When David Au was studying business at the University of Southern California, he found himself spending all his free time in art classes. It didn't take him long to realize that he was in the wrong major at the wrong school. He switched to fine arts, got a background in commercial design, and transferred to the Pratt Institute in New York where he focused on graphic design and art direction.
After finishing his studies at Pratt, Au worked at two iconic New York department stores: first Bloomingdale's, then Macy's. It was after those jobs that his international career took off, first with positions in Europe and then in Asia with such well-known brands as Louis Vuitton, Celine, and Ermenegildo Zegna.
Since January of 2010, he has been chief marketing officer for Trinity Limited, the holding company for seven luxury menswear brands, including Gieves & Hawkes, Kent & Curwen, Cerruti, D'URBAN, Intermezzo, Altea, and Salvatore Ferragamo (for which Trinity has the Asian distribution rights). Au is based in Hong Kong, and his focus is the Greater China region.
He spoke with FINS about his career path and the challenges of introducing brands to a new market and staff.
Elizabeth Garone: You were born in San Francisco but spent much of your childhood in Asia, being educated in the U.S., Japan, and Singapore. How important was having an international childhood to your career path and success?
David Au: It is of paramount importance. As a young child going through changing cultures, schools, and friends, you learn to adapt and win friends.
EG: Was a career related to fashion always in the cards?
DA: I have always liked fashion and have been fascinated by how clothes have an important impact on people. Clothing creates an image and represents the aura of a person.
EG: A lot of people have not heard of Trinity, but they have heard of the brands associated with it. How do you plan to make Trinity a household name in Asia?
DA: I do not want to make Trinity a household name; rather, I would like to make sure the brands represented are important and relevant to the right consumers. Trinity is the holding group and should be known to investors, landlords, and people in the trade.
EG: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about China when it comes to fashion?
DA: That Chinese do not dress well. Everything must be put in perspective. China has only opened up to luxury brands for 10 to 15 years. The first luxury brand opened in China in 1991. When you think about how fast China has adapted, you will realize how the Chinese have absorbed, interpreted, and translated fashion into their own styles. Japan and Hong Kong have both had an early start, opening up in the 1950s and late 1960s respectively.
EG: What are some of the challenges you face training staff members who aren't familiar with brands they are expected to showcase?
DA: The first challenge is to understand the brand's DNA, history, and culture. We need to start by educating people on what is the concept, message, and how the brand can make a difference to the final consumer. The authenticity, heritage, and culture need always to be apparent.
EG: What's a typical day for you?
DA: I wake up at 6 a.m., read three newspapers: South China Morning Post, Financial Times, and International Herald Tribune. I check my Blackberry, laptop, and iPad in order to keep myself up-to-date on messages. I am in the office by 9 or 10 a.m. I usually have meetings with designers, marketing, production, visual merchandising, stylists, and press. We look at the calendar and do planning from one week to three months in advance to ensure the programs are on schedule and are being delivered. I have lunch with my team. I usually leave the office at 6 or 7 p.m. to attend events and [have] dinner with clients. I end my day at 9 or 10 p.m. when I read my daily updates. I usually like to be in bed by 11 p.m.
EG: Of the many jobs you held before your current position, which proved the most valuable and why?
DA: Each job that I have held has given me experience and relevance to become a better employee and boss. I think the more difficult ones proved most valuable because they enabled me to learn what I should and should not do.
It is important for me to question and challenge my staff in their thinking process and problem solving. My role as a director is to ensure that each staff [member] is able to spend their time efficiently solving problems and issues.
EG: Do you have any suggestions for someone considering a similar career?
DA: My advice to anyone wanting to be in the field of marketing or communications is threefold: you have to be passionate about the work; ask yourself, "Do you connect with your boss, brand, or company?; and, "Do you think you can add value and contribute meaning to your team and company?
If all of the above are positive, I think one should go for your dreams despite salary, position, and trivial things like where your office is. Everything has a reason and one should learn from their worst experiences and be thankful for their best.
Write to Elizabeth Garone here.