MT Opportunities

Careers with an international outlook

by Grace chan

Leading travel retail group nurtures young management talent

Aspiring young graduates with an eye on the luxury retail sector and the necessary skills to succeed in a high-profile, fast-growing company are competing for admission to DFS's management trainee (MT) programme.

"Only people with a genuine passion for the industry will excel, and we are looking for strong leadership and effective communication skills in our prospective recruits," says Alice Chan, manager, learning & development, talent management & administration, DFS Hong Kong Limited.

The luxury travel retailer's business goes hand in hand with global tourism. With the future looking rosy, particularly in Asia, DFS is highly aware of the importance of developing quality talent. Its one-year MT programme was launched in 2004, with the aim of nurturing leaders to facilitate the group's ongoing expansion in the region.

Competition for entry to the programme is stiff—only 10 outstanding candidates will be chosen this year.

The company started running career talks at selected mainland universities in 2007 and the coming year will choose four additional candidates from across the border to join the programme and receive training in Hong Kong.

Learning the ropes

Given DFS's global network, prospective MTs should be aware that their positions are highly mobile. "Last year, we had the chance to arrange our trainees to work in our operation in Macau for a few months to assist with a new store opening. Chances are that they may be rotated to a DFS office aboard," Ms Chan points out.

The limited training timeframe means MTs have to be fast learners and ready to take up management roles once they have completed the programme. They are assigned four key attachments during the year, with most time spent in store operations and global merchandising.

Store operations experience is key, as this is where trainees work in a variety of frontline roles, from that of a sales associate to supervisory positions, and where they are familiarised with the knowledge necessary for managing a team.

"Trainees work at our downtown DFS Galleria, as well as at the airport store, managing two diverse customer portfolios," notes Ms Chan. "This enables them to hone their communication skills and to learn how to build customer relations in a multicultural environment."

Apart from on-the-job training, MTs are also given responsibility for various ad-hoc projects. Recent examples include helping to open a new store in Macau's City of Dreams and compiling a global training manual on enhancing customer service.

"Our aim is to unleash our trainees' potential in a short period of time and, importantly, to explore their time- and project-management abilities," Ms Chan says.

She adds, "As a result of our ongoing expansion in Asia, there is a myriad of development opportunities at DFS." In fact, one of the company's merchandising directors was a former trainee who had worked in various roles in six different countries and reached her current position in 10 years.

The company's talent management department helps trainees map out a clear career path by discussing their aspirations with them and evaluating their performances on an ongoing basis. Members of the senior management act as mentors to provide support and guidance, while managers from different departments act as coaches to direct MTs towards accomplishing their assignments.

"We offer many opportunities for rotation across divisions, as well as overseas secondments. Our multi-brand business offers a diverse learning environment for those who aspire to luxury brand retailing," Ms Chan concludes.

Stephanie Chan (Global planning—fine watches)
Qualification: BSocSc (Hons) in China studies (economics), Hong Kong Baptist University
Year joined: 2008

"I feel trusted and valued at DFS. In spite of my limited work experience, I was assigned to assist with the store opening at Macau's City of Dreams in May 2009. In just one month, I learnt the art of product assortment and grew so much in terms of skills and knowledge. It was an amazing experience. The different job rotations have also given me the opportunity to build relations with our vendors, be exposed to international customers and get to know how the logistics centre operates."

Michelle Chan (Chinachem Galleria—ready to wear and luxury jewellery)
Qualification: BBA, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Year joined: 2009

"I find the MT programme both challenging and inspiring. I've achieved personal growth through working on projects and business presentations, as well as working with different teams. The way the programme is structured ensures that trainees get a good overall perspective of DFS's business. Trainees are given responsibility right from the start, and I take care of the business for eight luxury brands. To me, the biggest thrill comes from adapting to changing roles."

Jasmine Lam (Global merchandising—luxury watches and watch makers)
Qualification: BSc (Hons) in communication, Hong Kong Baptist University
Year joined: 2008

"I used to be in the police force, but my passion for luxury fashion retail prompted me to reassess my career options. Before making the move, I had no idea how fascinating my job with DFS would be. The company and its management are supportive, and the programme is well structured, with clear objectives and constant reviews. The opportunity to help with the opening of the DFS store at the City of Dreams put my skills to the test. That particular stint also taught me to work with different teams."

Stella Yuan (Chinachem Galleria—beauty)
Qualification: BSc in economics, Fudan University, Shanghai
Year joined: 2009

"Although I had a number of job offers on the mainland, I was attracted by the multicultural exposure offered by DFS. The company has shown me that it values its trainees and I appreciate that senior staff are open to my suggestions. Since 80 per cent of our customers are from mainland China, I'm able to present ideas from a mainland person's perspective. I have helped work on a proposal for our VIP sales initiative programme before the National Day holidays. It was very exciting."

Kathy Chan (Global merchandising—fine watches)
Qualification: BBA in marketing, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Year joined: 2008

"The MT programme is a great way to kick off a career in the luxury retail sector. Immediately after joining, I was assigned to run two ad-hoc projects, conducting a customer service survey and compiling a new training manual. Both tasks were demanding, but I received coaching and support from many colleagues. Apart from learning hard skills, the programme has also enhanced my coordination and communication competencies. The learning experience I've had was second to none."

Alexis Hou (Sun Plaza Galleria—beauty)
Qualification: BSc in international economics and trade, Renmin University of China, Beijing
Year joined: 2009

"I'm impressed by DFS's focus on the concept of 'being yourself', meaning we are expected to unleash our potential in our own personal way. My biggest challenge was my involvement in the Sun Plaza Galleria renovation project. I had sole responsibility for 2,500 questionnaires and had to analyse the data in three weeks. I was also asked to develop and provide training to frontline staff on product knowledge and new store design. These tasks were tough, but rewarding."

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, B13

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