Catherine Zhu is the managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Hong Kong.
Purpose: our compass in turbulent times
These are testing times for Hong Kong’s economy. The Hang Seng Index closed below 20,000 recently – a three-year low.
At moments like this, it’s worth celebrating the leaders who are keeping their eye on the long term. Strong vision and a clear sense of purpose are our surest compass in the headwinds ahead.
One such leader is Marjorie Yang, the chairwoman of Esquel – a Hong Kong-based company that manufactures shirts for many of the world’s leading brands, including Nike, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, as well its own luxury shirt brand PYE.
Yang has transformed a traditional manufacturing business into a global pioneer in sustainability, technology, people practices and economic development. She has imbued the company with a sense of purpose that goes beyond self-interest. “When you run a company, you have to take responsibility for the environment and society,” she says.
The energy and water consumption of Esquel’s factories has been reduced by 57 per cent and 43 per cent respectively in the past decade, even as production has increased steadily. In Guilin, the company is currently building an eco-tourism hub which will showcase a new model that balances between industrial and human needs. The hub will include state-of-the-art production facilities that generate zero waste, housing museums and retail shops to enrich visitors’ experience.
In line with this, Yang has led empowerment initiatives, such as a microfinance program for cotton growers in Xinjiang. She also focuses on upskilling the company’s 57,000-strong, mostly female workforce.
She has taken her philosophy outside of the confines of her company by launching the “Integral Conversation”– a forum that brings together business leaders, government, academics and activists to shape new approaches in sustainability for China and beyond.
At a time when many Hongkongers are focused on constraints, Yang has looked at our city’s many advantages – including talent in design and international trade – and put them at the core of a successful global business and an inspiring long-term vision. As a result, Esquel is an employer of choice for millennials who want to find creative expression and make a difference through their work.
It’s a lesson to all of us: when times are tough, remember your higher purpose and develop a long-term view.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Leading long term.