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Eleanor Kwok: The cosmetics entrepreneur with a 'can do' attitude

Perseverance and dedicated time with her family are vital to the success of one woman, writes Eunice Wong

 

Eleanor Kwok was a trader without a store when her landlord tripled her basement shop's rent in 1989 and she could not afford the rise.

But she and husband Simon regrouped, found another suitable shop in Wan Chai and gradually built up a cosmetics empire that turns over almost US$100 million and enabled the couple to be named on the Forbes Asia list of Hong Kong's 40 richest people for the second consecutive year.

"I have a 'can do' attitude because I believe everything can be done as long as we find ways to solve the problems," says Kwok, the vice-chairman of Sa Sa International.

Kwok and her husband started Sa Sa in the small basement of a Causeway Bay mall in 1978. Today, there are more than 160 stores spread throughout Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia and business continues to boom.

She has built her regional beauty enterprise based on the "one-stop cosmetics speciality store" concept. And it all grew out of her passion for the cosmetics industry and her love for beautiful things.

Sitting elegantly on a bench in a cosy corner of the newly opened 12,000 sq ft flagship store in Nathan Road, she says, "I simply love the industry. This is what drives me and keeps me going. As a woman, my advantage is that I know the products well".

Kwok says she likes to solve problems and believes perseverance is important for career women to excel.

In 2003, business was affected by the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis, but Kwok quickly changed her strategy to sell more masks and disinfectant products. The change in product offerings proved to be a good move. Turnover increased and the company expanded.

Even now, with so many stores under her belt, Kwok will often revise and improve the designs and layouts of the shops until she is satisfied.

Despite her phenomenal success, Kwok says the biggest challenge for career women in Hong Kong is how to strike a balance between work and family.

"I am lucky I am running the business with my husband as we can always discuss and sort things out together," she says.

"I still have business appointments at weekends, but I always try to set aside time to have fun with my family. I love to have facial treatments to relax myself. Actually, having facial treatments is one of our family activities."

Other family activities include going to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and attending charity events. "I have three adult children and, no matter how busy we are, we spend time together. My husband loves horse racing and every member in the family is a horse owner except for my youngest son. I think he is too young to be a horse owner. He is only 20," she says.

Kwok, who has an honorary doctorate of management from Morrison University, in the US, says her personal motto is to try her best in all she does and to excel at her work. Her advice for young women starting out in business? Don't rush into things and accept the advice offered by others. Most importantly, work hard.

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