Getting the basics right is crucial
Explaining the secrets of running a retail empire with numerous chains and more than 2,600 stores, Caroline Mak stresses the importance of foresight and getting the basics right.
'As a leader, you must have a clear vision of where to take the business in the next three to five years,' says the regional director, north Asia, for the Dairy Farm Group and winner of this year's Executive Award.
'In doing that, I always ask four questions - why, what, how and if - and then make sure we have the right people and resources to get us there.'
The vision can be simply expressed, even when guiding the fortunes of complex operations such as Mannings, Ikea, 7-Eleven convenience stores, and supermarket chains Wellcome, ThreeSixty and Oliver's The Delicatessen.
It might be to take a business from number two to number one in its market. It could be to effect a turnaround from loss to consistent profit-making. Or it might involve just moving ahead of the nearest competition as part of an ongoing expansion.
'For this, I work with the chief executives in each business, and once the direction is clear, I don't normally tell them what to do,' Mak says. 'We will talk regularly about how things could be better than today, but my approach is to discuss, influence and create a sense of partnership.'
'Overall, what I enjoy most is seeing subordinates progress and mature, becoming very good leaders and managers in their own right,' Mak says.
Since assuming her present role three years ago, she has also put special emphasis on promoting sustainability. This goes beyond corporate social responsibility policies which take due account of environmental issues, while playing an active part in local communities. It also means having a business model built to survive, which is supported by smart customer relationship management initiatives and treats staff like internal customers.
'If we do surveys to test consumers' views and shopping behaviour, we must also do surveys to take the 'temperature and pulse' of our own staff,' Mak says. 'It is important to see what improvements they would like and in which areas.'
As a respected industry figure who joined parent company Jardines in 1988 and made her name in the group's retail operations, Mak's opinion is sought on all key issues affecting the sector.
'I support good legislation, but not rules for their own sake,' she says. 'Government bureaus don't realise Hong Kong is a very small place. So we don't need our own set of standards for things like nutrition labelling. We can just use what they already have in China or the US.'
If we do surveys to test consumers' views and shopping behaviour, we must also do surveys to take the 'temperature and pulse' of our own staff