'Turnaround executive' makes over NY skincare brand

'Turnaround executive' makes over NY skincare brand

Name: JuE Wong
Age: 40s
Job: Chief executive of StriVectin
Country based in: New York City

A promising new job for cosmetics executive JuE Wong quickly turned tragic when her husband died of a heart attack just three weeks after they arrived in Atlanta, in the US.

But instead of packing her bags and heading back home to Singapore, Ms Wong stayed on as chief executive at Astral Health and Beauty in Atlanta, Georgia.

"I never imagined life without him. To do his memory justice and to keep his memory alive, I want to do everything I know and can so that all that he has done for me lives on in me," said Ms Wong, who was determined to succeed in the US.

Not only did she manage to power through her first chief executive role, she moved on to another and even made a name for herself as a "turnaround executive".

In 2012, Ms Wong became head of New York-based skincare company StriVectin and grew the brand from US$170 million (S$230 million) to US$250 million in retail sales. The firm had just one product - a stretch mark cream - when it started in 2002. A private equity firm bought it and upgraded the technology.

"That was when I came in and launched a whole new marketing campaign and made the brand more visible," Ms Wong told The Straits Times from her office overlooking the Hudson River in New York City.

StriVectin now boasts of a full line of skincare products that are sold at retailers such as Macy's, Nordstrom and Ulta.

The company had to compete with bigger firms like Estee Lauder and Lancome, but it has come a long way as it is now ranked as the No. 1 independent skincare brand on Euromonitor rankings, said Ms Wong, who is in her 40s.

Working on the sales floor

With the company of 100 employees under her, it is important that the chief executive ensure consistent growth year after year, said Ms Wong. People management and effective communication are her top challenges, she added.

Ms Wong feels that one way to gain credibility with her sales team is to make sure she knows the challenges they face. So for six hours a month, she visits a few department stores to work on the sales floor.

Donning a black apron with pockets to hold various product samples, she stands for hours in the stores on a Saturday afternoon, trying to sell her company's products.

She believes in having hands-on experience, which allows her to communicate and connect directly with her customers. It gives her the chance to show her sales team how they too can achieve higher sales.

With an average sales record of US$800 to US$1,000 in those six hours, she prides herself as a the company's top salesman.

Ms Wong was born and raised in Singapore, Her late father was a civil engineer and her mother a manager in an IT firm. After completing her studies at St Andrew's Junior College, she left for Australia, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in political science from Australian National University.

She returned to Singapore and worked as a commodities trader with Cargill for seven years. It was in Singapore that she met her late husband, Mr Robert Fidler, whom she married in 1996 and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, with. They have two children who are now in their 20s and live in San Francisco.

When Ms Wong left Cargill in 1994, she was managing a global team of traders and a trading portfolio of US$2.5 billion, she said. Her husband was then head of trading in a sugar company.

In 2006, she moved to New York, where she worked for three skincare companies - ZO Skin Health, Perricone MD and Astral Health and Beauty. "My husband supported me both professionally and personally. We could not have survived close to a quarter of a century as a couple without a love and bond that transcended ourselves. We partnered together in our career moves," she said.

"Three months after his first heart attack in 2009, he encouraged me to accept the offer as CEO in Atlanta. He was the one who showed me that one can do well and do good. I am a better human being today because only with his passing, I began to deeply appreciate what I had with him. Indeed, spend time with your family because no one will ever wish on their death bed that they had spent more time at work."


How she rose through the ranks
1. Leverage on my Asian and Singaporean heritage, which are intangible assets.
2. Give credit to all who have helped me be who I am... even with people I disagree with because they usually "push" me to my limits.
3. Bring people along and help them be successful, and they will likely help and make you successful.
4. Push boundaries and elevate expectations. Regrets in life are not about failures but things you wanted to do and never did.


This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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