February 06, 2006

Page 22

Asia Online was located in Citicorp Centre, occupying the 23rd floor. This was a fairly posh bit of real estate, though as it is in Causeway Bay rather than in Central, not outrageously so to the locals. Citicorp Centre, located on Whitfield Road, is about a block from Victoria Park and hence fairly visible because it's the first tall building on the east side of the park. It is standard smoked glass, with bezeled corners and an angular constriction about midway up. The bezeled corners meant that the corner offices were basically triangular and a bit cramped.

Scott and Kevin occupied side-by-side offices on the side of the building overlooking the park and marina. The marina was quite a peculiar sight, as it was roughly rectangular with a diagonal aisle. On one side of the aisle were the western-style boats, which were uniformly white. On the other side of the aisle were the Chinese junks, which were the brown of the woods used in their construction. From above, the segregation by color was quite striking.

Hong Kong SAR is about 85% parkland, so to say that Victoria Park was HK's largest park would be a misnomer. Still it is a good-sized urban park and makes a significant break in the cityscape. That open space also gives the occupants of Citicorp Centre a good view.

The assignment Kevin had taken and that Scott was now part of was to look AONL over, determine if it could be fixed up, what was needed, and if the owners approved, actually do the fixing. Despite the name, what Asia Online was in fact was just a mid-sized local Hong Kong Internet Service Provider. They sold the usual menu of services (dial-up, leased line and hosting) to the usual sorts of customers, individuals and small businesses for the most part. They had somewhere around 18,000 dialup customers, perhaps a hundred or so leased-line customers (much higher speed and much higher revenue, the cream of the customer crop) and a relatively small hosting facility up there in their expensive real estate. As a small capper, in order to reduce the load on the air chillers in their data center and to control the electric bills, they had put tinfoil up over the windows in that part of the building. This wasn't exactly unreasonable, since it did get pretty warm in the sunny spots, but it was a bit tacky.

The first order of business for Scott was simply to get oriented. Hong Kong is eight or nine time zones away from the US, depending on the time of year, and it takes about a week just to adjust to the time change. In addition, there was a whole new city-state to explore. As an example, after Scott arrived in Hong Kong, he was so disoriented in his sense of place that he had his directions reversed and though he needed to turn left at the main road to head toward Central, when in fact he needed to turn right. Exploring his surrounds on the weekends, it took him two to three weeks to sort just this small item out. Eventually, combining riding the rails with walking, he walked the entire distance from Central to North Point. Given the HK summer weather, though, he only walked the distance from one station to the next on each weekend day that he went out on this trek.

Orienting himself with Asia Online was no less time-consuming. Most of the HK Chinese staff that Scott worked with had perfectly serviceable English. However, they have a sort of cultural shyness, especially the technical staff, and especially about their language, so they were painfully uncomfortable with the sort of casual converstation that California's high-technology business is built on. Ultimately, Scott's habit of using e-mail for even trivial matters came to his rescue, as the staff let him know that with e-mail, they could read and re-read his requests until they understood them.

Initially, Scott's ambit was simply as a consultant to Kevin, but after a few weeks it became time to start to change things up. As the first step, three formerly separate technical groups - the team that ran the systems and networks, the technical support organization, and the internal MIS group - were merged together into a Technology department. Scott was then announced to the merged group as their interim vice president. This gave Scott a team of some 15 or so people, including three subordinate managers. Posted by scott at February 6, 2006 03:54 PM