Q&A: Poon Wai
Entrepreneurship is flourishing in China, but it's a fiercely competitive market. That didn't prevent Poon Wai, Chair of Ajisen (China) Holdings, from opening her first restaurant, Ajisen Ramen, in Hong Kong in 1996. She quickly grew the restaurant chain throughout the mainland and now has about 140 outlets.
Q: What leadership skills are needed for today’s business world?
A: First, leaders need a global vision so they can take advantage of the global capital market. The global capital market is not only a source of finance, but also a platform for rapid access to the place where they present their brands and products to investors and are rewarded with international awareness
Second, it puts leaders on the right track of corporate governance and a modern corporate system, such as an international quality management system, internal audit, risk management, sustainable development and good global corporate governance.
The market is full of challenges every day, with new risks and new opportunities. You have to look up and look ahead as well as watch your step. Good entrepreneurs have to create and maintain a core competitive edge while constantly breaking new ground. They need to take competitiveness to a new level in order to stand out.
Q: Does it take different skills to be a business women in China?
A: I’ve always believed that females and males need to have similar skills to succeed in business. As to whether female leaders are more prone to success in China, I don't have related research data and therefore cannot comment.
Many factors make for a successful leader, and gender is not one of them. What is most important to entrepreneurs is that they come up with ideas ignored by others, discover opportunities that others fail to discover and accomplish what others cannot accomplish. That’s what I did, and that's why I succeeded.
Q: Do you have plans to expand your business to other countries?
A: Actually, Ajisen Ramen has opened several branches in other countries, one even in New York’s Chinatown. But at present, Ajisen’s focus is still on the Chinese market, and we are committed to expanding from 500 to 1,000 branches, or even more. The reason is that China has the most people and is the largest consumer market in the world. If we decide to go outside China, we need to study issues such as whether our products are suitable for the local diet, whether the taste needs to change, what the local customs and market mechanisms are, how to introduce talent, how to manage the local branches and what model to adopt, be it a direct-selling store or a franchise store.
Q: Is it important to have diverse perspectives, genders and backgrounds on your management team?
A: Teamwork is essential among our senior executives. Teams will disagree, but our senior executives can learn from others, analyze issues, raise questions, and then make decisions, try to solve problems and drive the business forward.
On our team, we have those who can charge forward, as well as those who are inclusive, calm and think in the long term. There are members who can control the situation effectively, and there are also members who are detail-oriented. What we need to do is organize these different abilities to form a core.
On the other hand, our senior executives have been working together for more than a decade, and we have adapted to each, which is also very crucial. But the most important requirement? Perhaps that the senior executives can be bold and resolute and lead by example. Though some of them are major shareholders, they are still engaged in many matters themselves. They can go deep into the company’s front line, go deep into the regional offices and also go deep into the stores.