In 2013, Fu Wei Pang, a YPO member, graduated with degrees in neuroscience and behavioral biology, and Chinese language and culture from Emory University in Atlanta. He was headed into a science career.
Appreciating the rigor of academia, he wanted to pursue his Ph.D.
That’s when his father persuaded Pang to return to Singapore and join the family business. But it wasn’t an easy transition.
“Unlike the sciences, business is very dynamic — 50% data and 50% gut,” says Pang, group managing director of private holding company, Kim Hin International (KHI). “I was very uncomfortable with this in the beginning as my background trained me make decisions backed by robust data. However, in business you have to be comfortable with incomplete data and fill in the gaps with your intuition.”
At that time, KHI operated 35 retail locations of Mothercare and ELC, and had a distribution portfolio of more than 20 mother and baby brands.
Learning from frontlines
Pang knew the best way to learn the family business was to work at the flagship store in Singapore. There, he would get to know the products and the customers who bought them.
Coming back from the U.S., he was extra careful not to come across as self-important.
“I wanted the staff to know I was willing to work hard. Respect has to be earned, and I did not take my position as the chairman’s son for granted,” Pang says. “It’s important to be humble because you can learn something from anyone. The moment you think you know better, your mind closes off, and I knew I had a lot to learn.”
He worked for over a year at the flagship store, coming in nearly every day for a month in some stretches. He barely took a day off.
You lead by example. Leaders need to step up and be the ones who live and breathe the [company’s] values day in and day out. ”
— Fu Wei Pang, Managing Director at Mothercare (S) Pte Ltd share
“Operations is the heart of retail,” he said. “My time in the frontline laid a strong foundation for me to move on to other functions within the business.”
Leading with humility
There’s a lesson every time someone speaks.
“You need to distill the lesson in everyone’s statement,” Pang says. “You have to look at it very objectively. If someone is facing a problem, you as a leader should help solve it. If it’s a customer issue and you solve their problem, you’ll win their loyalty. If it’s an internal issue and your fix it, it’ll improve productivity and your bottom line.”
Advice Pang has for fellow business leaders:
- Listen more than you speak. To grow as a leader, you must transition to take in information, process it, and decide the right course of action.
- Be humble. Recognize the people working for you are there for a reason. It doesn’t matter their position; you can always tap their experience.
- Building a healthy work culture needs to start from the top. You set the tone.
- Define the organization’s values. These just can’t be nice statements on a wall. It needs to guide the business. The company’s values must be incorporated into your processes, KPIs and decision-making. Explain the bigger picture to your employees.
Leading in crisis
COVID-19 certainly presented challenges to the business environment. Stores indefinitely had to close.
Pang said KHI’s values – unite, nurture, honor and integrity – helped guide many critical decisions during this difficult time.
“I had to make a painful decision to reduce staff salaries for a short period,” he says. “We would rather everyone suffer a little bit than one person suffer a lot. We are all a family. We are in this together.”
So, Pang held a town hall, speaking transparently about the situation. There was a strain on the organization, but if they addressed it now — it would be OK in the end.
Management took the biggest pay cuts. Pang took the largest. To protect the company’s most vulnerable staff, low wage employees suffered no cuts. KHI expects to be profitable at the end of the year, and pay cuts are planned to be reversed at the end of the financial year.
“You lead by example,” says Fu Wei Pang, group managing director with private holding company, KHI. “Leaders need to step up and be the ones who live and breathe the [company’s] values day in and day out.