Swedish titan tantalises

by Norman Yam

Lex Keijser, country manager, H & M Hennes & Mauritz Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

Fashion retail giant needs 300-400 staff to support rapid expansion

A true ripple of excitement swept through the fashion scene recently with the opening of H & M's first store in downtown Hong Kong.

Marking the first foray of the Swedish brand into Asia, the new store occupies 40,000 square-foot premises with four levels of shop space dedicated to apparel for men, women, young people and children. On its opening day, more than 1,000 customers waited for hours outside the outlet, many of them lured by the giveaways of limited-edition trenchcoats designed by pop queen Madonna.

According to Lex Keijser, country manager of H & M Hennes & Mauritz Ltd, the establishment of this flagship store is to tap the fashion awareness and spending power of the Greater China market. "Offering fashion and quality at the best price that everybody can afford, we expect to generate strong sales in this region," he says.

This year, the 60-year-old chain is running its 1,345 retail outlets in 28 countries spanning Europe, North America and the Middle East, with a global workforce of 60,000. "In Hong Kong, we will need even more permanent staff in the months to come as more outlets are scheduled to open by autumn this year," Mr Keijser says.

Roles to fill

With the increasing complexity of retail fashion and demands for better service from local customers, H & M has an immediate need for around 300 to 400 additional staff, on top of the existing 140. Three store managers will be required, one for each of its upcoming stores. Candidates for these roles are expected to provide leadership for the 120 to 130 staff joining each outlet. "Store managers are also responsible for the various product groups, ensuring that they are well-stocked at each store and that it is retailing the right items," Mr Keijser explains.

Directly reporting to them will be the floor managers, looking after the general operation of a specific floor including clothing for men, women, youths or children. These candidates will, in turn, supervise the sales advisers.

The selection of sales advisers is stringent at H & M because they are frontline staff who face customers and serve their fashion needs. Given this role, they should be enthusiastic and enjoy working with fashion and people in a fast-paced environment.

Working hand-in-hand with the frontline staff and managers are the visual merchandisers, who ensure the store's decoration looks inviting enough to customers. Besides a keen eye for the job plus an artistic flair, they must also be able to combine visual creativity with pragmatic business needs.

The company will also be recruiting professionals for its back-office functions, such as administration and accounting. Candidates interested in these positions should be adequately trained and experienced.

Despite the diverse positions and requirements, the company treasures certain universal traits in its staff, such as the ability to take control at the workplace. "Our staff are expected to have the initiative to accomplish the necessary tasks, even if they have not explicitly been told to do so," Mr Keijser says.

H & M is ready to take on school-leavers and fresh university graduates. Candidates don't need years of experience but must be committed to their work. Not only that, they must be people-oriented. "At H & M, we want people who can work with other people," he adds.

High potential

Mr Keijser stresses that H & M is a "flat" organisation, where employees can be transferred from one location to another, or from one job area to another, if they can show the capability, ambition and readiness for higher responsibilities.

"Our management is always looking for people who excel at their jobs, with a view of optimising their potential and talents. For instance, a store manager will take notice when a new sales adviser proves adaptable and possesses a natural knack for colour combinations," he says.

Opportunities abound for promising employees to be sent overseas for training or to help with the establishment and expansion of other H & M outlets. For example, 30 to 40 staff members from overseas were sent to Hong Kong to help prepare for the opening of its flagship store here.

"Those joining us should be open to all career advancement, take the initiative to explore the possibilities for themselves and seize the opportunities as they come along," Mr Keijser concludes.


Taken from Career Times 13 April 2007
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