The managing director of Faber-Castell Malaysia on maintaining a work-life balance despite global turbulence and uncertainty.
Options: You joined Faber-Castell in 2019. What have some of the key highlights been?
Andrew Woon: It has been very busy. I had reorganised the company to resource new priorities, introduced new expertise with external talent and a lot more automation, simplified our product portfolio, reengineered key processes, launched very innovative products into the market and gone greener, especially with 25% of our electricity now being generated from solar power. Also, from covering existing businesses in Thailand and the Philippines, I was tasked with entering and developing Laos, which is a new market for us, from October last year.
You worked extensively in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) prior to Faber-Castell. Was transitioning to stationery and luxury writing instruments easy?
Relatively as the business models and core processes are similar. At the same time, there are always areas that could be updated with current best practices, like in the areas of forecasting, go-to-market strategy, experiential marketing and more. I am blessed to have inherited a very experienced team who were eager to engage and share about their respective divisions with me.
How has the pandemic changed you as a person and as a leader?
I am humbled how a virus, too small for the human eye to see, can bring mankind to its knees. I also realise how interdependent and globalised today’s economy is. I appreciate that with WFH (work from home), we are closer to our families and the hours saved from commuting can be spent on exercise and hobbies. I feel I have become more balanced. I now think of ways to continually keep our employees engaged while building the sense of belonging with the company.
How do you motivate your teams, considering most are working remotely?
I believe motivation comes in a few forms. At its most basic is fair compensation for work done, so we do annual salary benchmarks for all positions and make adjustments where necessary. Secondly, it is important that people feel appreciated and cared for. A pat on the back and a simple but sincere ‘good job’ goes a long way to make an employee feel valued. In our culture, it is not automatic behaviour to pay compliments, so this is an area where we will improve on by having more coaching sessions and training.
I am a strong advocate of employee training and development, running many classes such as Lean Six Sigma, Agile Methodology, digital marketing and so on. It is important to invest in people. With increased skill and experience, they can tackle more complex tasks. And, from personal observation, when they achieve difficult goals, they become more motivated and move on to more challenging tasks.
Tell us about some of the markets you look after.
In my previous role, I was based in Thailand for six months. I really like Thailand a lot. The people are polite, vibrant and funny, the food amazingly delicious and rich in culture and traditions. There are great historical sites to visit and, of course, great resorts. I would also say shopping but, of late, our exchange rate has not been favourable. I also used to travel to the Philippines a lot. I love working with Filipinos and like their new neighbourhoods, such as Fort Bonifacio Global City. I buy mangoes whenever I visit, very aromatic and juicy. Even the dried ones make a great snack. I have yet to visit Laos as the borders have been closed for the past year but I am looking forward to exploring the country very soon.
Where did you travel to before the global lockdown and where would you like to go once things open up again?
I was fortunate to be able to travel to Kyoto and Osaka for a holiday. I love visiting the historical sites and their food markets. The cuisine is awesome there. My next destination will probably be South Korea. I used to travel there very often when I was with a prior company. However, as those were business trips, I have not been out of Seoul. I would love to visit other places around the country.
Which part of your home has proved most conducive during lockdown?
My living room where I catch up on business news while reading The Edge or browsing my iPad or programme surfing on Netflix. I have made it very cosy and comfortable and it is also the place where I spend most of my time whenever I am away from my work desk.
What are you reading and listening to right now?
I used to read a lot of non-fiction books and magazines but, these days, I just read off the internet as the content is more current and concise. I like topics like organisational behaviour and psychology, data science and other business/financial news. I work out or wind down using my Spotify playlist and the radio when commuting by car. I was a little upset recently though to find that all the Eighties songs I love have moved to Gold FM or the ‘oldies’ channel’. I don’t feel that old!
Describe a perfect weekend for you.
On a family holiday at a seaside resort. We all love the water so we will be at the beach during high tide and later in the pool during low tide. I enjoy water sports like kayaking and sailing and, if on an island, I love cycling or hiking around it. And the best way to finish the day? Indulging in the local cuisine, accompanied by a glass of wine.
This article first appeared on June 14, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.