Two decades ago, Ken Cheong was a year one student who just started his studies of electromechanical engineering at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Macau (UM), with limited knowledge about the field. However, his relentless curiosity led him on a journey of continuous learning, honing his problem-solving skills and logical thinking. He progressed from a part-time drafter to an engineer, and eventually established his own business. Today, Cheong holds the positions of co-founder, chairman, and CEO in a listed engineering company, demonstrating the growth and leadership potential for aspiring engineers.

Enduring bonds between professors and students

In 1997, following his graduation from the science stream at Pooi To Middle School in Macao, Cheong set his sights on pursuing higher education in the field of science. He was admitted to the Department of Electromechanical Engineering at UM, which at that time had existed for about seven years and had small class sizes of approximately ten students. Beyond the classroom, the students formed strong bonds, often participating in extracurricular activities together.

Even today, Cheong still maintains close connections with his UM classmates and teachers, a testament to the lasting relationships formed during his time at UM. Despite their busy schedules, they try to gather two to three times a year, upholding a cherished tradition. Cheong shares, ‘When I was studying at UM, there were just about a dozen students in my class in the Department of Electromechanical Engineering. I have learned that the class size has now grown to dozens of students, which indicates the increasing popularity of the field. As the number of graduates has grown, alumni from the Department of Electromechanical Engineering have set up a messaging group to connect with one another. Each year, there are new graduates joining the group. Through this platform, senior alumni share the latest industry news and job openings, offering valuable advice and support to our young alumni.’

During his university years, Cheong was fortunate to have the guidance of several mentors, with Prof Tam Lap Mou standing out as a pivotal figure. Prof Tam supervised Cheong’s graduation project, leaving a lasting impression on Cheong. ‘Prof Tam consistently addressed my questions with patience and clear explanations. Our relationship has extended well beyond my university days; he often joins me and my former classmates at gatherings. His guidance has been priceless, especially when facing professional challenges. To me, Prof Tam is not just a former teacher; he’s a highly respected elder friend,’ Cheong fondly recalls.

From gaining experience to establishing a business

The electromechanical engineering sector in Macao has seen rapid growth over past few decades. Knowledge that was considered cutting-edge twenty years ago is barely applicable in the present day. Reflecting on his learning journey at UM, Cheong says, ‘Back in my university days, our professors emphasised the importance of approaching challenges with the right mindset. They played a crucial role in developing our logical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which have proven to be invaluable in my career. It also highlights the high-quality education I received at UM.’

During the interview, Cheong often mentioned that he is a lucky person. When he was still a university student, he had the opportunity to gain professional experience working part-time as a drafter at an engineering company. Following his graduation in 2001, he joined a company as an electromechanical system design engineer, where he was responsible for designing plans and other preliminary work. Two years later, he moved to another company, focusing on construction projects. He also gained experience working in the engineering department of a public higher education institution and a private engineering firm. In 2011, with about ten years of experience in electromechanical engineering, he decided to start his own business and co-founded Kento Engineering Co. Ltd. The parent company of Kento—Macao E&M Holding —was established in 2017, and subsequently listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2020.

Participation in Macao infrastructure projects

Cheong has steered his company through a variety of significant projects in Macao, ranging from public housing and entertainment venues to hotels and infrastructure. Among them, the completion of the Guia Hill Pedestrian Tunnel in September 2022 stands out as a remarkable achievement. Linking the Guia Hill, Zape, and Avenida de Horta e Costa, this tunnel has significantly reduced pedestrian travel times, and received positive feedback from local residents. Cheong’s firm played a crucial role in this project; it oversaw vital aspects such as power supply, ventilation system design, and construction. Reflecting on the tunnel’s success, Cheong says, ‘The positive response from the public, evident in the many visitors who went to the tunnel to take photographs, fills us with pride. It is rewarding to see the recognition of our contributions to the city’s landscape.’

Learning is the key to entrepreneurship

In the rapidly evolving electromechanical engineering industry, where technology and equipment are continually advancing, Cheong underscores the importance of acquiring new knowledge and skills to stay competitive. He also believes that developing expertise in different fields is crucial for career advancement. Cheong states, ‘General staff members only need to complete the assigned tasks without being concerned about business operations. However, as a manager, I have to be responsible for the company’s financial performance. This leads to a significant increase in my duties and accountability.’

Drawing experience from his first forays into business, Cheong notes, ‘Continuous learning is crucial for success in entrepreneurship.’ He admits that he felt overwhelmed when he started his business, as he had to handle everything—from administration to finance—single-handedly. However, the knowledge and experiences he gained from previous positions proved to be beneficial. The operational insight he acquired from former employers and colleagues allowed him to overcome the challenges.

‘Zero births one. One creates two.’ Cheong reiterates this motto throughout the interview. Starting everything from scratch, Cheong attributes his success in electromechanical engineering to his diligence and persistence. Operating in the fiercely competitive construction industry in Macao, he recognises the need for his team to work tirelessly to earn client trust. Cheong asserts, ‘To succeed in this industry, it is not enough to just offer fair prices. We must also ensure the high quality of our projects. Only by showing our dedication and sincerity to our clients can we maintain long-term relationships with them and ensure our long-term development.’

Outstanding young entrepreneur in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area

In September 2023, the 4th Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Outstanding Young Entrepreneur Award Ceremony took place simultaneously in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macao. Organised by the Guangdong-HK-Macao Bay Area Entrepreneurs Union, the event drew the participation of over 1300 entrepreneurs competing for the title. Among the contenders, 100 exceptional young entrepreneurs were recognised and honoured, including 14 from Macao. Seven of these awardees are UM alumni, and Cheong is one of them.

Feeling honoured and motivated by this distinction, Cheong also expressed his heartfelt thanks to UM. ‘Aside from the honour, this award also brings more responsibilities. It serves to remind me of the importance of making continuous improvement in my work and setting a positive example for the younger alumni.’

Source: My UM Issue 129