It’s in the bag
Mark Leung is carrying his family’s successful handbag business to new heights
When other children his age were having fun at the playground, Mark Leung, executive director of L and Leung Leatherware, spent his time hanging out in factory buildings with his parents.
“My parents worked seven days a week, so even on weekends I would be at the factory with them,” he says. “I was never bored though. There were always 40 or 50 aunties and uncle working and I thought of them as part of my family. I guess this is how I developed my management philosophy to treat staff like they are my own family.”
Leung’s father founded leather-ware manufacturers L and Leung in the 1980s and the company has been operating in a factory building in Tsuen Wan ever since. It was never Leung’s intention to inherit the family business, however. After completing his education in Australia with a degree in information technology (IT), he worked in the IT industry for several years before finally deciding to join his family’s business in 2008.
“My parents never urged me to take up their business, but one day I realised I wanted to help because they were getting older,” Leung says. “I want the family business to prosper because it is their life-long effort. It is my own choice. I have an elder brother who is living and working in Australia, but he does not want to run it.”
He says that his experience of being an employee helped him to understand what it is like to be a regular staff member. “I understand how they feel and their concerns. I see my staff as my companions and they are the heart and soul of the company. They can choose to work somewhere else, but they choose to work for me and I am really thankful for their loyalty. I trust them and I want them to trust me. Trust is the key to building a reliable work force,” he says.
So, too, is keeping his workforce happy. He believes his staff deserve quality time with their families after working hard all day and urges them not to work overtime. “Many of our staff are married and have kids. I don’t want them to lose out on quality time with their families, so I want everyone to leave the factory by 6.30pm,” he says.
“I don’t want staff to stay behind with me. Some may think it is not appropriate to leave earlier than the boss, but I don’t want any of that. I am not worried about productivity at all because I trust that they will finish their tasks before they leave. We have a mutual understanding.”
Leung is so serious about emptying his premises by 6.30pm that even when he needs to do extra work, he would rather leave the office on time and continue at home.
Another way he keeps staff loyal is by sharing profits with them. “Every year I announce the profits to everyone and tell them how much they are going to get for a bonus. There are no secrets – my staff know that I am willing to share with them,” he says.
A good mix of workers has helped Leung develop his business. “We used to have many staff from the mainland, but I think having a diverse group of staff is more beneficial for development. I have people from Hong Kong, America and Japan in my office. The locals are familiar with the business, the Americans are good with design and the Japanese are experts in customer service,” he says.
Leung thinks having new ideas is what keeps a business growing. “My father was an innovator. He was the first to manufacture snakeskin products in Asia back in the 1980s. Now it is my turn to come up with something new. I think for the business to continue to grow, we cannot passively wait for brands to give us orders. I want the company to be proactive, so I transformed L and Leung from an OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturer] to an ODM [Original Design Manufacturer],” he says.
In 1997, L and Leung was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis. To keep the business afloat, Leung senior opened a sales office in the US in 2000 that sold handbags designed by Americans to the local market. “My father decided that he could not depend solely on orders from other brands. The US sales office was the foundation of developing our own US-based brand, ‘Emma Fox’,” he says.
After Leung started working for the family business, he actively promoted Emma Fox and hugely expanded the number of retail points for the brand. When the North American market started to slow down after the recent financial crisis, Leung started promoting the brand in Asia, especially on the mainland.
“We have positioned our brand to provide high-quality bags at affordable prices. Office ladies and middle-class consumers are our target customers. We are not yet a world-famous brand name, but the quality of our products is close to such brands,” he says.
“Our business continued to grow during the 2008 financial crisis and the profit from Emma Fox has grown 10 times since the brand was founded in 2006,” he adds.
Even though he has been at L and Leung since 2008, Leung says he is still learning new things about his job every day. “Making leather is an art – there is so much to learn,” he says. “Luckily my father is there to teach me and help with the manufacturing processes, while I focus on marketing. I am not sure when my father will retire – I hope he doesn’t because he will be bored.”
Looking ahead, Leung thinks individual designers, as opposed to larger manufacturers, will increasingly pose a threat to his company. “There is an increasing number of designers leaving their positions at big brands and starting out on their own. This is because nowadays it is easy for a designer to co-operate with a factory and produce their own work. It is really difficult for me anticipate what these individual designers are doing,” he says.