With her trendy look and confident presentation, Caroline Mak Sui-king gives the impression of being a tough, career-minded woman when she goes in to bat for her constituents as chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association. But it's not the image she has of herself. In private life, she is easy-going and seldom the decision maker. 'I don't feel that I am a tough career woman. I never planned my career,' Ms Mak, who will turn 55 this year, says. 'I'm the least opinionated in the family when we decide to go for dinner. I am very easy-going.' But that does not stop her from stepping into her confident, clear-minded self in front of the media to eloquently voice the concerns and opinions of the retail sector. Times have been tough since Ms Mak took up her role as association head in September, as the global financial crisis began to take its toll on the city's economy and, in particular, the retail sector. Ms Mak, who regularly appears on different media explaining the group's views on monthly retail sales figures, has set a series of objectives she hopes to achieve in the two-year term. 'I have been in the retail industry for a long time and I want to do something for it,' she says. Her more than 20 years in the sector has included stints in public relations for beauty brand L'Oreal, as sales and marketing manager with Christian Dior, as chief executive for retail chain Mannings and her current post as group speciality retail director for Dairy Farm. 'I want to help the industry to express its views more vocally. Currently there are many proposed laws ... such as the nutrition labelling law, the genetically modified food law, plastic shopping bag [levy] and minimum wages ... which all hit the retail industry. I want to put more effort into lobbying the government for the industry, which is very important.' She says one of the most difficult tasks she faces is the need to deal with many different parties in a society that is already 'very political'. For example, representatives of the association have been meeting every lawmaker to persuade them to look at different pieces of legislation to see how it can be improved. That lobbying requires a lot of energy, she says. As a veteran of the retail industry, Mr Mak has a strong insight into its problems. 'There aren't many elites in the industry and we lack a formal education degree,' she says, adding that most university graduates joining the sector have business, marketing or logistics backgrounds. She wants to help the retail industry develop to a point that encourages people to aspire to have a career in the industry. 'Many people enter the retail industry as a last resort ... maybe because many Chinese doesn't want to be frontline staff,' she says. 'One reason is because they can't take holidays on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, thus they can't go to restaurants with families. Another reason is because ... some mothers question why their kids, having finished university degrees, need to work as frontline staff and wear a uniform.' She wants to push the government and education bodies to provide more support, including degree courses, as well as setting up a better structured qualification framework and examinations for retail professionals. 'These will help the industry to become stronger and more sustainable,' she says. Ms Mak's other vision is to help the association, which has more than 350 members with more than 4,000 outlets across the city, to expand its membership and to bring together even small retailers. 'There are many scattered and not organised retailers in Hong Kong and we have set up a special membership recruitment unit to woo more members,' she says. 'I think the organisation needs to help its members to achieve better benefits. It needs to act before they ask you to do something.'