E-commerce platform Vermillion has an ambitious goal to bring Asian lifestyle and design products to the world. Founder Krizia Li launched the business earlier this year with a business-to-business (B2B) offering, and recently went global with a direct-to-consumer (D2C) site, stocking more than 180 Asian brands across categories – from home decor to art and luxury lifestyle. Inside Retail recently spoke with Li about her career journey, thoughts on leadership as well as other work-relate
related topics. Inside Retail:Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the e-commerce industry, and what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Krizia Li: A graduate of Oxford University and Harvard Business School, I worked at KPMG, Merrill Lynch and McKinsey & Co, followed by DFS Group, Marriott International and McDonald’s Greater China. Having studied overseas for 11 years, you come to appreciate your cultural roots. Being a fan of – but never able to work at – UNESCO, I studied Cultural Heritage Management at HKU Department of Architecture after-hours. As I began to collect Chinese contemporary ink art, I could not easily find decorative items that integrated seamlessly with my walls. Thus, I realised that I could integrate my professional expertise from across corporate strategy, accounting, finance, brand marketing and omnichannel transformation with my personal passion: design and business. Thus, we nailed down Vermillion’s three Cs, not around diamonds, but more around culture, creativity and commerce. We started dialoguing with stakeholders around Asia’s creative ecosystem to understand critical pain points and figure out how to fix our broken value chain. IR: What are some of your career highlights so far? KL: Just to share a few of my life-changing atypical career experiences: working in Jakarta, visiting markets undercover on the back of a motorcycle, in order to buy pirate cell phones for a technology consulting project. Sailing on a half-built 3,000-guest mega cruise ship, while still under construction for three months from Germany to Singapore, and being chased through the night by Somalian pirates. Training in a world’s best-practice Ritz Carlton to understand the luxury principle of ‘ladies and gentlemen’. Working in a McDonald’s restaurant to clean floors, fry eggs, make coffee, and serve real customers during peak hours. Taking global senior management leaders from a Fortune 100 company to dine out at KFC and Pizza Hut in China to study the concept of product ‘glocalisation’. IR: What do you love about your job? KL: Vermillion is making an impact for Asian creators and makers, bringing them to new clients, and helping sustain them financially. I constantly am discovering new creators with a different perspective of the world around us, and feeling inspired by the creators and makers that we work with, who have poured their life’s blood into their work. Being intellectually challenged and constantly stretched by your team with a diverse skill set and talent mix is one of the most exhilarating aspects of managing a cross-cultural, cross-borders and cross-functional team! IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work? KL: While fun, the consumer goods, retail, hospitality, brand marketing and luxury sectors are truly not for everyone. For those who work behind the scenes, there is often no glamour, instead low pay, hard work, long hours, and lots of interpersonal relationship drama caused by strong personalities in the business! You will need to know how to handle all of these headwinds. IR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to move up the corporate ladder? KL: Your EQ [emotional quotient] will be far more important than IQ [intelligence quotient]. Your ability to communicate persuasively, to set a simple and clear vision for your team, to deliver on expectations across all of your diverse stakeholders, become paramount. Learning to strategically structure and hire constructive deputies within your organisation to achieve your business goals, and also how to convey confidence to them with your ability to communicate logical decisions quickly, coaching others through your savvy thought leadership is paramount. As a people leader, not only will you have to start setting higher expectations on work deliverables for yourself, you will also – as a role model – have to set the minimum bar of high expectations for others, in order to ensure that your team will perform collectively on behalf of your clients’ interests. IR: Do you have any business heroes? KL: Muhammed Yunus, who created incredible socio-economic value-add for the world with Grameen Bank’s globally relevant innovations in microfinance for rural women cooperatives in Bangladesh. Elon Musk, who not only believed in, but can deliver on a tangible transformative future for humankind, beyond only delivering ‘incremental innovations’ with not Tesla, but also, Neuralink, SolarCity and SpaceX. Bernard Arnault, who earns respect from his employees around the world, for his effective management, high expectations, but also diligence in ensuring that LVMH Group brands set the standards for the world‘s epitome of taste.