Claire Chiang achieved a goal she set as a fresh graduate upon becoming Managing Director at Moët Hennessy Taiwan in 2021. From joining a fraternity during her MBA studies to expanding her network beyond her industry, Chiang has consistently maintained a people-oriented mindset in both her personal and professional life, a factor she contributes to her success.
Throughout her career, Chiang has led teams and driven growth in the consumer, luxury goods, and food and beverage industries, working for iconic brands like 3M, Chanel, and Diageo. She is now focusing on helping others get ahead in their careers.
TOPICS Senior Editor Julia Bergström met with Chiang at the Ghost Island Media recording studio in early December to discuss networking, the art of identifying trends, and the importance of always looking from the outside in. An abridged version of their conversation follows. Listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
How did you get your start in the food and beverage industry?
When I graduated from school, I had already set the goal of becoming a general manager of a multinational company (MNC). I wanted the product I was promoting to be something I was passionate about. From there, I realized I needed to have solid career planning.
I started out at Quaker Oats, working in marketing, learning how to identify consumer needs and develop strategies to fulfill the company’s goal. After a while, I realized that to be a general manager or managing director for an MNC, you need to have sales rep experience. Accumulating sales experience is important to understanding consumer needs, driving new opportunities, and learning how to grow revenue. So I volunteered to move into sales to build sales skills and develop my negotiation and interpersonal skills.
My next experience was in 3M, which is a great U.S. company. That experience taught me about creating new products and developing quality processes. As much as I loved working at 3M, I started developing a passion for wine and wine tasting. I went to some tasting events and engaged with people in the alcoholic beverages industry. Through those interactions, I met a headhunter who asked me if I was interested in joining the industry, and that’s when I moved on to Diageo.
You earned your MBA at the University of Buffalo, New York. What part of that experience had the greatest impact on you?
My MBA years were the first time I lived outside Taiwan. I had to learn how to adapt to a new culture and new environment, so I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and even joined a fraternity.
The initial process is quite tough because your brothers and sisters want to make sure you really want to join, so they kind of bully you and challenge you before you finally make your pledge. But it was a great experience that pushed me to improve my English and get to know different people’s points of view. I’m still in touch with a lot of my brothers and sisters to this day.
How do you keep up with trends in your industry? What trends can we expect in Taiwan’s food and beverage sector in the next couple of years?
Always think from the outside in. A company will usually find that it cannot grow further if it always focuses on itself. Look at macro trends and really pay attention to consumer needs before you go back to your company, examine your resources, and identify how your products or services can fulfill future needs.
Social media has made it much easier to identify trends. I know a lot of senior leaders around me who don’t use Instagram, and some people don’t have TikTok. If you want to engage with young and even middle-aged people, you need to be on social media and learn market trends. Make sure you engage with all the key influencers in your industry and follow key podcasts to push yourself to learn. Stay humble, stay hungry, and keep learning. Don’t only talk to the people from your own industry.
Over the next couple of years, I expect Taiwan to continue blending tradition with innovation. At the same time, an increasing number of F&B players are developing unique and creative fusions of local favorites. Consumers are also increasingly focusing on health and sustainability.
Most of our consumers are millennials or Gen Z. For these demographics, creating a unique experience is vital. The presentation of your product needs to be outstanding so that they’ll want to showcase it on social media.
How important has having mentors been to your career progression? What inspired you to want to coach others?
Having a mentor is so important, and I’m lucky to have worked under a lot of great leaders over the past 23 years. It’s important to realize, however, that if a mentor figure can’t provide you with positive coaching, they’re not really a mentor. You’ll need some luck and good chemistry with your boss or supervisor to be effectively mentored. I’ve always tried to mentor myself and actively seek out role models who I can learn from.
When I was young, my priority was to increase my income. But after becoming a people manager, I realized that the source of my happiness was the people I worked with – to see them grow and develop. That’s when I found my calling as a coach.
During the past few months, I’ve been working toward becoming a certified Global Strategy Career Planning Consultant. I took a course that taught me how to guide people to find their necessary courses of action and implement a holistic view of their career strategy planning.
What can people do to create more career opportunities for themselves?
Opportunity arises for people who are ready. When you plan your career, you need to first look at external factors – what are the upcoming trends, and how can your unique skillset fulfill future needs? Then, you need to look at yourself. Figure out what you like and where your strengths lie. What are your priorities in terms of income? What’s your passion? What’s your skillset? And perhaps most importantly, what are your values?
You’ll need to actively capture opportunities, and the fastest way to do that is through networking. Try to engage with different people through LinkedIn and social events. If you give yourself more opportunities to connect with a broader spectrum of people, you’ll find that you can learn a lot from people in different career stages and industries.
What qualities and capabilities are important factors for success in the food and beverage industry?
Firstly, you need to have a passion for F&B. Secondly, you need to have great people skills and empathy. This is a people industry above all else. Having solid storytelling skills is also extremely important – you need to be able to create an enticing brand and product story. Related to storytelling is an eye for detail. Details that enhance execution and consumer experiences will be a determining factor for whether people remember your brand.
You also need to understand pull and push powers. Pull power refers to your ability to attract consumers and create a strong brand desire, making sure they want to purchase your product. It’s about drawing them in and building that desire. On the other hand, push power involves understanding your value chain. You need to identify the people or entities within your value chain and determine whether they are willing to actively promote and support your product.
Is there a particular event that changed how you manage people?
I became a people manager at the age of 30. I was a young female leader in an environment where most of my colleagues were older and male. To survive I needed to be outspoken and strong, and I quite harshly pushed my team to reach their sales goals.
Four years later, I became a mom and that completely changed how I managed people. Whether it’s kids or colleagues, when they encounter problems, they genuinely need assistance. Issues that arise from personal challenges or a lack of necessary skills can only be solved with the help and support of the leader or boss. Prior to this realization, I was more focused on achieving results, often neglecting my team’s needs. Now, when my team faces issues, I prioritize sitting down with them to understand the issues and find solutions.
How do you foster a positive and constructive company culture?
It all begins with the behavior and interactions of my team. I need to make sure that all the people managers working with me share the same mindset and willingness to improve the organization. Teamwork is essential. I also regularly ask my team about their career goals before identifying what I can do to support them in reaching those goals.
Many leaders often claim that they’re good listeners. But unfortunately, a lot of leaders – especially senior leaders – already have an answer in their minds before they’ve finished listening to someone else’s point of view. You have to actually listen to your teammates’ concerns and ideas and take them into consideration. Just hearing them out and keeping course is not good enough.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I used to be a marathon runner. In the past 10 years, I woke up at six o’clock and ran at least five or six kilometers every day. I’ve finished eight full marathons, my favorite being the Mt. Fuji marathon. But recently, because I have some issues with my spine, I’ve started cycling and doing Pilates instead.