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Wolfgang Baier joins Luxasia as CEO as it turns to e-commerce

Appointment comes after a year's search by the firm for a CEO

Luxasia chairman Patrick Chong with newly-appointed chief executive Wolfgang Baier, the former CEO of SingPost.


SINGAPORE Post's (SingPost) former chief executive officer Wolfgang Baier has joined Luxasia Group, as the beauty company looks to gain a footing in e-commerce.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Luxasia said Dr Baier, 42, has been appointed group CEO with immediate effect, while founder-owner Patrick Chong, who is in his 60s, will become chairman.

Dr Baier's appointment will be key to Luxasia's overall growth strategy, and comes after a year's search for a CEO, said the firm.

Luxasia carries distribution rights to over 120 international fragrance, cosmetics, skincare and professional salon brands such as Clarins, Estee Lauder, Ferragamo, Hermes and Shiseido. It has 11 offices in the region, and hires more than 2,000 full-time employees in Singapore.

In a phone interview, Dr Baier told The Business Times that Mr Chong's vision for the group, as well as the convergence of e-commerce with brick-and-mortar stores in the beauty industry, appealed to him.

"Obviously Luxasia is leading in brick and mortar. And I have expertise in e-commerce," he said. "And when we put both together we have a very powerful combination."

Using only e-commerce in the beauty industry will not work, as consumers need to smell and test makeup and perfumes. Hence, the group hopes to build "omni-channel" retail experiences for the consumer, he said.

The group's next steps will therefore be to train up its staff, invest in technology, and put in place the right processes. "The good thing is that technology is not that expensive anymore," said Dr Baier, adding that the decisions will be more about choosing the right customer relationship management and point-of-sale systems.

Dr Baier's appointment comes a year after Luxasia decided to look for a new CEO as part of succession planning.

While Mr Chong's children hold management positions in the private firm, both had felt that they were not ready to take over the mantle of the group, Mr Chong told BT.

"They felt that the vision we have for the group, with the kind of speed we're looking at, is something that they don't have the capacity to take," said Mr Chong. "With their support we decided to look for somebody else."

Both will remain in the company and support Dr Baier, he added.

Although the initial instinct had been to look for someone within the beauty industry, the group eventually decided that it needed someone with new skills and perspectives, given how quickly the industry was changing.

"Technology is a great enabler for us and can help us get there faster than we could ever" without it, said Mr Chong. "If we could combine the right technology with the right skillset it can be the right differentiator for us."

Mr Chong found a "complete alignment" in vision when he met Dr Baier. In fact, Dr Baier was even more ambitious than the group itself, he said; while Luxasia had set its sight on remaining a leading distributor in Asia, Dr Baier saw potential in expanding to Africa, Europe and the US in the longer term.

Dr Baier's proven track record also made him an ideal candidate, Dr Chong added. "Successful execution and the speed to get there quickly is something I place high priority on. With Wolfgang on board, the momentum will go even faster. Time is of the essence."

Dr Baier, largely credited with re-inventing SingPost as an e-commerce player, had stunned the market when he abruptly quit the postal firm in December last year. He stayed at the group till June this year to support the transition.

Before joining SingPost as CEO (International) in charge of the group's international wing in February 2011, he was a partner at consultancy McKinsey.

SingPost is still looking for a CEO, and has said it expects to name one at the end of the year.