31 October 2019

Dr Pauline Wong

Dr Pauline Wong

Entrepreneur and CEO
Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Entrepreneur and CEO Pauline Wong has built a café empire on the foundation of her signature family style culture, quality cuisine and outstanding service, that has kept customers and colleagues alike coming back time after time.

Nearly 30 years ago, Pauline identified a gap for café-style restaurants providing high-quality food and service at a reasonable price in a Hong Kong market full of ‘Cha Chaan Teng’ – local Chinese-style operations serving food in a rush with poor quality, service and hygiene. Hence the Pokka Café brand was born.

After cutting her teeth in the hotel and hospitality business, she established the Million Rank Group focussing on food and specialty coffee and set up the first official Pokka Café outlet in the middle of a busy department store in Lok Fu Plaza, Hong Kong.

Now three decades later, this single café has grown into a restaurant chain in Hong Kong with more than 20 eateries offering Japanese, Chinese and Western cuisines under different brands, including Pokka Café, serving Western style Japanese cuisine; Tonkichi, a traditional Japanese tonkatsu (cutlet) chain; Cow Bean, a healthy dining and green option; Yamaton, a Japanese fine dining experience; and Kurotaki, the first Soba specialist in Hong Kong.

A strong proponent of lifelong learning, at the turn of the century, Pauline looked to the University of South Australia’s MBA to explore dynamic new ways of thinking and leading, transforming her business acumen in a very practical way.

These innovative and boundary pushing teachings in the saturated hospitality business have been just as key for Pauline as her dedication to fostering a supportive, close-knit environment. By imbuing her unique personal, caring style of management into every one of her business interactions, she has focussed on building a trusting and positive familystyle culture within Pokka Café and the Group.

“We encourage a family atmosphere because it unites our group, aligns our goals and helps us to work together happily and positively,” Pauline says.

She explains that in most industries, especially the service industry, people are considered the primary business asset. “We take a different approach: from top to bottom, we treat our colleagues like family,” Pauline says, “We even call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’!”

During the SARS Outbreak that swept Hong Kong at the turn of the century, where people would not dare leave their homes, let alone dine out, Pauline stepped up to the plate and instituted a ‘no fire policy’ upholding her peopleorientated philosophy.

“We told our staff that we would not close one single outlet, nor fire one single employee. This gave them comfort and confidence during a difficult time, and won their support; the group remained profitable while many other restaurants closed and workers lost their jobs.”

Similarly, during the 2007–2008 Global Financial Crisis that devastated Hong Kong, Pauline remained unflappable and dedicated to supporting her team she thought of as family. This is when the highly regarded Pokka One Heart Dragon Boat Team and Pokka Dancing Team were established in the midst of the economic slumps, to help rebuild staff morale.

During this time, she also stepped up and accomplished the company’s many charitable and Corporate Social Responsibility activities, including environmental protection, sponsoring youth sports in Hong Kong, fundraising and hands-on help in building libraries for primary schools in the rural Sichuan Province.

Also as Executive Chair of the East Union Foundation, she has encouraged colleagues to join her in meaningful events. This included organising a memorable wedding ceremony in Hong Kong Ocean Park – complete with evening gowns and suits – for 100 elderly couples not able to marry when fleeing to Hong Kong during and after WWII, and a pen-opening ceremony in the oldest Confucius temple in the world for 100 Hong Kong primary school children and their parents to learn about the traditional Confucian teachings and Chinese culture.

Yet, despite a rapidly developing industry and weathering a number of storms, the company has gone from strength to strength in a rapidly evolving industry, even joining forces with Xiao Nan Guo Restaurants Holdings in a 2014 deal to expand the Pokka Café brand into mainland China.

Pauline has proven herself an astute and successful businesswoman, but she isn’t resting on her laurels yet.

Inimitably ambitious, in 2018 she also acquired the remaining shares of the Group from Xiao Nan Guo and became the sole owner, saying, “I now have higher autonomy to move faster and set larger goals for myself.”


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