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Career Path

Brewing a success

by Paul St John Mackintosh

Marketing - FMCG
Kelvin Lee
General Manager - Marketing
San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong Ltd.

"Marketing is relatively receptive to young personnel at high level," declares Kelvin Lee, General Manager - Marketing at San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong Ltd., and at 37 years of age, he exemplifies this. But he is also keen to stress that marketing in large fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) corporations does not necessarily have a standardized career path. "There is no typical path," he states.

"My background is a bit rare in the sense that I am stronger in planning, particularly in the area of statistics," says Mr Lee who spent two years working in the Hong Kong government as a statistician before joining San Miguel. "At the time I was responsible for regional planning. Usually the head of marketing will have a background of brand management. Luckily, I was able to make a transition from the research side to my present position."

Mr Lee describes marketing in terms that he warns are deceptively simple. "Marketing is how to get more consumers to get more of your product at a higher price. Put like that it sounds simple, but if you analyze the sentence it becomes more complicated. After we develop the product mix, we have to get the communications mix right and work out the pricing mix with the sales team."


"Actually, marketing is a very interesting field, because you have to have a good balance between the right brain and left brain: numerical skills and conceptual thinking"

To do this requires a particular set of skills that are split between the creative and the analytical. "Actually, marketing is a very interesting field," Mr Lee continues, "because you have to have a good balance between the right brain and left brain: numerical skills and conceptual thinking."

To position a brand and identify the opportunities, marketers need a very good numerical understanding of the market. Then they need to work like a psychologist, with a deep understanding of how consumers think. After rolling out the program, they need to have a monitoring procedure in place to ensure the success of the campaign. In a FMCG company, it is the marketing side that sets the long-term strategy, so this section also needs to have strong coordination skills between different departments. Lastly, presentation skills are important, because marketers have to convince their audience of something that has not yet happened.

"A lot of people have the misconception that marketing is a glamorous profession and that you never have to roll up your sleeves and do hard work. And many undervalue the importance of numerical skills. But this is really hard work," warns Mr Lee.

There are three different career areas in FMCG marketing: brand management, planning, and market communications. He says: "All three of these areas have strong potential for development, but it is the brand management area that is most in the spotlight. A junior who gets at least some exposure in all three areas is best off."

Summing this up in a motto, Mr Lee adds. "I like the McCann - Erickson motto very much: 'Truth Well Told'. First it is about integrity: you always tell the truth, no matter to whom. Another important part is the 'Well Told': even if it is the truth, if it is not well told it won't be appreciated. I always ask myself if I am communicating well enough."

Looking ahead, Mr Lee sees two considerable challenges in local FMCG marketing. First, Hong Kongers have to be prepared to service the entire China market. Second, market changes have speeded up, and marketers have to gear up in each area to keep up with changes. He explains: "Lifestyles are changing fast. We used to rely on the traditional media, and they are still our backbone, but people are now spending more time in other areas than simply watching TV, and we have to find new ways of communicating with them. Ogilvy and Mather's statement of 360-degree brand management is very valid."

For Mr Lee, this translates into a vocation full of challenges, which he finds fascinating. He says: "I do feel very satisfied with where I am now."

China Opportunities

According to Mr Lee, Chinese graduates are strong in numerical skills, but the conceptual and creative thinking lags somewhat behind. He says: "This is why the middle management of different professional fields in marketing has a higher percentage of expats. Selling is really groundwork stuff and local candidates will have the advantage. Hong Kongers have a competitive edge which is strongest in the field of marketing, and this is why I encourage graduates to take up this area."

Mr Lee emphasizes that it is vital for young Hong Kongers to rise to the China market's challenge in FMCG. "In the last five years young executives in China have improved a lot, and they are getting more and more competitive. Young people in Hong Kong really have to catch up, particularly when we look at the pay scale. Hong Kongers have to justify their higher pay."


Figures provided by Career Times Research Team   K='000

Taken from Career Times 04 October 2002, p. 28

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