Before joining New Zealand healthcare brand Comvita, Andy Chen worked in HR and project management at Walmart for 10 years. We recently sat down with him to learn about his career highlights, best leadership tips and how he approaches the work-life balance conundrum in this day and age. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Andy Chen: I started my career 20 years ago in the reta
e retail industry, primarily in FMCG. I spent 10 years at Walmart in HR management and project management. I was also previously with manufacturing company Methven working on the brand side, but Comvita is my first role on the brand side in the FMCG space. The trigger for the switch was in early 2020 during the pandemic, I looked around and I thought about a post-Covid world. I believe personal health is really important and will become the centre of personal spending. Comvita is a natural health brand, and this is where consumers will want to prioritise their personal spend after the pandemic. So, I thought, let’s do it. I started as Asia CEO for Comvita in 2020 and after two years of dedication, the company decided to expand my role to head up Asia Pacific – and that’s why I’m really busy travelling now, spending nearly half of my time on the road. IR: What are some of your career highlights so far? AC: I’m proud of my work on Walmart’s organisational efficiency improvements – we are talking about a scale of saving NZ$200 million a year – as well as the ‘people side’ with the M&A integration. Now I’m also very excited with Comvita. If we look through the most recent NZX report, there are a number of highlights. The biggest one is that David Banfield, the new Group CEO, succeeded in turning around the business in two years from loss to profitability, and I played a significant part in that as well. IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work? AC: Normally, general managers and CEOs come from operations or sales roles. But nowadays there are far fewer boundaries than before. I encourage everyone who is willing to test their limits or test their personal potential, whatever area they are in now, to go for it. Stay hungry and then give it a try. I myself came all the way from human resources management. My key piece of advice is to never stop learning. If you have the willingness to learn and grow, you won’t encounter career boundaries. IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career? AC: The biggest one I think is to ask for help. Oftentimes I tried to get everything done by myself, and it was like that for many years until I began moving up the ladder faster. The higher I got, the more challenges and difficulties I encountered, and I started to think about when and how to ask for help. Don’t try to get everything done by yourself, it’s a new era. Knowledge is everywhere, and nobody is perfect – so ask for help. Not only from your manager or peers, but embrace ideas from others and ask for help from your team. Oftentimes younger people may have creative ideas from a perspective that’s unique to others with solid experiences. Experiences can help your thinking, but they can also block your thinking sometimes. IR: Do you have any business heroes? AC: The first one is Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart. It’s not only because I spent 10 years there, but I like Walton’s business philosophy, such as his customer-first and sundown rules. It means to be responsible and responsive to the customer’s needs, and try to solve any problems within the day, before sundown. If the issues are too complex to be resolved within a day, communicate your WIP (work in progress) to them. Effective and constant communication is how we progress and put peace in the mind of our customers. There are many other philosophies, but the sundown rule has really shaped my personal brand and improved my leadership credibility. My external customers, internal team members, and managers all know that I am always responsive and get things done in a timely fashion. The other one is Koo In-hwoi, Founder of LG Group. I really admire that business. Many people don’t know that LG Group didn’t start out with electronics or household appliances, they started with simple products like toothpaste. I believe innovation is in their DNA, otherwise, they couldn’t have grown the way they have. IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done? AC: I used to have some but I don’t anymore. When I was middle management, hacks were alright – I used to try and get my inbox to 0 emails or stay away from my computer for a day. Now, in my role I am looking after 80 per cent of global revenue which means the team members and job tasks are very diverse and cover varying topics, many of which require me to think them through before I do or say anything. I try to work with strategic patience. For senior leadership roles, we want to be responsive, but at the same time demonstrate strategic calmness for complex topics. I used to mistake this for slowness, but it’s not. Time is your best friend and will give you the best answer. IR: What’s your approach to work-life balance? AC: Eat healthy and exercise regularly. I work long hours so this is very important to me. Even in my extensive and intense travels I set aside my breakfast and gym hours. That is non-negotiable. IR: Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced? AC: As I mentioned, exercise is one, but I also have some eccentric hobbies like weeding the garden to empty my mind from time to time.