Agency's success is founded on 'credo of five Es'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am

Ask Esther Ma what she understands by the word 'entrepreneur' and she comes back with a typically enterprising answer.

'Winning is about sharing, too, and if this award brings me more public attention, then it can be a catalyst to sharing my experiences and insights with others,' said the founder and chief executive of the Prestique marketing and management consulting agency.

She goes on to define entrepreneurship with what she calls 'the credo of the five Es'.

To qualify as an entrepreneur under Ma's criteria, any aspiring captain of industry must do rather more than set up a thriving, profitable company. That, she implies, is only the beginning - and she should know. With Prestique, in business since 1995 and thriving, she has certainly achieved that.

Her five Es of entrepreneurship are as much about core moral values as creating a successful and dynamic organisation, which may have a lot to do with why her business prospers and her staff remain enviably loyal. To succeed, she believes, you must:

Empower the people you work with

Empathise with others and the needs of the community

Enrich other people's lives

Ethical behaviour gains the trust of clients, partners and the media

Enjoy life and be thankful for its blessings

Having left Hong Kong to finish high school in the United States and stayed on to study at Berkeley, Ma began her career working on Wall Street, which she cheerfully admitted she hated, showing much more of a natural flair for marketing and communications.

Returning to Hong Kong, following business management studies at Columbia, she joined Procter & Gamble where she worked for five years, mainly managing beauty brands such as Neutrogena.

It was here, frustrated by what she considered to be the less than brilliant offerings of the major public relations agency that held the account for her brands, that she started to take matters into her own hands and work on the creative marketing and media relations side herself. The idea of forming her own company took shape and Prestique was founded in 1995.

Initially, a spare-time pursuit, she focused on organising weekend networking activities and events for non-governmental organisations, such as the Hong Kong Ballet Group, but it was not long before she left Procter & Gamble and started to build up her own client portfolio with consumer goods and corporates.

And the rest, as they say, is history, at least as far as the development of the successful marketing agency that is Prestique (the name is another classic Estherism, condensing into one word the mission to 'Present its clients with Unique ideas for success') is concerned.

Except that Prestique tells barely the half of Ma's story. In addition to founding, building and running the agency, which now includes a considerable commitment to pro-bono work for charities, she has a list of extracurricular commitments - most of them voluntary work - that can make you wonder whether she is actually restricted to the same 24-hour day as the rest of us.

Now, with her own two children to care for, Ma also teaches playgroups and at learning centres on a voluntary basis. She remains closely connected with her beloved alma mater, the Diocesan Girls' School, for whom she also commits voluntary time. She is also a director of the Zonta Club of Hong Kong, raising and allocating funds to charities that support women, and she runs three half-marathons a year.

Ma has also written two books: one on how to conduct a job search in Hong Kong, the other an A-Z glossary of public relations and Prestique's client roster.

As to her award as Entrepreneur of the Year, she hopes she has won it for building Prestique into a business that delivers good work and has good ethical standards.

In any event, she is a firm believer in the value of Women of Influence.

'Awards such as these are still important and necessary,' she said. 'Women today have to wear so many hats. We have to work long hours, taking care of the family and the household.

'It's a wonderful idea for an organisation such as Women of Influence to recognise the achievements and talents of women, and it encourages more women to engage and maximise their talents and contribute towards creating a better world.'

Judge's comment

Our Entrepreneur of the Year is a businesswoman and an author. After receiving her MBA from Columbia University and a short career with a multinational corporation, she founded her own public relations company in 1996. Her company has grown rapidly since then, with treble the revenue and more than 120 clients. She achieved this through her track record of creativity, strong networking and excellent media relations. The professionalism and loyalty of her team is probably the envy of many in Hong Kong and a testament to our winner's leadership and vision to provide continuing training to her staff. Instead of keeping the secrets of her success to herself, she pushed a book called The A to Z of PR which lists the key terminology used in the industry and many case studies. She is also actively involved in community work to help enhance the social and educational status of women. She is a director of Zonta Club and a general committee member of the Diocesan Girls' School Alumni Association. Her company provided free consultation and execution work to various charities. As a mother of two girls, she hosts a weekly home playgroup where she teaches singing, words, manners and games while fostering relationships among mothers and children.

Sheila Chuang, Chair of the Judges 2009