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Aviation has always been a big part of Sherman Luk’s (BBA — Hotel and Tourism Management 2005) life. As a boy passionate about planes and aviation, he loved watching the planes land and take off at the old Kai Tak Airport. He has worked for several airlines since graduating from university, some jobs took him away from Hong Kong — working on the mainland and in the Middle East has widened his horizons. These experiences played a part in his return to the city to join Hong Kong Express Airways as General Manager of Asia Pacific, helping build the city’s only low-cost budget airline from scratch. Sherman says life is a journey — the key is to locate the destination and find ways to get there.
Sherman is passionate about traveling. Here he visits the “Mayan Ruins”, a popular tourist destination in Mexico
Sherman considers himself lucky to have identified his interests and skills in secondary school. He was clear about his love for traveling and planes as well as his desire to actualise his potential in business and management. Hotel and Tourism Management was naturally his first choice in university.
The 3-year program laid a solid foundation for Sherman’s career. He praises the close partnership between CUHK’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management and the industry. The program is very relevant to the industry’s demands. It also offers two advantages: First, the School arranges a host of diverse internship opportunities for students, which allows them to put what they have learned in practice and get an insight into the real-life operations of the industry. Sherman, for example, benefited from his internships at a travel agent and a 5-star hotel. Second, the School often invites industry veterans in senior management positions to give lectures, offering students opportunities to learn from the best and expand their network.
Looking back at university life, Sherman still remembers fondly his time as an exchange student at Cornell University in the United States. Selected for his outstanding performance, he studied at the top hospitality institution for one semester and experienced its world-class education and historical traditions.
Sherman enjoys cycling when he travels overseas
Sherman entered the airline industry after graduation as a Dragonair management trainee. Upon completing the 2-year training, he was appointed as the Chief Representative and Manager in Changsha, Hunan, responsible for the operation and sales of that market, which helped him lay a foundation for his career. Following his return to Hong Kong, he was reassigned to Cathay Pacific and made responsible for online business development. He was later promoted to Regional Sales and Distribution Manager (online) overseeing the online business of the China and South East Asian markets. Several years later, he entered Qatar Airways, another major airline, to take charge of its global e-commerce sales. He worked with individuals from all parts of the world and further expanded his knowledge during a stint in Doha.
Although his career trajectory seems smooth and successful, Sherman says from each position came new challenges. He had to meet the ever-rising expectations from others and handle issues related to cultural differences and varying practices. Believing that a smooth sea never made a skilful sailor, Sherman has long seen work pressure as an indicator of growth. “The process of growing is always painful. It’s right if you feel pressured at work. That means you’re growing. By the same token, it’s alarming if work doesn’t stress you out at all. That means you haven’t been moving forward.”
Sherman (1st from left) poses at the inaugural ceremony for the new Hong Kong-Hiroshima route run by Hong Kong Express Airways
Sherman took on a new challenge last year. Hong Kong Express Airways brought him back to Hong Kong to be the General Manager of Asia Pacific as one of the trailblazers of this new and only home-grown Hong Kong budget airline. “Being able to play a part in the setting up of a new company in the airline industry doesn’t happen every day. It comes with a new set of challenges compared to managing well-established companies.”
Sherman points out the different operating models of traditional and budget airlines. The latter offers more flexibility to customers in terms of luggage, food, and entertainment. Each model faces varying challenges, such as competition from other airlines, limited profit margin due to soaring oil prices, as well as difficulty in adding flights because of the near saturation of Hong Kong International Airport. In the face of adversity, Sherman thinks remaining calm is vital. “If you fell into the sea but couldn’t swim, you wouldn’t panic. You should instead think of ways to float in order to survive. Once you’ve overcome a hurdle, you’ll realise you’ve acquired another skill.”
As part of corporate management, Sherman often reminds himself to keep self-importance at bay and stay humble. “I always tell myself to keep an open mind, to accept suggestions and even constructive criticism. I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes and make all my decisions based on facts and professional judgement.”
Sun and sea make a vivid backdrop for Sherman’s journey
Sherman thinks Hong Kong has owed its prosperity in the last century to having the Shenzhen River as the border, but this border is a burden as it is a blessing to the future of Hong Kong youth. If young people get too complacent and limit themselves to their geographic zone, they will hold themselves back in terms of career development. “Modern transportation and information technology allow opportunities to pop up anywhere in the world. We should embrace being a part of this generation and fearlessly explore the world outside of our own.”
Life is a journey. Turbulence in the air is inevitable. As long as the plane has not been forced to land, it can ride things out and continue to fly towards its destination.
Sherman has trained in public speaking since age six. He has won many awards
Video ― Messages from Our Alumni