Scent of a successful woman

  • Business
  • Sunday, 17 Oct 2004

FOR the past 10 years, Mandy Tang has focused her attention on building up sales and creating a more visible presence for her company's products in the Malaysian retail industry. 

The managing director of Parfums Christian Dior Malaysia and Singapore, Tang set out to achieve this goal when, in 1994, she was appointed as head of the then newly created Malaysian subsidiary of the Paris-based perfume and cosmetics company. 

“Of course, Dior had been in the market much longer. It was represented by Hagemeyer,” said Tang, who was brand manager of Dior at that time. 

Explaining the rationale behind the creation of the new company, she said the regional director for Dior South-East Asia felt that, as the market expanded, a subsidiary focused on just one brand, rather than an agency house with many brands under its portfolio, would be a better option to really drive its development. 

Though she had held managerial positions before, she still felt some apprehension and questioned whether she could do it when asked to take on the job, she admitted. 

“The appointment was a quantum leap. It would be different from managing a brand, where I had a lot of support from the corporation (Hagemeyer),” she related.  

But, she said, she also relished the challenge of building up her own team and the profile of Dior in Malaysia. 

Tang:'At the end of the day, whatever we have achieved is due to teamwork.'

“Things I had learned throughout the years came into play, simple things like how to set up logistics, as well as identifying the team members we required and how to go about doing the things we needed to do.” 

Looking back at the past 10 years, she said the company has gained a lot of market share and she is proud of this achievement. 

“Our turnover has increased dramatically. We are now No. 1 in the airport retail sector, from No. 3 previously. In the local market, from 10 years ago where we were like No. 8 or 9, we have moved up to No. 4. 

“This year, there’s been a 32% increase in sales compared to last year’s in the local market and 47% in travel retail. And in Singapore, we had an even more dramatic turnaround of 55%, with one store actually achieving 100% sales,” said Tang, who is also country general manager for LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics group in Malaysia, and, since June 2003, Singapore. 

She is especially happy with the company’s performance in the airport retail sector. 

“Airport retail is very competitive, and Malaysia is, in fact, the only country left in which responsibility for the airport is still with the local (her) subsidiary. And that attests to our headquarters’ confidence in us. The fact that the operators at the airport are bumiputera entrepreneurs and not part of the duty free chains helps us as well,” she explained. 

Another ambition that has been achieved is the upgrading of the location of Dior counters in department stores.  

“There were two things I focused on when I first took charge. One was the people, to build a good team. The other one was location. 

“Retail is all about location. We can't change the products because they come from headquarters. We also cannot change advertising and promotions but we can execute changes on those aspects that will have impact on our business, which are the team where we are located.” 

“In the early years when we were not performing so well,” Tang said, “swe were like right at the back and did not have a good or equal chance of getting customers. I focused a lot of my energy on that, and now Dior is well positioned with a very strong and visible presence in the stores. That for me is a source of pride because it came with a lot of effort.” 

But Tang is not taking credit for all these achievements – she attributed her success to her staff, some of whom have been with her from the start. 

“Everyone pitched in and that was good,” she said. “At the end of the day, whatever we have achieved is due to team work.” 

The past 10 years haven’t been all plain sailing, however. 

“The early to mid-1990s were a period of strong growth,” Tang related. 

“Over the next few years, there was one crisis after another.” 

The Asian financial crisis, Sept 11, the Bali bomb blast, and then the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), are episodes that Tang identified as extremely challenging. 

“Even though they were mainly external crises, they affected our business especially in travel retail. When the tourists stopped coming, that affected our business,” she said. 

Fortunately, the local market was more resilient, she added. “For ladies, skincare and makeup products are seen to be more of a necessity rather than impulsive buys.” 

As for future plans, she said they are aiming to become No. 3 in the domestic market and to maintain their No. 1 ranking in travel retail. “That is a hard task because when you are at the top, everyone will try to dislodge you,” Tang said. 

There are many challenges in the industry, like the cutthroat competition among the numerous perfumes and cosmetics brands, and staff poaching, Tang said. 

But she is confident of keeping up the performance mainly because of the commitment of her team. 

“I think they are very happy with all their achievements, and so they are committed to outperform the competition.” 

Tang said she is also committed to developing the full potential of her team. 

“In the perfume and cosmetics business, there is no glass ceiling for women. In our company, the internal policy is for supervisors and executives to come from the rank and file. Those who started as beauty consultants could be trained to become counter managers, and then supervisors of bigger areas, and then executives.” 

An MBA graduate from Cranfield School of Management, Britain, Tang has a strong grasp of the leadership skills that, she said, are crucial when managing a company. 

“Leadership implies that we must be ready to transfer or share our knowledge, and be ready to coach our team.” 

As such, she makes it a point to share her ambitions for the company with her team, and to motivate them with what she calls her “Five Ps of Success”. 

“The first is people. We try to attract the best talent,” Tang said. 

“The second is purpose. We need to have a vision, make it shareable so that the team has ownership of it and they know where to go. 

“The third is passion. This word might seem to be overused, but to me it implies enthusiasm and energy for the brand, the company, and the business. This, for me, is what differentiates between a mediocre and a great performance. 

“The next is perseverance, as things don't come easy. People might look at our brand or at us and think we are a glamorous business. This is very superficial because behind it there is a lot of hard work. It's just like when you see a banquet and admire the food that's there. But what you don't see is the hard work that has been done in the kitchen. So, similarly, to succeed, a person must have resilience to take the hard knocks and persevere. 

“Lastly, we must be a performing culture. We have to deliver what we have promised to deliver.” 

Despite the hectic schedule of the past 10 years, during which, she said, she “never saw the sun”, “it has been good”. 

“Time passed by so quickly, so I guess we must have been having fun,” said the mother of two who likes to read and learn new things when she has time in her busy schedule. 

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