AS successor to the Pang Kim Hin Group, known for bringing British baby goods brand Mothercare to Singapore, Pang Fu Wei says humility and the art of managing people are the skills he's had to develop, and which remain crucial to his role today.
At 31, he is now managing director of Mothercare Singapore but took no shortcuts to the role, starting out by understanding the business through stints in various departments, from accounts to warehousing.
Conscious of his status as the chairman's son, he says he also clocked in longer hours and more effort to show that "no task was too menial" for him.
Today, some of the biggest issues Mr Pang contends with are the disruption from e-commerce, and people management.
For instance, in an interview with Prestige in 2018, he had said: “I had to fire someone for the first time this year. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in this job... But I have the big picture in mind, and if middle management tries to stonewall the execution of that vision, I have to sacrifice them for the good of the company.”
Last November, Mothercare put its British business into administration, but the Singapore operations continue to thrive with over 150 employees and under S$50million in revenue.
Mr Pang tells how Mothercare started out in Singapore, and his ups and downs with the company so far.
How did Mothercare start out in Singapore?
Mothercare was first brought to Singapore by my dad 35 years ago.
It came about when we were running a furniture retail concept (brought over from the UK) called Habitat. That company had another brand called Mothercare - Mothercare merged with Habitat in 1982 to form Habitat Mothercare.
As there was no other speciality baby retailer in Singapore, he felt there was an opportunity in this space. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, we operate over 40 Mothercare and Early Learning Centre stores across Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. We also have a distribution company with a portfolio of 35 brands that we sell to over 700 distribution points around the region.
How did you start out in the industry?
You could say I grew up in the business. In my younger years, I spent many holidays bagging items in the stores, picking stocks in the warehouse and designing advertisements for marketing campaigns. After graduating from college in 2013, I joined the business full time.
To be honest, my original plan was to continue studying and pursue a Masters or doctorate in neuroscience. But to my dad’s horror, that would mean another eight to 10 years of schooling. He was obviously looking for a return on his investment sooner rather than later, and convinced me to return and work for a couple of years before deciding if I really wanted to pursue academia.
Six years on, I’m still very much in the family business and running the group of companies in Singapore.
Given expectations of succession, what are some of the skills that you have had to develop and that you think are most crucial to your role?
At the beginning, the first skill I had to develop was humility. Coming in as the chairman’s son, I think many of the old-timers had expected me to behave a certain way. I was very conscious of this, so when I first started I made sure to put in extra hours and effort to show that no task was too menial for me. I listened more than I spoke, and gave respect to the staff who had been working in the organisation longer than I did.
Over the years, the most important skill I’ve had to develop is the art of managing people. This includes developing an internal framework to hiring individuals with the right cultural and skills fit, driving performance, and "managing out" poor performers in a fair and transparent way.
What do you think was your worst bet for the company?
Not diversifying earlier – be it by geography or business verticals. Having multiple revenue streams would help us better defend against volatility and market cycles.
And your best?
Four years ago, we decided to invest in developing our own speciality products. Today, we have spun off three brands – Snapkis, Mimosa and Love Amme – that account for over S$3 million in sales across our group. This has provided us with a great opportunity to tap our existing networks and grow them into global brands.
We are currently in discussions with potential partners to grow these brands beyond South-east Asia and into Europe.
What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
There have been many highlights for me in the past 12 months alone. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the launch of our 10,000 square foot Mothercare experience store at HarbourFront Centre.
The event was culmination of a year’s worth of work to deliver this world’s-first concept for mother and baby retail. Since the launch, we have received extremely positive feedback from our customers and experienced a double-digit percentage increase in our revenue versus the previous year.
Would you be able to share about a challenge faced, and how you overcame it?
Retailers are facing disruption from e-commerce players and Mothercare is no exception. In the face of the inevitable, my formula for remaining competitive is people, process and platform.
I started a leadership renewal process when I first took over the business, and brought in new people with fresh ideas. I restructured teams and redesigned job functions to improve productivity and drive performance. With the right people and processes in place, we were then able to implement the right platforms and streamline our digital infrastructure. This will enable everyone in the organisation to perform at their best, and for the business to perform at its best.
When you are not working hard in the office, where are you to be found?
Because work already takes me outside to all the popular malls, I prefer to stay home during my down time.