Unleashing New Frontiers from Legacy Roots

Simon Cheung (IBBA 2003), a passionate enthusiast of history and culture since his childhood days, has held prominent marketing and management positions in several century-old companies, such as the Jebsen Group, Philip Morris and Carlsberg. With a distinguished tenure as the President of North Asia & Pacific for Lee Kum Kee, spanning over a decade, he has now taken on the role of Managing Director at Nestlé Hong Kong Limited, commencing in May 2023.

Throughout his illustrious career at these historic brands, Simon has relished the opportunity to delve into their rich heritage. He finds exhilarating delight in uncovering their historical roots and has an innate ability to create compelling marketing scenarios that are deeply ingrained in a company’s culture, effectively connecting with consumers on a profound level. “By thoroughly exploring a brand’s heritage, we will be able to broaden its growth horizon or enhance its intrinsic value by thoroughly exploring its heritage. We can leverage a brand’s legacy, infusing it with innovation and refining its cultural essence to resonate with modern consumers.”

Finding Fascination in the Great Depths

Similar to the century-old brands he is affiliated with, Simon has consistently expanded his knowledge and expertise. Although his background encompasses the arts and sciences, he deliberately pursued a major in business to cultivate his mathematical acumen and logical thinking. In addition, he pursued a minor in journalism and communication, and even worked as a news anchor, to broaden his insights across diverse fields. Perhaps driven by the belief that there is always more to uncover, Simon has remained curious about the enduring business wisdom of brands with a century of excellence. “If you try to understand a company by ‘finding its roots’, you’ll discover a treasure trove of exemplary cultures worthy of admiration and respect. These often hold the secrets to a brand’s longevity.”

In the few months since joining Nestlé, Simon has experienced a sense of fulfilment and excitement every day. He has been fully engaged in learning and adapting to the culture of the world’s largest food and beverage company, while also focusing on the brand’s growth and connection with consumers. Despite his considerable experience in the industry, he admitted that the learning curve has been steep. The amount of knowledge he has absorbed in these few months rivals what he might have learnt over years at multiple companies. Nevertheless, he has found this journey fascinating. “Nestlé has a plethora of brands and products, each with its own unique DNA and consumer base – from infants, teenagers and adults to the elderly and even pets – as well as their distinct marketing strategies.” He has accompanied frontline staff as they delivered ice cream, fresh milk and soybean products to various retail outlets. This allowed him to learn about the hard work of his colleagues and, at the same time, observe and contemplate ways to optimise processes and operations.

Simon acknowledged that despite the seemingly overwhelming workload, he never experienced fatigue. On the contrary, he exuded enthusiasm when discussing his work, stating, “I genuinely enjoy the challenges at work. In a way, I consider myself fortunate because my work matches my interests, and it feels like ‘paid to play’. To be exact, we should ‘play to win’. We aim to create and match consumption scenes for our products and services, captivating consumers’ attention while also adding social value and contributing to society.”

Simon finds immense satisfaction in every aspect of his work, from conceiving ideas from scratch, planning, implementing to reaping the rewards. He revealed that in his younger days, he preferred to handle things alone. However, with time, he realised that there are limits to the remarkable and sustainable results that one person can achieve. Now that he is in charge of the whole company, he recognises the crucial importance of integrating the frontline and the back end to ensure the business operates more efficiently.

Simon has been working at Nestlé for a few months. Despite the heavy workload, he was enjoying it all

Putting Well-Honed Skills into Action

The longer a brand exists, the more it grapples with balancing tradition and innovation. Simon has a distinctive perspective on this matter: “Innovation serves as a means to preserve a brand’s traditions, ensuring that its ‘roots’ endure across generations. Even as advanced machinery and modern manufacturing techniques replace traditional methods, the brand’s culture and quality remain steadfast. The core values of the brand, such as growth talent and respect for diversity, nurturing future generations and commitment to food safety and compliance, will always shine through innovation.”

In the current landscape of the F&B sector and even the entire retail industry, speed is the primary challenge. Simon believes that, with the rise of e-commerce and the emergence of “interest e-commerce,” consumers now have access to markets all around the world, making it essential for brands to maintain customer loyalty in order to stay competitive. Having honed his skills in the industry for decades, Simon sees this as the time to showcase his abilities. He excels at identifying market trends, creating more engaging scenarios for consumers, expanding product development and extending the brand’s reach. He aims to continue diversifying products across new media platforms to increase the brand’s value and relevance.

Simon emphasised that F&B products should not be limited to a single form. For example, Nestlé’s KitKat® has been transformed into an ice cream while the traditional product packaging has been switched to a recyclable paper wrapper, enabling the brand to achieve sustainable development and improve its competitiveness.

“Innovation serves as a means to preserve a brand’s traditions, ensuring that its ‘values and culture’ endure in the tides of time,” Simon shared.

Learning Ability Fosters Competitiveness

Simon’s deep understanding and appreciation of CUHK’s motto, “Through learning and temperance to virtue”, is evident in both his personal pursuits and professional development. The diverse range of subjects he explored during his undergraduate studies has significantly contributed to his career growth. “Knowledge from various fields, such as accounting, statistics and operations management, is interconnected. By integrating and applying this knowledge in practical ways, one can maximise their understanding and capabilities.”

Looking ahead, Simon recognised that the “ability to learn” will be a crucial competitive advantage for leaders. He has been actively researching artificial intelligence trends and contemplating ways to smarten up the food manufacturing industry. He encouraged students to maintain a mindset of continuous learning even after graduation, adopting an “empty-cup mentality”. According to him, “academic achievements are valuable but they are bygone. What’s crucial in the present moment is the ability to learn and continuously improve. Building personal potential requires constantly deepening one’s knowledge through learning, which allows others to see the possibilities within oneself.”

Based on his own experiences, Simon advised his fellow alumni to remain composed and positive when facing challenges. He advocated for resilience, because “any difficulty or hardship will eventually pass.”

Joining CUHK Business School with a full scholarship, Simon embraced opportunities to acquire knowledge from various disciplines

As a journalism minor in university, Simon worked as a TV news anchor to challenge himself

First published in the CUHK Business School Alumni Website on 10 August 2023, this article was republished with permission from the School’s Alumni Affairs and Development Office.