• 5 minute read

Talking to CEO: Patrick Lee

Chan, Andrew Chi-fai(陳志輝)

Patrick Lee of Inchcape North Asia & China is a veteran in the auto retailing industry. He shares his management philosophy and how to handle a crisis and build a company culture

Translated by Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK

A CUHK alumnus holding a degree in BBA and in MBA, Patrick Lee is the Chief Executive Officer of Inchcape North Asia and China, a multinational automotive retail and services company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. The company has operations in 26 countries across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and South America. In Hong Kong and Macau, Inchcape is the exclusive distributor for Toyota, Lexus, Land Rover, Jaguar, Ford, Daihatsu and Hino Trucks.

Lee is in charge of Inchcape’s VIR operations in Hong Kong, Macau and Guam. Before joining Inchcape, Mr. Lee served as the Group General Manager, Sales and Marketing of Kerry Beverages Ltd from 1998 to 2006. He started his career in brand marketing with Procter & Gamble and has worked in various locations including Canada, Switzerland, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Lee’s experience in auto retailing began when he worked for three years in Toronto Honda dealership and was awarded the highest honor “Sales Master” by Honda Canada for two consecutive years. In this episode of Talking to CEO on Radio Television Hong Kong, hosted by Prof. Andrew Chi-fai Chan, Director of CUHK Business School’s Executive MBA Program, Lee shares his management philosophy.

Prof. Chan: What is your management philosophy? Can you give us any example?

Patrick Lee: In my current position, I always think about what I can offer to young people and how I can provide more opportunities to develop their potential. I would like to know more about my team members and see how I can give them more important roles and responsibilities according to their potential. Some people may think that it requires too much of my personal time and effort, but I believe it’s worthwhile for a leader to explore the team’s potential.

There is one such good example in the Chinese history. In the Yong Zheng Dynasty, due to a lack of manpower, Emperor Yongzheng decided to supervise the national examination himself. The story goes that he even held a lamp for the examinees, putting aside the urgent documents from Chengdu. His courtiers thought that it was not appropriate for him, the Emperor, to do such things, but he told them that selecting talents was actually the top priority for a nation, because if there is no talent, there is no hope.

I believe managers of today’s companies should also care about finding talents for their companies. They should learn from these talent’s experiences as well. Even for young interns, I would be interested to hear their opinions when I have time, because I believe they can provide valuable suggestions and I can learn new things from them as well.

Prof. Chan: After switching to the auto retailing industry, you were faced with a major crisis in the company. In 2009, Toyota announced to recall the vehicles with problematic components. As the dealership of Toyota in Hong Kong, your position put you in the middle of the Japanese company and consumers in Hong Kong. How did you take care of the needs on both sides and solve the crisis?

Patrick Lee: That was an international headline. At that time, there was a lot of speculation on the internet. To protect the interests of Hong Kong consumers— the only way to keep the brand reputation of Toyota, we decided to tell our consumers on the internet that the company was investigating the potential issues and they would be notified as soon as the result came out. Meanwhile, we also decided to call our consumers, asking them about the condition of the vehicles. However, some colleagues were worried that by calling might trigger consumers’ anger since we were not able to provide any latest information for them. Then I asked them: “If your friend is suddenly hospitalized with unclear reasons, and you don’t know how to help him. Will you still go to visit him? ” I wanted to let my colleagues know that if we truly care about our consumers, we should give them a call.

“At crucial moments, we have to demonstrate our values with actions, so that the team can understand and learn our true corporate values.”

Prof. Chan: Employees in your company are from all over the world. How do you build a corporate culture with such a global team?

Patrick Lee: During the calm period, it is hard to distinguish a corporate culture from another. But when a company crisis occurs, it can highlight the company’s true culture. Crown car has won the Toyota global sales champion for 23 consecutive years. Many people in the industry are eyeing the throne. I remember once a fellow salesperson in another company used his way to make up the sales, which angered my team members and my colleague suggested we should fight back in the same way. But I rejected his suggestion.

I told my team that the Crown always sticks to truth and fact. We never defraud our consumers, so we cannot give up our values for any reasons. In the end, we decided to invite several accountants to confirm the sales figures and encouraged our peers to do the same. As a result, that particular salesperson who made up the sales could no longer keep on lying and we finally kept the title of “sales champion” that we deserved rightfully.

At crucial moments, we have to demonstrate our values with actions, so that the team can understand and learn our true corporate values. It is more effective and persuasive to do so by action rather than talking. If I accepted the suggestion of making up the sales to fight back, our culture will be destroyed and it would be a disaster.

About Talking to CEO

Since 2002, CUHK EMBA has been running the Talking to CEO TV/radio program with Radio Television Hong Kong. Distinguished business leaders, academics and government officials have been invited to share their experiences and insights with CUHK alumni and students.

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