Ms Eva Chan, Vice Chairman and CEO of NVC International Holdings Limited gives her views on leadership, management, Covid-19, and local brand bias.
NVC International Holdings Limited started back in 1998 as NVC Lighting Technology Corporation and was known for its comprehensive and professional lighting solutions. While keeping up with the industry trends and having established strategic cooperation partnerships with many within the industry, NVC then proceeded to collaborate with numerous global leading solutions providers to create signature products globally. This move hence positioned the company to become a global market leader that not only delivers signature projects globally, but also has become a household name in terms of being experts in manufacturing and application of innovative LED lighting solutions.
NVC’s headquarters are currently in Hong Kong, SAR, and China but they also have their footprints in Huizhou, Singapore, Chicago, and Birmingham, as they want to enhance their global presence and ensure they deliver on their commitments. Late 2019 was a milestone year for NVC as they rebranded themselves to become NVC International to align with their aim to become a global powerhouse, especially since their portfolio of brands expanded beyond lighting services.
NVC’s key priority is to become a one-stop home innovation solutions provider that offers multiple services and products to consumers who go to NVC for not only innovative solutions, but flexible ones too.
This is how Ms Eva Chan, who joined them in November 2018, came into the picture. This is how Ms Chan’s elusive career started: from 1998 to 2004, she was the general manager and vice-president of Zhuhai China Resource Appliance Company Limited. She also managed the sales and marketing of global business.
From 2004 to 2012, she was senior vice-president of ETIC where she was in charge of the company’s global business strategy and risk management. In 2012 right up to 2018, she was the chief executive officer of Elec-Tech Solid State Lighting (HK) Limited where the company engaged in the international LED lighting business. With all her experience, it is no wonder that Ms Chan seemed like the perfect match for this company.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Eva Chan (EC): People often mistake leadership and management as the same thing but in essence, they are very different. The main difference between the two is that leaders have people that follow them, while managers have people who simply work for them.
Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing, but they are necessarily linked and complementary to one another. Any effort to separate the two within an organisation is likely to cause more problems than it solves. For any company to be successful, it needs management that can plan, organise, and coordinate its staff, while inspiring and motivating them to perform to the best of their abilities.
To summarise, leadership is about inspiring, while mangement is about planning.
SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
EC: The secret sauce that has enabled NVC International to thrive is culture. I believe that everyone in the company has to build a culture where they can speak up. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, it is important for everyone to have a chance to speak up so that everyone can learn as a team. Conversely, an authoritative leadership style of managing people and organisations can be detrimental to a company’s growth.
SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
EC: An effective leader needs to possess decent intellectual quotient (IQ) but when it comes to building a business, emotional quotient (EQ) is more important than IQ.
SJN: How do you stay motivated?
EC: The opportunity to represent an entire industry and be able to build NVC International as an organisation were key factors that attracted me to this role. In addition, our region is dynamic and fast growing. With the lighting and home innovation sector continuing to innovate and push the boundaries of IOT in this environment, it is easy to stay motivated!
I am honoured and privileged to have been given this opportunity, and have been fortunate to collaborate with a very engaged and supportive Board.
JN: How big is your team and how do you manage as well as motivate your team?
EC: NVC International currently spans 2,302 employees globally; six from the corporate headquarters, 252 from four regional headquarters, 24 across three country offices, 10 from two branch offices, and 2010 from five manufacturing bases and R&D centres.
We work hard to support employees to “feel empowered and in control” at work. This means supporting them in achieving a work-life balance, promoting positive working relationships, and developing their passion for their work. NVC recognises that creating this supportive workplace culture must be approached through multiple channels. Leadership engagement is critical to changing workplace culture where employees feel included and a valuable part of an organisation.
SJN: When was CleanAire developed and why was it developed? (R&D process, etc)
EC: CleanAire was conceptualised in January 2020 as a way to give consumers a sense of safety in their immediate environment and to help allay their fears as much as possible amidst the pandemic. During that period, we were working closely with the Chinese government to support their medical services and construction projects and wanted to put forth a product to help consumers around the world fight bacteria and viruses.
SJN: Where can we find CleanAire?
EC: CleanAire is currently available in China and Singapore. Singapore consumers can purchase CleanAire online.
SJN: What do you see as the potential growth in the air sterilisers industry, not just in Asia but globally?
EC: Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, we should do everything we can to take care of our health and wellbeing. To do this, we need technology that can comprehensively eliminate germs and viruses that we cannot see. This is where high quality air sterilisers suitable for various commercial applications have the opportunity to grow.
SJN: Why do you think the need for air sterilisers will be the new norm?
EC: Given the heightened awareness of hygiene and cleanliness, proactive business leaders are exploring ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors by adopting innovative technology solutions that look beyond the routine protocols such as facemasks, safe distancing, and hand sanitisation. As mentioned previously, there is an opportunity for businesses to tap into this market if the product is of high quality and suitable for commercial applications.
SJN: What other products do you carry and any particular favourite?
EC: We carry a wide range of interior and exterior products across our catalogue and some of our highlights include LED bulbs, canopy lights, downlights, floodlights, high bay lights, multiple lights, spotlights, panel lights, and mounted track lights. My current favourite product is definitely CleanAire as our R&D team developed this. Besides CleanAire’s portability, I can easily put it inside my bag and carry it with me whenever I go.
SJN: What are your views on the economic situation currently due to Covid-19?
