Diverse role of sourcing professionals

by Ella Lee

Tina Ko, Asia Pacific HR manager, New Balance Athletic Shoes (HK) Limited

Chance for involvement in all aspects of the business

Sourcing shoes and apparel involves a number of diverse but interconnected roles. Typically, these range from conducting market research to designing new items, keeping track of production, and ensuring on-time delivery to customers who may be in countries all over the world.

The first things that sourcing executives need to learn are how the operation works and the importance of efficient order management and fulfilment. According to Tina Ko, Asia Pacific HR manager of New Balance Athletic Shoes (HK) Limited, they must also be alert to any defects in quality and keep a close eye on costs at all times.

New Balance established its own sourcing team in Hong Kong around two years ago. This currently consists of four executives and three managers and is responsible for global sourcing of apparel. Centres in mainland China and Vietnam handle the company's orders of shoes.

Ms Ko says that, in general, there is keen competition for professionals with the necessary experience. "The robust economy means that companies are expanding and some are setting up sourcing operations in China, with the result that there is huge demand for senior personnel with at least five years' managerial experience," she explains.

If hiring junior executives, the company prefers candidates with knowledge of knitwear and woven products, but will consider those with experience of other fabrics. Attitude is a crucial element and applicants should come across as inquisitive, adaptable, energetic and good team players.

"Unlike longer established companies, we can offer staff the freedom to implement their own ideas and solve problems creatively," Ms Ko says. Therefore, executives have the chance to handle different stages of the sourcing process and can use their entrepreneurial skills when assessing the marketability of a design. This encourages greater involvement in all aspects of the business and gives a real sense of belonging to a team.

A comprehensive training programme also helps to attract good candidates. "For example, we provide field trips to China for new joiners so they can get a better understanding of our core business activities in shoes," Ms Ko says.

Recruits must expect to work hard, but the company also wants staff to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. Therefore, employees have a standard five-day working week and will usually leave the office no later than 7pm.

In view of changes affecting the industry, New Balance is currently searching for a compliance officer to join the team in Hong Kong. The appointee will mainly be dealing with suppliers and reviewing their operations. "The role is to check their day-to-day practices and to make sure they conform to legal regulations and international standards," Ms Ko says. "For example, we will see if they have illegal workers, follow ethical practices, and respect conditions concerning the workplace environment, pay and benefits."

Candidates for this position are likely to have either a legal background or to have worked as an auditor or accountant. Experts in safety or quality control, who are sensitive to compliance issues, would also be considered. Ms Ko expects matters relating to compliance to become even more important in future.

Sourcing roles

  • Developing and maintaining effective customer support by working in close partnership with internal and external stakeholders
  • Helping factories convert the designs into actual products for export
  • Overseeing orders while balancing quality, efficiency and cost
  • Remaining aware of compliance issues at all times

Taken from Career Times 16 June 2006
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