Meet the Tribe: Peter Cheung

Leadership

June 6, 2018 | BY Lee Williamson

The marketing maven talks going it alone, the importance of mindfulness and the future of luxury

Meet the Tribe is a five-part series introducing some of the industry leaders who helped us select the Generation T List 2018—a panel of experts we call the Tatler Tribe.

“Now I'm an entrepreneur I guess,” says Peter Cheung by means of introduction, when we meet for tea in Pacific Place after his photoshoot at the nearby Theory boutique.

It’s quite the understatement, but no doubt Cheung is more accustomed to talking up his clients than his own considerable achievements. Ever since his tenure as Hong Kong Tatler’s society editor in the '90s, Cheung has been running marketing and communications across Asia for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands. For over 20 years he worked in in-house roles in both high jewellery and high fashion, representing the likes of Dior, Versace and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Three years ago, he decided to go it alone and started his own strategic consultancy firm, Peter Cheung Asia. So, “entrepreneur”? Yes. But the firm is hardly what you’d call a start-up. Cheung now counts many of his former employers as clients, including Van Cleef & Arpels.

With his two decades of experience, Cheung is perfectly placed to nominate people in the fashion category for this year’s Generation T List. If you’re in fashion in Hong Kong and not in Peter Cheung’s phone book, chances are you’re still a long way from making it.

Ahead of the launch of this year’s list, we sit down with Cheung to talk about leadership, mentorship and the next generation.

What’s the next disruptor in the luxury industries?
One day soon we’ll see a Chinese or Chinese-owned luxury brand really setting the benchmark in global luxury—full stop. It could be in fashion or high jewellery. I see people like Cindy Chao becoming a respected global high jeweller. In fashion, there’s Moiselle [with Generation T lister Harris Chan at the creative helm]. A couple of weeks ago I went to their most recent show. It was really on the level of an international luxury brand. They are really taking a step up and being quite bold.

See also: Meet the Tribe: Joyce Tam

What does Generation T mean to you?
I think it’s great that Hong Kong Tatler is honouring the entrepreneurial spirit. That’s sort of a Hong Kong spirit, as I see it. Lately, the youth of Hong Kong have been getting flack for being a very pessimistic and having a very ‘cannot do’ attitude. Generation T represents the complete opposite of that: young individuals in a variety of industries who are making a name for themselves and making a name for Hong Kong in the world. This is the third year of the Generation T List and I’m sure you won’t have a problem adding people to the list in the future. You’re not going to dry up for nominees.

What kind of value can a platform like Generation T provide?
Back when I was starting out it was a competitive world, but nowadays you really need a bit of outside support I think. The recognition aspect of Generation T is really interesting. It’s useful for a young entrepreneur to be given a push from a respected industry leader like Tatler. Today, everyone can create their own image of themselves in the world, but the authenticity is somewhat questionable. The selection process for the Generation T List creates a genuinely independent, authentic and legitimate endorsement. Something each person on the list, and anyone, can benefit from.

See also: Meet the Tribe: Vicky Cheng

"We're not doing this just to flick our hair and be beautiful"

What are the most useful resources—books, podcasts or anything—you recommend to someone looking to gain perspective into becoming a better leader?
First and foremost, I think a lot of learning is done the fly—there’s no perfect book that will tell you everything you need to know. But one book I’ve revisited multiple times over the last 20 years is Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.                    

My industry moves at lighting speed. You can get so caught up in being yanked in all directions that you forget the present. I think in any industry, not just in fashion or luxury, it's really important not to lose sight of that—to be mindful and be present in the now. Yes, of course you have to plan, yes of course there are problems you need to fix, but it’s important not to always let yourself get sucked into those stresses.

I have two or three copies of the book floating around at home. They remind me to be mindful. I think without that, whatever you're doing is not going to be as successful, meaningful or worthwhile as it could be.

Which leader do you most admire?  
I would have to say my father. He’s a very successful entrepreneur, a self-made man in the field of insurance. He's been in the business for well over 60 years.

He’s in his late 80s but still goes into the office every day. He now has a CEO running the business, but remains as chairman. He has people in his team that have worked for him for over 40 years. He really inspires me because he’s a reminder that true leadership isn’t just for a moment, or for a day, it’s much more than that. His longevity really exemplifies that, and I see it in the admiration his staff shows for him. I just got started compared to him. I have a long way to go!

See also: Meet the Tribe: Aaron Lee

Can you name a person who has been a mentor to you and had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
One person that really impacted me as a leader is the former CEO of Dior, Sidney Toledano. I’ve worked with so many incredible CEOs and designers, but Sidney really instilled something in me. He was all about the 360-degree element—the full picture. I think everyone looks at the glamour in the industry and sees at how fun it is, but it's a business.                                           

He really helped me understand that you have to balance the commercial side. We're not doing this just to flick our hair and be beautiful. He really challenged me. He was not easy on me at all in the years I worked with him but, he really gave me that sense of navigation, beyond anybody else that I've worked with—a roadmap that really fuelled my strategic thinking. He was an incredible mentor. I'm sure he is still for a lot of people.

If you could give one piece of advice to the Generation T listers in your industry, what would it be?
Whatever you want to do, you have to be really honest with yourself and make sure you really love it. Not just for this year or next, but long term. Because if you don’t love what you’re doing to a core-shaking level, you won’t be able to achieve the right performance, consistency or longevity.              

Success is not just about being a flash in the pan—a shiny new star. A lot of people become shiny new stars for a short while, but 20 years later are you still in the industry, are you still at the centre of everything? If you were a Generation T lister earlier in your career, are you now on the 500 List? That only happens through core-shaking passion.

If you could go back in time and start your career again, would you do anything differently?
I think I would take more time to enjoy the moment. There were many times when I achieved something, but because of the nature of the industry I was already on to the next thing and didn’t give myself time to enjoy it. Now I’m older, I appreciate more how quickly time elapses, so I would have savoured the successes a little bit more.  

The Hong Kong Generation T List 2018 is unveiled on June 8.

Credits
Outfit: Theory | Venue: Theory, Pacific Place | Photography: Moses Ng | Styling: Rosana Lai

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