Now leading the active cosmetics division of L’Oreal Hong Kong, Katherine Fung has been making her way in the beauty industry for many years. As general manager, she is responsible for building brands, supervising retailers, and accelerating over the counter sales of dermo-cosmetic products. More recently, she has also taken charge of developing the company’s beauty salon and spa businesses.
Fung got her first break in the beauty industry when joining Procter & Gamble Hong Kong and being asked to look after their Oil of Olay project. In 1997, she was appointed general manager of Lancome, and further promotions saw her moving up to become business director of the luxury products division of L’Oreal China in 2004. She talks to Jan Chan.
So far, which roles have taught you most and why?
All the positions I’ve held up to now have given me the opportunity to work on new brands, concepts, projects and distribution channels, or to fix a business using a new approach. What I most enjoy is being able to learn and having the chance to implement ideas and find improvements. I suppose I have a natural sense of curiosity. It inspires me to keep asking why, how, why not, and any other question that helps me understand and get to the root of a problem. I find that is the formula for acquiring knowledge and transforming it into experience and expertise.
What are doing to expand the business?
As a leader in clinical beauty brands, we continue to get recommendations from dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and key opinion leaders about where to go next. In particular, I see potential for expanding distribution in partnership with our retailers. We can complement that by opening more new concept stores to build our image and achieve steady growth.
What is the key to finding success in the cosmetics sector?
Like in other fields, it is always easier if you are doing something you enjoy and are good at. In addition, you have to put in the time and effort to learn everything about how the business works and to understand both the big picture and the smaller details. That gives you the knowledge and expertise to make a mark. Of course, you also need the determination and commitment that ultimately drive success.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a senior manager?
The most challenging thing, which is also the most interesting, is to build a team. You must be able to do that if you want to lead a successful business, one that stays ahead and can beat the rest in a very competitive market. I believe it starts with being a good listener and open to different points of view. From there, the main challenge is to develop a clear vision and then take steps to empower the team.
How do you maintain a reasonable balance between work and other interests?
I love my job and my family, and I’m ready to work long hours during the week provided I have the weekend for myself. Overall, life is treating me well, my family is very supportive, and I have never had reason to complain about a lack of balance. Of course, it is important to prioritise effectively and make best use of your time in order to get results, no matter what you’re doing. In general, I also find it pays to tackle problems early and not wait until they turn into an “elephant”.
What do you do in terms of training/mentoring young recruits?
It is important to set a high standard and coach the team to strive for excellence. I try to make every meeting a learning opportunity by asking a lot of questions and encouraging younger colleagues to think more deeply about the business and ways to improve. I hope this will inspire them to be more innovative and better able to anticipate potential risks and emerging issues.
Fung is confident about the general prospects for the health and clinical beauty market
She encourages her team to think big and emphasises that job satisfaction comes from making things happen
She became one of the first advisers for the Chinese University MBA Elite Mentorship Programme in 2003, and shares her experience with students from Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan and Japan.