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Classified Post Career Forum highlights: Top executives from the Shadow a CEO Programme revealed their leadership lessons

The four senior executives taking part in the latest edition of Classified Post’s Shadow a CEO Programme gathered at the forum to share their insights on management, talent, personal growth and industry trends.

The programme, which runs twice a year, will see up to three candidates selected to shadow each executive for three days to get an invaluable glimpse into their daily working lives. It is a unique opportunity to see what it is like to be a top business leader who needs to see different sides of the same issue, mobilise and motivate the teams, and achieve success.

Frantz Hotton, managing director of Pernod Ricard Hong Kong and Macau, told his young audience that the secret to running a successful multinational brand is in the people you work with.

“A career is not about promotions, it is about experience,” said Hotton, who has been working with Pernod Ricard since 1995. He had held a number of positions within the group, including country sales director and international director, before moving into his current role.

“It is about finding out how to work with different people. Even if you are a very good student, it is a big change to go from study to work. You need to learn what work is, what a company is, and how to make money.”

The beauty of working for an international company is that one gets to acquire a global perspective, Hotton said. With Pernod Ricard, he has become well acquainted with how the retail market works in Europe, the US, Greater China, New Zealand, and other locations. Throughout the years, he has also learnt how to motivate teams to take ownership of their projects and achieve success.

“You need to trust people,” he said. “Trust and freedom empower a person to become an entrepreneur.”

Such values are institutionalised in the beverage giant’s decentralised business model. Each market is responsible for making its own local business decisions. Each market leader is expected to be accountable for how this business fares, and is expected to run the operation like they own it.

The result is not only a great sense of ownership and entrepreneurship, but also mutual loyalty, Hotton said. Staff take pride in being part of Pernod Ricard, in observing its strong professional ethics, and celebrate success together in good spirits.

Allen Ha, CEO of AsiaWorld-Expo Management, used his seminar session to emphasise the importance of working together as a team to define and solve complex problems that arise as the business world evolves.

Using AsiaWorld-Expo and the MICE industry – meetings, incentives, conferences and events – as an example, he illustrated that business issues usually involved multiple stakeholders across various public and private sectors in different countries.

He said his business has grown rapidly during the last few years alongside robust infrastructural and economic developments within the Pearl River Delta area. Apart from fuelling the MICE business, such developments have opened up new opportunities in Lantau, where Ha is chairing the Lantau Development Alliance to promote sustainable economic development. 

Both roles require the ability to reach a common ground with various parties in solving multi-faceted issues. “A lot of the time, people rush into problem-solving mode without taking the time to define the problems well,” Ha said. 

“Whether you are an expert in MICE, in marketing, banking or what have you, you should be able to bring people’s expertise together to collaborate on an innovative approach. That is how you can define a complex problem and solve it together.” 

He also encouraged his audience to be innovative, open-minded and pro-active in contributing their own ideas within their teams. Once a person embraces a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset”, Ha said, they will start doing real work to solve real problems, rather than avoiding them.
Patrick Lee, CEO for North Asia and China of car distributor and retailer Inchcape, echoed Ha’s view on the importance of self-growth and self-improvement. 

Inchcape operates across 26 markets globally. In Hong Kong and Macau, it is the exclusive distributor for various brands including Toyota, Lexus, Land Rover, Jaguar and Ford, as well as the biggest supplier of taxis, vans and passenger vehicles.

Lee has a deep interest in human behaviour and received training in behavioural theories in the UK 20 years ago, so that he could better understand himself and others.

“I did a portfolio analysis of myself, and I was shocked,” Lee said. “For the first time, I got to know myself better.” He explained that it is only through an honest assessment of oneself and others that one learns to work with those around him more effectively.

During his seminar, Lee used the interesting example of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock from the sci-fi series Star Trek to illustrate different leadership styles. 

Referring to the DISC model – dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance – he explained how Captain Kirk, who possesses a “D” or dominant character, would work with his type “C” lieutenant Mr Spock. They have starkly different characters and priorities: Kirk is motivated by winning and is inclined to take risks in order to arrive at immediate results. Spock, meanwhile, is steady, precise, and values rules and orders. 

The key to having a winning team is to be able to deploy different types of leadership styles in different situations, and respecting the differences of team members, Lee said.

Leong Cheung, executive director of charities and community at the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), advised young people to keep challenging themselves by being honest about their imperfections, their ambitions and what truly motives them.

Sharing his own career trajectory with the audience, he said that he once took a pay cut in order to work in a local garment company. Lots of his friends advised against the move as they perceived manufacturing as a declining industry, but Cheung went against the tide and spent six years there.

“It is about letting go of some ego,” Cheung said. “I have since learnt substantially about people, about the industry, and about the world.” He fondly recalls how he learned all about garment manufacturing across different countries.

After enjoying many years of success in the corporate world, he made yet another unconventional move to join HKJC – a significant departure from his previous career. In the charity sector, he said, making a positive impact on the community takes priority over making monetary profit, instead of the other way round.

Cheung said he enjoyed the challenge, making a difference for the community and working with people across various sectors. A good leader, he added, always appreciates the strengths of those who work with him.