Meet Antony Leung of Pizza Hut Taiwan

Hong Kong native Antony Leung is a seasoned leader in the food and beverage (F&B) and retail industries, having developed and managed numerous multinational brands throughout Asia and Europe for more than 22 years. In 2019, Leung made a bold career change from fast-moving consumer goods to F&B when he accepted the position of General Manager of Pizza Hut Taiwan, and under his leadership the chain has experienced double-digit growth for three consecutive years. Leung attributes much of his managerial success to his people-centered management approach, love of food, and his team’s unrestricted creativity.

TOPICS Associate Editor Julia Bergström met with Leung at the Pizza Hut Taiwan office in July, where they discussed the importance of investing in employees, how to remain motivated at work, and the secret recipe for Pizza Hut Taiwan’s creations that have gone viral online. An abridged version of their conversation follows.


What prompted you to enter the F&B industry? What have been the most rewarding aspects of working in food and beverage?

I was drawn to the F&B industry firstly because I have a passion for food. What’s more, the food sector gives you the creative freedom to develop local flavors and concepts, so new initiatives start from the ground up. As a local GM, you get to see a project through the whole process, from idea to product, which allows you to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and gives you the satisfaction of completion. The most rewarding aspect of working in F&B is the explosive growth that I’ve experienced. When I started in my current position, I had a lot to learn about everything from food innovation, digital transformation and physical outlets, and operation growth, and I’m still learning every day. Lastly, F&B is a people-oriented industry. It’s a rewarding challenge to figure out how to engage a team of thousands to work toward a common goal.

What’s your biggest motivation at work? How do you work to motivate your team?

Apart from my passion for food, I’d say it’s the growth opportunities, which I would divide into three areas: my personal growth, my team’s growth, and business growth. I used to get bored with any assignment after about three years. The first year you learn, the second year you accumulate experience, and by the third year you’re basically on autopilot. But after stepping into this rapidly transformative industry, I find that I never stop learning. Growth of people is also a major source of motivation for me. Our people are genuine and hardworking, and we coach them to shift from “work hard” to “work smart.” Over the past three to four years, I’ve seen people grow significantly in their roles and witnessed their satisfaction with this. And if you and your people continue to develop, your business will grow as well.

To motivate others, you need to be approachable and communicative, and to ensure that your people know you understand them. I spent my first six months in Taiwan traveling from region to region just talking to our employees. When I do this, I always ask them to tell me three wishes they hope I can help them fulfill. In Taiwan, there’s a culture of hesitancy toward raising a concern or request with one’s manager because it’s viewed as impolite, so I like to challenge people to make wishes. Sometimes, colleagues may say they don’t understand why headquarters makes certain decisions, and it’s your job as a manager to both explain decisions and address concerns to our frontline staff. I still regularly go out with my Operations Director and Regional Coaches to listen to the teams.

We have an excellent culture of recognizing achievement at Pizza Hut Taiwan, which is also important. F&B used to be a very disciplined industry that sparsely distributed praise, but now we organize a celebration after every milestone and breakthrough. Lastly, offering proper training is an essential aspect of maintaining employee motivation.

Who would you say has had the biggest impact on you as a professional? What lessons did they teach you about doing business?

I would say Hanno Leung, my first line manager at Proctor & Gamble (P&G) in Hong Kong when I started working there. Because internal promotions are common at P&G, your supervisor will likely invest a lot of time in coaching you – I would say half the time is spent doing business and half is spent coaching. Because of this culture, my boss imbued me with a strong belief that if you look after your employees, they will look after the business. Some may tend to focus on the business and ignore the people, but people are the key drivers of success.

At Jardine Restaurant Group and Pizza Hut Taiwan, we believe that the customer experience will never exceed our employees’ experiences – if you don’t motivate your staff, your customers will never be happy. But it’s easier said than done, which is why Hanno had such an impact on me. Every week, Hanno’s team would leave the office to do sports and other activities together. We became like a family – the bond was so strong that I really treated him like my big brother, and that brotherhood has persisted to this day. I was the first to be promoted at the time, and my team was the fastest growing because I was so motivated. That’s the best proof that if you take care of people, people will take care of business.

The industry is currently facing a talent crisis. You might find investing in your staff risky, but consider the costs involved in finding good talent – headhunting fees, interview time, HR expenses – and if you can’t retain your talent, you will continue losing money because it’s a repeated cost. That’s why I believe it’s a worthwhile investment.

When it comes to developing new flavors, Pizza Hut Taiwan is undoubtedly one of Taiwan’s most inventive franchises. How do you develop new flavors and concepts?

Taiwan is a crazy food market, and people are enthusiastic about food here. It’s also a digitally savvy market – on average, people in Taiwan spend more than eight hours per day on their phones, which is at least one hour more than the global average. That’s why we started looking at the social-digital sphere to understand our consumers via social listening. We found that local ingredients are the best driver for social buzz here, so we made use of big data to research the most searched-for local ingredients. We then put those ingredients on a table and asked ourselves, “can we match this with our pizza?” Of course, not all ingredients work, so we work with a “fail fast, learn fast” mindset. That’s how the stinky-tofu and bubble-tea pizzas were born. After that, we started exploring foods that the Taiwanese enjoy eating, which is how the ramen pizza came about. Next, we began working with regional ingredients like coriander from Yunlin, which we also picked because it’s a real divider – you either love it or hate it.

My team is truly passionate about food and loves to try different things. They’re unafraid to fail, and they’re digitally savvy, so they’re comfortable with finding new food trends and trying them out. One example is popcorn chicken, which remained in our innovation pipeline for a year because we struggled with how to launch it. But when a team member said they went to the night market and saw someone pair Oreos with popcorn chicken, we asked, “can we put it on pizza?” We ended up adding tempura and fried squid rings to the flaming popcorn chicken and Oreo cookies, and the pizza went viral.

More than 60% of Pizza Hut Taiwan’s orders are placed online, making digitalization and digital marketing imperative for the brand’s success. How have you worked to transform your online presence in this market?

The first step is to build a strong foundation with the right people and the right mindset – a growth mindset and a collaborative approach are vital to adapt to the everchanging digital experience. Pizza Hut Taiwan also invests heavily in innovation. As an early adopter of Appier (an AI-based digital marketing platform), for example, we improved our online conversion rate by 15% by pinpointing hesitant customers and pushing the right offer. Lastly, we want repeat customers, which is where our membership comes in. Pizza Hut Taiwan has a membership app with over four million members, which means one in six people in Taiwan is a member.

How would you describe your management style? What are your strengths as a manager, and what would you like to improve?

I believe that if you take care of your people, your people will take care of business. You need to take the time to understand each individual’s needs and develop a plan that fits them. I strongly believe in empathy leadership – being sensitive to your team members’ reactions and feelings. Some people will have one-on-one conversations but not really listen, which is a waste of everyone’s time. I have a lot of conversations where I just ask, “do you have any wishes?” or “what’s the problem?” If you take action after those conversations, your team will know that you’re listening.

Regarding areas of improvement, I think a problem for all managers is how easily connected we are through direct messaging. Every time I see something exciting, I’m tempted to forward it to my teammates, but if it’s the weekend or after office hours, some people may feel pressured to reply when they receive my messages.

What is your favorite way to unwind after a long week at work? What gets you recharged?

I like to travel to the mountains and seaside, either alone or with friends. Spending time in nature provides a peaceful feeling and a break from all the emails. I also enjoy hot springs, especially in Yangmingshan, and massages. Taiwan offers very professional massages at a reasonable rate, and I believe it’s good for your health, too.