Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

Korea opportunity

Published on Saturday, 04 Oct 2014

A cold call to the country's largest cosmetics firm led to Fion Ipp becoming AmorePacific's Hong Kong MD, writes Andrea Zavadszky.

Seeing a gap in the market and having the courage and preparation to seize the opportunity paid off for Fion Ipp. Her cold call to AmorePacific eventually led to her becoming the Hong Kong MD for Korea’s largest cosmetics company.

Ipp’s career-defining moment took place in 2001, after years of working her way up as brand manager at a Fortune 500 company and general manager for South China for the biggest auction website in China.

Following the huge success of its TV dramas, all things Korean were becoming very popular in Hong Kong. That is when Ipp noticed there were no Korean skincare products in the local market. She scoured chat rooms to see which companies people were talking about and visited Cosmoprof, the beauty trade show, to meet with Korean companies. However, AmorePacific, the largest beauty company, with the longest history, had no booth at the exhibition.

“I hired an interpreter and made a cold call. They said, you can come to meet us,” Ipp says.

She arrived at the meeting with the interpreter and a suitcase full of research material in which she had analysed customer needs, sales channels, and successful and failed brands in Hong Kong. She won the distributorship of Laneige and the company’s flagship product Sulwhasoo.

In the past 12 years, she has not only built up a company with a chain of more than 30 boutiques and retail counters, but this spring, AmorePacific Hong Kong – a joint venture between her and the mother company – became the latter’s subsidiary after it increased its holdings from 30 to 77 per cent. 

The Hong Kong operations will have a central role in AmorePacific’s expansion in Greater China. The expansion will start with four new stores this year in Hong Kong alone, increasing staff numbers by 20 per cent. However, Ipp says she has held up expansion for more than a year to make sure they are internally ready.

“Last year, we also grew staff numbers by 20 per cent. We are growing in all directions, at director, manager, assistant manager and operational levels,” she says.

Now the two brands, Laneige and Sulwhasoo, carry more than 250 products, but Ipp is planning to launch two new brands – picked from the close to 30 available trade names developed by AmorePacific in Korea – which will help grow the company to employ 400 staff. 

“The key to success is both product and people,” Ipp says. “Product quality is very high because of our robust research and development. We’re strong in brand building and retail operations.”

Retail businesses rely on frontline staff to reach customers. AmorePacific has a people-orientated management approach that focuses on both staff and customers. “Work should be meaningful and enjoyable. So we emphasise the purpose, the value we create to customers. If a customer comes in a bad mood and leaves in good mood, we have already done something good,” Ipp says.

“People development of the frontline staff is the biggest challenge, but it is amazing to see them grow. The overall company direction, our values and principles are so clear that staff can initiate lots of innovative ideas.

“The more we cultivate the roots, the more we see fruits. The roots are people culture, value system and goodwill. As we are growing above the ground, we are also growing under the ground with a strong foundation, even if the organisation grows bigger and bigger, there is a balance,” Ipp says, adding that it was actually harder when the company was small and she was building up the culture and goodwill. Now they have different kinds of challenges, but it is easier.

Ipp’s management style is servant leadership, with an organisation structure of an inverted pyramid. She listens to department heads and enables them to contribute. In turn, they support their departments, while frontline staff are well supported by the office team. 

Her aim is to help staff do less and achieve more. “I help them do fewer but bigger things. I simplify workflow, keep things simple but effective. We are not growing the business by doing more but by changing the way we work.” 

More than skin deep

Fion Ipp shares four leadership beauty tips

Listen with an open mind “Too many people focus on right and wrong. They shut down easily. Listen to the idea and the rationale behind it. The idea may not be applicable, but the rationale might lead you in the right direction.”

Accept setbacks “Everyday frustration is okay. If you know the bigger purpose, those hiccups don’t matter so much.”

Find value in your job “If we find the meaning of work, it is no longer work. It feels like volunteer work, but pays a salary.”

Know your trade “Leaders should not only know what to do, but also what not to do.”