Alexander Chieng: Fueled By Passion, Driven To Succeed!

Alexander Chieng: Fueled By Passion, Driven To Succeed!

Alexandre Chieng , Managing Director

Alexandre Chieng

Managing Director

Have you ever met someone who has it all to inspire people and scale businesses to global glory? Leadership comes naturally to such people: optimism, intelligence, skills, vision, decision-making, people management, financial knowledge, and more. Alexandre Chieng, Managing Director of Agatha Paris in Asia, is one of those inspiring mavens. Raised in France with a Chinese heritage, Chieng has achieved great success in the business world, from private equity to branding, with a passion for winning. Since Alexandre’s debut in 2022, Agatha has grown triple-digit and gained market shares in a context of crises and economic contraction. But despite these performances, Alexandre remains humble and focused on his goals. CEO Insights Asia is honored to interview him.

What are the critical success factors for a foreign company to grow in China?

China is a challenging and competitive market, so you need more than a few factors to succeed. But here are three that I find critical. First, you must find the right shareholders, as China's market is volatile and unpredictable. Without your shareholders' trust, commitment, and full support, your project in China is a short-term journey that will end with the first difficulties. For instance, in 2022, during the lockdown, Agatha was blessed to have received unconditional support from its headquarters. We have even been one of the only French com­panies which continued to recruit and build the brand when so many others withdrew from the China market.

For these reasons, it is critical to formulate your needs and vision straightforwardly and take the time to explain all kinds of differences be­tween your market and theirs. We’ve been able to do this primarily because our relationship with the French team and share­holders is based on a common ground of mutual trust and respect. Second, you need to build an exceptional team. I will quote the Chinese proverb: 'If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.' Retaining talent is one of the key challenges in China nowadays, and I constantly hear people complaining about the lack of loyalty of their employees. Talent management is the most critical task for any CEO.

That job requires building an environment and a culture where your key talents can thrive, unleash their capabilities, and be rewarded accordingly. Finally, you need to be highly reactive. Your ability to make quick de­cisions is vital to the suc­cess of your business. In China, making a quick de­cision is sometimes more important than making a correct decision (although ideally, you want both). The market is so compet­itive that good opportuni­ties don't last, and taking too much time to mull over will give you no op­portunity at all. The same thing goes for problems. If not identified and solved immediately, you will have to fix them at exponen­tial cost later. Reactivity is a rare quality in most companies because it requires two components: the right to make decisions and the right to make mis­takes. Again, your shareholders have a crucial role to play in your success or failure.

My role as a leader is to recruit talents, empower them & turn them into leaders. Then with the right systems & incentives in place, success will come faster & bigger than you would think

Describe your approach to leadership.

Good leadership gets everyone to work at the same pace and in the same direction. I believe it works better by fostering leaderships rather than leader­ship. When a system relies on a single individual, the business is more exposed to weakness and fra­gility. It also affects teamwork as people tend to work for one person rather than for a community. For these reasons, we have built an environment where everyone can lead, rather than concentrating the role on one person. For instance, everyone in our organization can ini­tiate and lead a work­ing session, when the meeting aims at clar­ifying, unifying, or simplifying, the atten­dance of top manage­ment is compulsory. That led to situations where a young intern could initiate group work in the presence of the CEO. This is uncommon in China, where such initiatives are usually done from top to bottom management. But miracles happen when everyone works towards and according to company values and not to one leader's will. Without the heavy weight of hierarchy, your team starts to contribute, feel appreciated, and take full ownership of their action. Instead of work­ing for one boss, they work for a group of people with common goals. That's my vision of leadership.

What methods have you implemented to foster a learning culture in your team to win?

Having great products, campaigns, and people is es­sential, but great systems drive success. As a leader for the Asian region, my primary focus is recruiting exceptional individuals and implementing proce­dures to develop teamwork and continuous improve­ment habits. One crucial aspect of building a successful team is recognizing that no single person, product, or ac­tion can make all the difference. Therefore, we aim to create an environment that fosters collaboration and develops effective systems and processes rather than relying on the heroics of one individual.

"Good leadership gets everyone to work at the same pace & in the same direction"

This comes at a price. If you want your team to take initiative and learn from mistakes, you must be prepared for them to make mistakes while being ac­countable for them. Here is where trust comes into the equation. You will only succeed if you and your team believe in the system's stability and people. Our CEO and President, Romain PENINQUE, start­ed his career in a retail shop as a salesman twenty years ago and climbed all the ladders to the top to lead a billion-dollar business. The same goes for oth­er key members of the group, who have dedicated a big part of their professional life to the company. That sets an example for other employees because it shows that the system works and relies on a stable group of leaders.

Could you share your vision for Agatha's future direction over the next five years?

The success of Agatha Paris in Asia depends on the success of its branding, which takes time. Thankful­ly, we are here for the long run, and as such, we have the luxury to plan for the next 5-10 years. As one of my mentors taught me, we overestimate what could be done with­in a year but clear­ly underestimate what could be achieved within 10 years. In oth­er words, instead of rushing into short-term successes, we focus on strengthening the brand, the team, and the system. We have ag­gressive targets and KPIs with triple digits growth in China, but I am more interested in elevating the brand rather than selling its products to everyone. For instance, we had last year a powerful distributor who offered us a partnership to open 200 shops with­in three years. That would have been a no-brainer for most people, but we believed that both the brand and the team were not ready for such expansion, so we declined the offer. It was not an easy choice, but I know that opportunities and momentum will keep multiplying as long as we keep elevating our brand.

Besides China, we also want to expand in Asia. We plan to establish a strong presence in devel­oped countries such as Japan, Korea, and Singapore, while also focusing on developing markets like In­dia and Indonesia, which will play a significant role in our growth in the future. But here again, there are prerequisites to consider before opening a new market. Abraham Lincoln said: 'Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe'. If I want to succeed in a coun­try like Japan or India, I want to spend my first four hours finding the right partners to grow and build a sustainable business with us. That is easier said than done, and I know we will encounter failures and disappointments in the short term. But we know it is only a matter of time before we find the right partners in order to lay the foundations for the next decades of success.

Alexander Chieng, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, PKU 2004, Agatha Paris

Alexandre Has Three Passions, Poker, Food, And Family. He Is The Asia Pacific Poker Tournament Champion (2013), A Sport That Requires Focus, Competitiveness, And The Ability To Make Good Decisions Under Pressure. Alexandre Also Has A Passion For Cooking, Especially Fusion Tapas, A Cuisine That Allows Him To Unleash The Best Of His Eastern And Western Heritage. And Finally, He Spends Most Of His Spare Time With His Family Because "Raising A Happy Family Is So Much More Complex Than Building A Successful Business."



Current Issue