Sabrina Fung is not a person who approaches tasks casually.
When the group managing director of Fung Retailing Ltd. made the decision a year-and-a-half ago to shed the weight she accumulated from having three kids, she embarked on an ambitious regime: working out as much as two or three times a day and squat-jumping uphill while wearing a down jacket on sweltering summer days. Even the preparations for her interview and photo shoot with WWD had a certain element of extremism to them, like the hairstylist on hand and her two wardrobe changes. Fung ultimately decided to wear two Sonia Rykiel silk-blouse-and-pants combos (one in all black and another in a black-and-white pairing), but she was pondering a colorful jacket and jeans at one point. “I don’t want to look like a Hong Kong banker,” she said, according to an e-mail from a member of her public relations team.
It’s hardly surprising that Fung applies that same boundary-pushing logic to her work as well. The New York-born, Harvard-educated executive and daughter of Li & Fung Ltd. honorary chairman Victor Fung, said her greatest professional challenge is motivating employees who already have highly decorated careers to break through to the next level.
“The philosophy is if everyone’s objective is just to meet the budget, I’m just going to make a very conservative budget — I’m going to grow 5 percent next year. But our motto is, like, grow 80 percent in three years and if you make 60, that’s already way more than the 5 that you intended,” said the executive, perched on an exercise bench at a private gym frequented by Hong Kong elites and their personal trainers — Yun-Fat Chow, star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was seen exiting the premises just before Fung arrived.
Fung spent her early life and formative years ricocheting between Hong Kong and the East Coast of the U.S., studying in New York and Boston. That experience shaped her world view and she considers herself a blend of eastern and western cultures. Fung, who worked in finance before joining her family’s business, said she taps into both sensibilities. For example, Chinese workers can be respectful to the point of being afraid to speak up, but Fung said she encourages them to be more communicative and assertive. Meanwhile, she might remind a European brand to be mindful of the Chinese holiday calendar while doing its planning, she recounted, citing wisdom passed down by her father.
“No matter how multinational we are — you know, we have 250 offices around the world — the way we treat people…is distinctly Chinese. So I always try to keep that in mind,” Fung said. Family values take pride of place chez Fung. Victor Fung gave young Sabrina and her brother Spencer Fung (now chief executive officer of Li & Fung Ltd.) free rein to party all night in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong, as long as they made it back for 8 a.m. Sunday breakfasts.
Over the years, Fung has held a number of roles within the complex — and often confusing — web of her family’s companies, spanning trading, logistics, sourcing and branding activities. Today, Fung’s role as the head of privately held Fung Retailing Ltd. means she has a diverse hodgepodge of assets to manage across multiple price points and formats. She is charged with overseeing the revival of British men’s brand Kent & Curwen through a partnership with David Beckham, just as she manages ventures with Macy’s and Toys “R” Us to develop those businesses in Asia. Sonia Rykiel is one of the 50 brands under her purview, which explains her wardrobe choices for the shoot.
Fung Retailing does not disclose financial information, but one of its most significant assets, Trinity Ltd., does. The publicly traded men’s wear group, which controls Kent & Curwen, Gieves & Hawkes, Cerruti 1881, D’Urban and Hardy Amies, has been struggling over the past few years as the Asian market for men’s wear has softened. Most recently, Trinity saw its net loss for the six months ended June 30 grow by more than four times to 200.4 million Hong Kong dollars, or $25.84 million, from its loss a year earlier.
Still, Fung said she’s bullish on the long-term prospects for Trinity as well as the other businesses she oversees. The company is taking the portfolio approach to hedge its bets and ride out the ups and downs of various market segments. What is most critical is that the company can tap into the explosive growth of the middle class in Asia rather than rely too heavily on any one brand, she reasoned.
“We actually don’t believe in that [brand-specific] strategy,” she said, “because we believe brands come and go in terms of popularity.”