Every successful entrepreneur knows that building a business requires a combination of experience, insight, hard work and persistence. It also entails courage and knowing when to take chances. Vincent Wan, chairman of Wan (Corporate Services) Ltd, clearly possesses all these qualities, but he modestly puts his own success down to simply making the most of his talent and taking opportunities as they arose. "Since the early days, my career motto has been to evaluate options and increase my expertise, so as to have more choices," he says.
As an immigrant from China in the late 1940s, Mr Wan had a traditional Chinese education, but also excelled in English before becoming an outstanding accountant. He obtained professional qualifications in Hong Kong, Britain and Australia, after starting out as an audit trainee with a UK-based firm in the early 1960s. Within seven years, he had worked his way up to management grade, but then made a real career breakthrough by moving to an American company manufacturing computer memories, where he was asked to restructure the accounting department. "It grew from a team of four to a management information centre of 60 staff, which oversaw various aspects of the business, including productivity and industrial engineering," Mr Wan recalls.
With the benefit of this experience, he was ready for a new challenge and, in the early 1970s, accepted an offer to become regional financial manager for a leading American producer of jeans and outerwear. He was attracted by the company's liberal management style, and this soon enabled him to take on broader responsibilities in the manufacturing side of the company as it developed its production base in Asia. That paved the way for a later switch to marketing and consultancy by giving him the opportunity to learn new marketing and management skills. "A task force was in place to develop a more customer-oriented philosophy. I took the initiative to lead that team and change the company's culture," he explains.
Coming up with creative solutions is the biggest challenge in marketing, but a great reward as well
Keen to test himself further, Mr Wan decided to set up his own management consultancy company in 1978, to focus primarily on the garment and electronics industries. This soon expanded to handling the marketing campaign for a European brand of mineral water. "We had a limited budget and had to look for promotional strategies other than advertising," he says. "Coming up with creative solutions is the biggest challenge in marketing, but a great reward as well."
As the current chairman of a wellness company, Mr Wan oversees the marketing and distribution of products which range from mineral water and non-alcoholic beverages to natural skin-care and ecological cleaning products. For this, he closely studies consumer behaviour and develops marketing strategies based on comments from clients, media professionals, industry peers and colleagues. "I have internal and external meetings scheduled throughout the week and always make sure I leave enough time and space for my employees to communicate their ideas and use their own initiative," he notes.
While the business has grown from overseeing one brand to the comprehensive company it is today, Mr Wan continues to plan ahead. "We are committed to promoting the concept of 'wellness' among the public and want to build a better and a healthier tomorrow for our clients," he says. "That can only be achieved by continually being innovative in our marketing approach."
This emphasis on constant development is in line with the fast changing nature of the marketing profession, in which technological advances frequently determine the need for new brand building strategies for various types of consumer goods. "Many electronics products, for example, go out of fashion very quickly," Mr Wan explains. "It is a misconception if people think that marketing is mainly a sales job. It is really about spotting and leading the latest consumer trends." He adds that the opening of the China market presents another set of challenges and opportunities, since the mentality of mainland consumers still differs sharply from that seen in Hong Kong.
Mr Wan pinpoints three prerequisites for setting up a successful marketing company: an analytical mind, creativity and a proactive character. He suggests that even university graduates with a degree in marketing can learn a great deal by starting out in a customer service or sales role. This gives them an overall understanding of a company's culture and a more in-depth understanding of the market they are operating in. "The hands-on knowledge they acquire early on will be a big help in their future career development, especially when they move up to managerial grades," he concludes.
According to Mr Wan, there is great demand for Hong Kong marketing professionals with an international perspective to work in China, but learning the intricacies of the mainland market can still be a major challenge. "There are significant differences in culture and business practices, so the first thing professionals must do is understand how the market works and then try to influence trends," he says.
Since fewer companies now offer expatriate allowances for employees who relocate from Hong Kong, Mr Wan advises professionals accepting a job in China to view it as a long-term career move which will pay off in due course.