Home' A Plus Magazine : Nov 2012 Contents she says. "I'm quite outgoing and also quite
diplomatic. I had to look after more of the
sales and marketing sides and the people
side as well. It was a nice challenge."
She acknowledges that the skill sets she
acquired as a CPA enabled her to excel at her
management role. "I think the accountancy
background helps because you know ev-
erything that goes on in the company -- not
exactly in terms of how they close a deal but
you know what business is being concluded
in terms of contracts," she says.
Ebbs and flows
The alcoholic beverage industry is complex,
and much of it centres around the pricing of
contracts between manufacturers such as
Pernod Ricard and its two separate groups
of customers: the so-called "off-trade" -- su-
permarkets, convenience stores and wine
retailers -- and the "on-trade" of pubs, res-
taurants and clubs.
These contracts or agreements cover not
only the selling price of beverages but also
complicated volume discounting and re-
bates. Pernod Ricard spends a considerable
sum on ancillary items associated with its
products -- such as merchandise, gifts and
prizes -- and helps retail outlets with spon-
sorship and promotional budgets for sport-
ing, cultural and other events, ranging from
the Asian Film Awards to individual hotel
parties. "The big cost for us is those contracts
and the investment we have with our out-
lets," To says.
In times of economic uncertainty, the
on-trade tends to decline as consumers curb
discretionary expenditure. In response,
manufacturers scale down their promo-
tional budgets. The off-trade often rises
in tighter times as consumers buy more of
their liquor from supermarkets, but rarely
does it offset the on-trade's decline.
The effects of the global financial crisis
has been less marked in the Asia Pacific than
in Europe and North America, prompting
Pernod Ricard to concentrate its marketing
in this region, especially for its premium la-
bels. "We are spending more on brand build-
ing [in Asia]," says To.
This strategy is paying off, she adds.
"We're thankful we've been quite strong
in the region: number one in the wine and
spirit market and leading the Asian region
with double-digit growth," she says. "We
have to be cautious about how Europe could
affect us but I think we have a plan in place
40 November 2012
using the old type of bookkeeping, writing
in ledgers and only the invoicing was com-
Casella soon became Pernod Ricard Hong
Kong as part of a uniform rebranding exer-
cise by the French-owned producer of dis-
tilled beverages that had acquired Casella in
1990. "In the beginning, I was looking after
the Hong Kong market, and then the China
market, and then both Hong Kong and China
became my responsibilities," recalls To.
The company had upped its focus on Asia
and, despite hiccups caused by the Asian fi-
nancial crisis of 1997-1998 and the dot-com
bust of 1999-2000, had increased its market
share. "It had grown bigger with acquisi-
tions over the years," recalls To.
Not long after the economic turbulence
hit, Pernod Ricard boosted its presence in
the region by spending US$8.15 billion to
purchase the spirits business of the Cana-
dian company Seagram, adding Martell and
Chivas Regal to its existing brands such as
Jameson, Jacob's Creek and, of course, the
Pernod and Ricard aniseed-flavoured aperi-
tifs. "The acquisition of Seagram in 2001
made a lot of changes to my career and my
life, and to the group," To recalls.
"We split the responsibility [between
Hong Kong and China] so I didn't do the
China financials any more. I looked after
Hong Kong, but we had a lot more business
in Hong Kong."
In 2002, the Asian headquarters of the
two companies (Pernod Ricard was based
in Tokyo and Seagram in Singapore) were
combined and relocated to Hong Kong. "We
had the Indonesia and Philippines markets
to look after as well as the headquarters," To
Then in 2004, To became finance direc-
tor of Pernod Ricard China, a role that meant
she had to live away from her children. "I was
based in Shanghai but my children were in
their early teens so we decided not to move as
To came back to Hong Kong three years
later. "I was doing special projects and lo-
gistics for the group. Then in 2007, I became
managing director of the Hong Kong market."
The managing director post was yet anoth-
er significant change for the versatile To. It was
her first appointment outside the finance de-
partment. "Being the managing director was
quite different. As an accountant, you were
always in the back office, although even in a
finance role you do go out to meet customers."
To reflects that her extroverted nature
contributed to her elevation. "I'd say it's
probably a bit [related to] my personality,"
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