Inside Stanley Sun’s Frame Of Mind
“My grandfather Sun Chieh-yeh went to Fujifilm Japan and convinced them to grant their sole distributorship to him in 1968,” says Stanley Sun, CEO and deputy chairman of China-Hong Kong Photo Products Holdings, recalling the intrepid beginning of the family business’s affiliation with the photography giant.
The fact that the collaboration is still thriving—only in August the partners marked Fujifilm’s 50th year in the city with a highly anticipated touring photography exhibition called Home—is no surprise given the tenacity and acute eye for opportunity long displayed by the Sun family, not least its current generation.
Since taking over the family business in 2005, Stanley, a Cornell graduate, is widely credited with revolutionising it in the face of the disruption sweeping the photography sector by diversifying its portfolio—to which, alongside the photography business, he has added shampoo, stationary and even skincare products.
Here, the enterprising businessman talks about his business philosophy and what else he has up his sleeve.
How has your business stayed so successful despite its original focus, camera film, being threatened with obsolescence?
We’ve never stop innovating our products and services. Although film is no longer an important part of photography, Fujifilm has invested heavily in digital photography, from digital printing to even artificial intelligence.
Our other business, Fotomax (now run by Stanley’s brother, Ryan) went through a similar digital revolution; we’ve diversified our offerings from just printing personalisation products and services-based businesses.
The cosmetic business started in 2010 with our skincare line, Astalift, that harnesses Fujifilm’s know-how in collagen research and nano-technology. The AV equipment business (AV Life, Life Electric and Life Digital) was acquired in 2012. Diversifying our investments has been crucial for us to keep abreast of the times.
What have been some of your biggest challenges working in the family business?
In 2006 when we were hit by the global financial crisis—that was daunting. To this day we haven’t seen a month like that when no one was buying. Also in 2011, when Fujifilm changed business direction on their digital cameras and we took a gamble on marketing campaigns that focused on new high end fixed lens cameras. That paid off after six, seven years. It was a do-or-die situation in that if we didn’t make a turn, we could see the business going very bad.
What I learned throughout all that was when to say no with grace and dignity; to say enough is enough and you should walk away from something, even you may have been very passionate and emotionally attached.
Have you always had this innovative spirit in business? Who or what inspired it?
For me, self-driven motivation comes from within. A lot of businessmen I look up to inspire me to be creative and entrepreneurial, but being an entrepreneur and running an existing business at the same time is a fine act of balancing. There’re a lot of conflicts of interest.
What is your business philosophy?
I believe in the importance of service, products and technology. Products and service have to evolve over time so they keep the brand fresh and competitive in the market; but it is good, proper and genuine service that brings customers back.
I studied hotel management as an undergrad, so I enjoy the interactions of humans. I’ve always felt that retail business is a hospitality business in some sort. If there’s no service involved you’re better off buying online. People go to the shops because they want to be serviced. This inspires me to look at businesses that require more services than others.
What makes a good leader or businessman?
A willingness to listen. Also, understanding who you’re working with and how to adjust your own personality and management style to motivate people around you to work for you. You can be the smartest in the room but the collective strength is also determined by the weakest link in that group. No matter how smart you are, if you cannot find a way to bring the whole team up, you’re still a one-man-show.
Any word of advice for young entrepreneurs or businessmen?
Never stop learning, and always learn from your failures and mistakes. The same goes for success; if someone can’t articulate why they got successful or what they learned from it, that person isn’t really that good anyway.
You wear so many hats—how do you relax?
I like to cook. If you ask my daughter she thinks I can grill a pretty good steak. I also like skiing, tennis. I've also been volunteering at my daughter’s school doing boy scouts, which I was until I was 16. It taught me independence and leadership—skills I think are missing in kids these days.
I also help out at my university with fundraising and developing their alumni network. I’m very lucky with the position I’m in to have flexibility, and a very supportive wife who handles things at home with our children so I have less worries on my shoulder.
What is next for you and China-Hong Kong Photo Products Holdings?
We’re experimenting and looking at opportunities in China’s Big Bay area and building our market shares. Gradually, my role as a CEO will be to ensure succession with the people running the businesses so I can be less hands-on with day-to-day operations and look more towards future business opportunities.