocky has also found spiritual satisfaction from an unexpected source. He found that high level harmonica playing needs extraordinary levels of breath control – just like qi gong. Furthermore, the harmonica is the most widely played instrument other than the human voice – and can even sound like a human singer. It’s such a simple instrument, yet a melody played on a harmonica can touch the hearts of listeners in a powerful way.

These days, he thinks back to his parents, both passed now, and how hard they worked to bring up a family. This makes him happy to spend time mentoring young people. During these sessions, he shares stories of his experiences in work and in music. “That’s what mankind should be doing,” he says. “Enabling a better future.”

Rocky’s story is a classic Hong Kong tale. As a fisherman in the 1970s, his father was part of the food industry using his impressive skills as an abacus-wielding amateur accountant.

Today, the fisherman’s son is a top financial manager at a company that feeds a 4-million customer count a month. Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. 

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices