MARCUS TANCOCK became the general manager of The Body Shop at the worst possible time. It was 1997, when rents were cripplingly high and landlords showed no pity for struggling retail outlets across Hong Kong. It was tough, particularly because expectations from Mr Tancock were high. His mother, already a successful and high-profile retailer in Hong Kong, brought The Body Shop to the city in 1984 and opened the first stand-alone shop in The Landmark in 1988. Mr Tancock had earned his stripes at The Body Shop in Spain and in Mexico by exporting goods to Hong Kong. He also helped David Tang set up Shanghai Tang and the China Club in Hong Kong. But nothing could have prepared him for steering The Body Shop through Asia's financial crisis. 'For me it was a very intense moment because the whole of Asia had fallen apart and Hong Kong rents were at an all-time high. And then suddenly sales fell apart,' Mr Tancock said. 'When things are good in retail [in Hong Kong], it is really a wonderful cash cow, but when it is bad and you are locked into short leases, you can just get it so wrong. We lost around $24 million over three years on one shop because we signed the lease just before the crash. 'I had to look at every corner of the business to survive. I think that year  we made $700 profit and we were quite happy with that,' he said. It was an extraordinary learning curve for Mr Tancock, and it did not stop with the financial crisis. 'Between 1997 and today, we have gone through Sars, the Iraq war and the financial crisis. It was the equivalent to my doing an MBA, except it was very hands-on.' Mr Tancock had the advantage of turning to his mother for advice. 'My mother was a great retailer and was a very good guide and counsel in educating me about the challenges of retail,' he said. 'She was the icon of this business in Hong Kong and I like to honour and respect that.' Sadly, Margaret Tancock died in 2002 and Mr Tancock took over as chairman of the company. He has since overseen the extraordinary success of The Body Shop in the region. By the end of this year, there will be 34 stores in Hong Kong and three in Macau. He also founded a brand called MIX, a smoothie juice bar chain which he sold two weeks before severe acute respiratory syndrome hit the region. In June 2003, Mr Tancock sold 75 per cent of The Body Shop for more than $150 million on the condition that he would retain the franchise in the mainland. He holds a strategic position and manages the day-to-day running of the company from his stylish headquarters in Causeway Bay. 'We have exactly the same team here as we had before the sale, which is very nice,' he said. Mr Tancock saw this as one of his greatest successes. The key to this was understanding the value of people, being able to pick the right ones and creating a culture of loyalty, he said. 'We have a very democratic culture, where we like to get everybody's input,' he said. 'For example, the people in accounts are always shown the Christmas windows because they should be able to have a look at what we are selling and how we are selling it. It spreads the joy of retail.' Mr Tancock has never felt overwhelmed by his responsibility as the boss. In fact, he enjoys it. 'I find it very exciting, I don't see the obstacles. As with any business you learn the model and what ratio of salaries or rents are meaningful or not, and then it is an enjoyable challenge to get it right,' he said. 'Being the boss with whom the buck stops was daunting at first but business is really common sense, and when you are empowered to do something in the right way I think more people could step up.' Mr Tancock spends only half his time in The Body Shop. The rest is spent enjoying a quiet life at home in Lantau with his wife and young daughter, and looking for other projects to satisfy the activist in him that was so inspired by The Body Shop in its prime. Through the cosmetics firm, he has already spearheaded a campaign to save the Lantau buffaloes and another against domestic violence. He is looking at raising awareness against pollution by developing a pioneering lifestyle and a business about well-being. He said he was very disheartened about pollution and the way people felt trapped in the urban jungle. 'How can we create opportunities for people to really enjoy what Hong Kong has - the wonderful islands, the chance to hike and stay in places such as Sai Kung, Lantau and Lamma?' Mr Tancock said. 'Money is one thing, but at what cost? 'I am very appreciative of the money we have been able to make, but when you look at the pollution you think: How much money do we all need to make before we actually die?' 10 THINGS I KNOW 1 Find a balance between making money and your own well-being and happiness. Before you embark on what can be a stressful venture, ask yourself what you are trying to prove. Are you trying to make money and have a viable business model or are you simply trying to gratify your ego? The latter will probably not make you much money and cause you plenty of stress. 2 When you are setting up a business you should always try to see the light at the end of the tunnel; that is, your exit. Build your business so that you will be able to sell it. And don't get too attached to what you have created, because something might change in your life and you may need to get out. On certain occasions I could have got better results from being able to sell in a moment, but because of attachment and ego I walked away from offers. 3 Entrepreneurs should try to have as much fun as they can. It's always going to be hard work, but you need to watch your stress levels. The stress that motivates you to get up early and call x, y and z and to drive and inspire your team is positive energy. But there is another kind of stress that breeds things in you that is not healthy for your mind and your body. You need to recognise this early on and find ways to avoid it, because it can take years to recover from. 4 When I have difficult decisions to make, I meditate. I sit with a straight back for at least 10 minutes, breathe deeply, focusing my mind on my breath, and try and have no thoughts at all during that process. My decisions come from that. I meditate for up to an hour every day. 5 The best thing about being the boss is being able to influence the culture and environment in which you work. We don't start until 10 in the morning and the staff are grateful for that. We are also flexible about holidays and not rigid about clocking-in in the morning. If you empower your staff, they give so much back. We all spend a huge amount of time together and it helps tremendously to earn their respect. 6 I can't operate my business without my mobile phone, unfortunately. But that is where my attachment to technology ends. I find it all overwhelming. I guess it allows you do to more things, but everybody expects that much more of you. So if somebody sends you an email they expect a reply that day and I find that I cannot be as focused and apply my mind as I used to. 7 It does get lonely being the boss. You try your best, but things don't always go well and you don't want to bore friends and family with work decisions. I also feel a bit isolated in the office. I speak Cantonese but not fluently, so my integration with the whole team is a little bit limited. 8 As an entrepreneur it is impossible to switch off. When you work for somebody you just let it go because you don't care, but when you are an entrepreneur you are always thinking about work. I would say that one of the toughest things I face is letting go of work when I get home. 9 There is so much potential for run-ins with other people as an entrepreneur. Quite often you have to make decisions that people don't like and you are not protected by the umbrella of a huge organisation. You are at the tip of the umbrella. You are spearheading the way and this increases the potential for differences with people, no matter how nice or diplomatic you may be. 10 I can imagine leaving it all behind, walking away and taking a more spiritual route. In fact, I am looking to do more adventure-based activities already. We all get trapped and attached to this jungle of people and fumes and hectic stress, and it's important to realise that there is a whole world out there.