To make it to the top in marketing is all a matter of finding the right balance – between academic learning and practical experience, brand building plans and this month's sales figures, long-term vision and day-to-day details. That principle has guided the career of Richard Wessler ever since he graduated from the University of Southern California in 1993 with a Bachelor's degree in business administration, and is still behind many of his decisions today.
His first job was as a customer service representative with the Ford Motor Company and, in less than two years, he became zone manager of the company's Lincoln-Mercury division. The responsibilities included the design and implementation of marketing programmes and gave Mr Wessler a first taste of how creative ideas could directly affect the company's performance. His efforts resulted in a 3 per cent increase in zone market share and annual new vehicle sales of over US$125 million.
Nevertheless, he left in 1995 for a summer associate job with Warner-Lambert Company before taking a full-time Master's degree at New York University. "It was a good move because by then I understood how the real world functions and could compare it with the academic approach," says Mr Wessler, who is currently regional marketing director for Sanford Asia Pacific and Africa. The company is a division of Newell Rubbermaid, the world's largest supplier of cookware.
He firmly believes that every career benefits from experience gained working for well-established companies which have clear procedures and good business structures. That was one of the reasons he next accepted a job as a global strategist for Samsung Group in Korea. "Back in the mid-90s, Korea was transitioning from its industrial background into a modern economy, and it was a good time to be there," he says. As part of an internal consulting group, he worked on brand management and, in particular, on brand building activities for digital products. "I was proud to be part of the company's growth," he adds.
You're also selling the feelings that come with a particular product or brand
However, having worked on the more theoretical side of marketing, Mr Wessler was keen to get his hands "dirty" and therefore accepted an offer to join Cartier in Korea as marketing manager. There, he had responsibility for brand management, as well as for pricing strategy, advertising, communications and merchandising. This led to a two-year spell with a French cookware company, before he was headhunted and brought to Hong Kong by Sanford.
"I'm very culturally adaptable and flexible. I don't get bent out of shape," he says. At present, he is overseeing international marketing mainly for products other than kitchenware, such as the globally recognised Parker and Waterman brands. A key task is to ensure all marketing plans are implemented correctly at country level and are in line with global strategies coordinated with the marketing teams in Europe and the US. "I also focus on new product development at both regional and global levels, so everything in that area being done specifically for Asia Pacific will come to me," he explains.
Mr Wessler points out that certain types of personality tend to do best in marketing. "You should know yourself before deciding on a career," he advises. "If you are clear about what you like and what you are good at, finding the right career is that much easier. Too many go into marketing because they think it's fun, but they are only looking at it superficially."
He says that anyone seriously thinking of going into the field should do sufficient research and not picture themselves talking to journalists at press launches or making TV commercials. "People at entry level have ideas about the glamorous side of marketing but don't really understand what it involves," he says. "They get into the profession, work a couple of years and then leave because they are not really prepared for what marketing is."
He emphasises that it requires a thorough understanding of consumer behaviour and the factors that influence market psychology. "It is not just a matter of selling the product, since nowadays there is not always that much to differentiate them," he says. "You're also selling the feelings that come with a particular product or brand." Achieving this depends on applying both strategic and specific tactics. "You must have a fine balance between long-term strategy and the ability to execute," Mr Wessler concludes.
Mr Wessler points out that China is now a strategic market within Asia and that a consumer culture is starting to develop. "The mainland is at a point where people have the money and are starting to act like other global consumers. It's an exciting time for business development," he says.
He believes there will be enormous opportunities for Hong Kong professionals who decide to move to China for career reasons. "Marketing positions are second only to engineering," he says. "There are all these factories and products and now they need people to market them. Hong Kong is an international city and people here understand global marketing and what needs to be done."