The Value of Independence
When Viveca Chan (BBA ’76), chairman and chief executive officer of WE Marketing Group, arrived at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, it was her first time away from her Hong Kong home. “At that time, there was no Internet, and long distance calls were expensive,” says Chan. “I had to learn to live on my own in a new culture. In Wisconsin, I learned to be independent and self-confident.”
In addition to learning independence, Chan also learned the importance of being able to engage with individuals from different backgrounds. “I remember working at the Badger Herald as a sales rep,” says Chan. “I was afraid, but as I got to know more clients of various backgrounds, I became much more self-confident and outgoing.”
After graduation in 1976, Chan returned to Hong Kong to work on large multinational accounts at an international ad agency. In the beginning, she relied on what she’d learned at the Wisconsin School of Business: “I often referenced my advertising, marketing, and media books on my client projects.”
Two years later, Chan was offered a choice: continue to move up the ladder at the Hong Kong agency or join her previous bosses who were starting a new agency. Chan took the road less traveled, and her independence paid off. The agency, which was acquired by Grey Global Group six months after its opening, became one of the most successful local agencies in Hong Kong.
— Viveca Chan (BBA ’76) Chairman and CEO, WE Marketing Group
“It was a great experience to work with a startup of 12 people and build it to a multi-discipline company and a leading agency in Hong Kong and China,” Chan says. “I worked with Grey Global Group for over 25 years, and the company gave me a lot of opportunities to grow.”
She rose to chairman and CEO in the 1990s, building new capabilities such as public relations, event marketing, interactive, Internet advertising, and customer relationship management. Chan even initiated the first TV ratings research in China with A.C. Nielsen.
When her husband was offered a job in Canada, she decided to move the whole family without fear. “I immigrated to Canada in the 1980s, and got back into advertising with Grey and DDB right away,” says Chan. “The experience of working in North America on multinational businesses gave me good grounding when China opened up in 1989. I was in a great position because I understood international business practices, as well as being Chinese.”
Fortified by multinational experience and the ability to thrive in different cultures, Chan joined the first generation of advertising executives to enter the China market with Grey Global Group. During this time, she helped launch numerous leading international brands in China, including Pantene, Lancôme, and Wrigley’s chewing gum.
In 2005, Grey was acquired by advertising giant WPP, and Chan decided to strike out on her own. She started a new company, WE Marketing Group, with several working partners. “With China being the second largest advertising market in the world, I thought there should be a Chinese-owned global agency,” she says.
WE Marketing Group has grown from seven people to
people in two years.
Chan says the name WE combines the best aspects of Eastern and Western culture and also supports an idea of inclusivity. “Our competitive edge is combining extensive multinational client experience and local market insights,” she says.
The company has grown from seven people to 400, in part because of Chan’s ability to act quickly to capture new market opportunities. WE was one of the first agencies to develop expertise in growing areas like social media and e–commerce, and added these key services before its competitors. In short, Chan’s ability to be a first mover in digital marketing for the China market has positioned WE as a one–stop shop for U.S. companies that want to enter the region.
“There are still a lot of quality medium–sized U.S. brands wanting to enter the China market,” Chan says. “In the past, their biggest hurdle was getting distribution. With e–commerce, we can now help them build their brand, drive traffic and engagement via digital and social, and sell via e–commerce.”
Today, she is proud that WE Marketing Group has become the leading independent ad agency in China, and she continues to give back to the WSB as a Dean’s Advisory Board member, a Weikel speaker, and a grateful alumna. In addition to the value of independence, Chan learned key lessons that have served her well throughout her career: “Dare to do things that have not been done before. Don’t be afraid to be the first to do something. Be results driven, look ahead, and act on opportunities.”
Viveca Chan (BBA ’76) Chairman and CEO, WE Marketing Group