EC: The spread of the COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the world. The global economy will recover from this eventually but it will first endure a significant short-term impact that could ripple onto 2021, depending on the world’s governments’ abilities to manage the spread of the pandemic.
SJN: How have you and others in your industry been impacted by Covid-19?
EC: To understand and mitigate the impact on our business, we have teams in place working on scenarios whereby the lighting market could be headed, and which of our segments would be most impacted.
This allows us to better anticipate long-term outcomes and provide guidance to our markets on how to respond.
SJN: What have some of the challenges faced by local companies pertaining to the current economy that has been disrupted by Covid-19?
EC: Economists are currently forecasting one of the biggest hits to the world economy since the Great Depression. For 2020, markets are already slowing down in Asia in Q1, but economists are now forecasting a very difficult Q2-Q4, as COVID-19 fully affects Europe and the Americas. We are already seeing a decrease in industrial production.
SJN: What are some of the positive outcomes that have surfaced of Covid-19?
EC: Through this pandemic, we have been able to find an opportunity to focus more on innovation and R&D. Earlier in the year, our experience working with the Chinese government across healthcare services and construction projects has inspired us to tap onto our expertise in the lighting industry, as well as our experience in consumer appliances, to conceptualise CleanAire as a result.
SJN: Does local brand bias exist? Please elaborate.
EC: Local brands rely more on powerful and trusted word-of-mouth (or word-of-mouse) advertising and this is why I think local brands are increasingly viewed as offering products of higher quality than global brands.
SJN: Based on your years of experience, what are some of the misconceptions locals have about local brands?
EC: Generally speaking, new product ideas, especially good ones, are not easy to generate. Therefore, companies even established ones, often ‘imitate’ other brands.
Imitation is not necessarily a bad thing, as it could bring benefits to the consumer such as improving upon functionalities, image, features, or pricing. Furthermore, a company’s adaptation from another brand will not cause its own customers to defect if it has a strong brand-loyal customer base to start with.
SJN: How can the government help local companies and the like to increase positive brand bias?
EC: Ideally, the government would be able to provide more grants to local companies and provide support in strategic brand and marketing development. This will not only increase positive brand association, but also help organisations better capture target audiences and markets by differentiating brand products and services.
SJN: What are some of your favourite Singaporean brands?
EC: One of my favourite Singaporean brands is Shangri-La Hotel, which I will always stay at whenever I visit Singapore. I appreciate how the group positions itself as a brand and how they strive to go that extra mile to provide thoughtful service that comes from the heart in order to connect guests with their own Shangri-La.
SJN: What is your perception of Singaporean brands?
EC: I think Singaporean brands have that relevance to local consumers and have an edge when it comes to understanding local preferences. With intimate knowledge of the local market, Singaporean companies can use this to their potential advantage can innovate in areas of unmet and emerging needs, maximise efficiency, and be agile to respond ahead of the competition.
SJN: What is your opinion on Singaporean customers’ ability to see the potential in local brands?
EC: Generally, consumers worldwide perceive that the quality and innovative products provided by global brands are the “best-in-class.” However, recent studies have shown that Singaporeans feel valued by homegrown brands and expect a reciprocal relationship. However, there is still room for local brands to creatively enhance how they nurture loyalty and that ongoing relationship with local consumers.
Eventually, a defined brand identity and clear market positioning that are synonymous to consumers’ needs are pivotal to a brand’s ability to capture the hearts of their Singapore consumers.
SJN: What is your opinion on foreign ASIAN brands breaking into the Singapore market?
EC: When venturing overseas, Southeast Asia is often a suitable first port of call for Singapore companies due to its proximity, strategic location, strong economic fundamentals, huge consumption base, favourable demographics, and cost competitiveness.
Organisations often require a deep understanding of how each market works, including the regulations involved, potential opportunities and leads, as well as a suitable local partners with the networks to expedite their entry into the market.
We work closely with trade associations and chambers to support NVC International’s expansion into various territories by embarking on in-market business missions to explore opportunities in various markets, and conducting extensive market research while collaborating with a network of partners.
SJN: Do you perceive that there is greater competition between foreign WESTERN brands and Singapore brands or foreign ASIAN brands and Singapore brands? Why?
EC: The face of business in Asia is changing faster than one can blink their eyes. Asian companies that used to be back-end workhorses, manufacturing consumer goods cheaply for Western companies, are slowly realising the benefits of branding.
Most Asian firms, however, still view branding as advertising or logo design. If firms are to benefit from branding, they must recognise that it affects the entire business – the structure, goals, attitude and the very outlook of those in the boardroom. Managers will need to see branding not as an appendage to the ongoing business, but rather as an infusion that seeps through the very spirit of the organisation, as a healthy return on investment (ROI). In fact, it will require a shift in focus and priority for every functional aspect of the organisation to align around multiple customer touch points.
SJN: How is NVC working towards adapting to the new economy / potential recession?
EC: NVC will continue to offer its full suite of services during the pandemic. That is, lighting layouts, technical support, quick shipment, and on-hand stock will continue to be readily available.
NVC has used the pandemic to maintain an emphasis on building its brand and mind share with representatives, supply houses, and those in the value chain. Even though NVC’s salespeople cannot conduct too many face-to-face consultations these days, the brand remains even more committed to building solid relationships with representatives and customers by providing value and regular communication in unobtrusive ways.
While all of us from NVC will certainly be glad when business gradually returns to normal, we would like to emphasise that we are ready to manage customer expectations and lighting needs during the pandemic.
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