A journey of 10,000 hours

What do star sportspeople and successful career builders have in common? They embark on similar journeys, thinking outside the box and going the extra mile. Kenneth Lai, Buying Manager at Catalog, Swire Resources' athleisure footwear and apparel chain, happens to be both. Here, he tells us about how his formative years as a sportsman have shaped him.

What is your current role at Swire Resources?

I work as a Buying Manager at Catalog. Not only am I in charge of making buying decisions for Catalog, the Converse franchise and our e-shop, my team and I also handle sales forecasting, inventory monitoring and control, supplier negotiations and more. A big part of my job involves having a finger on the pulse of the market and sourcing new brands that will keep Catalog's styles evolving and on-trend.

What first drew you to Catalog?

It's been ten years now! I joined Catalog as a buyer in the footwear department because I was drawn to the brand's hip, sporty aesthetic. I have always had a passion for sports, particularly badminton, and devoted countless hours to rigorous training as a student. I won my first interschool competition in Primary 6 and went on to compete on the Chinese mainland. Sport continues to be a major part of my life to this day, and Catalog's retro styles remind me of what my friends and I wore on and off the courts. They bring back some great memories.

How did your passion for sports shape you?

I vividly remember losing my first official badminton match in Primary 5. But sportsmanship is all about working with what you have and looking for solutions when things don't go as planned. It's also about putting in the hours to develop physical strength, resilience and self-control, which enabled me to expand my horizons and excel at a number of other sports over the years. Even now, I continue playing to keep my skills sharp during my free time.

These valuable skills have helped me tackle numerous challenges throughout my career. This was especially true during the past year, in the face of the pandemic. At Catalog, we persevered through periods of low foot traffic by shifting focus to e-commerce. I'm pleased to say that we're seeing promising results.

How does your background as a sportsperson complement your career?

It's given me a good sense of what would appeal to customers. As an athlete, I can make stronger buying decisions because I understand functional requirements like size, fit and style. This also enables me to brief the sales team on how to promote product lines more effectively.
Believe in yourself, otherwise you'll never know how far you can go.
Kenneth’s experience as a sportsman enables him to make stronger buying decisions as he understands customer requirements like size, fit and style.
Kenneth's experience as a sportsman enables him to make stronger buying decisions as he understands customer requirements like size, fit and style.

What's your favourite part of the job?

One of my favourite responsibilities is sourcing new brands because I believe in being bold and taking chances on small brands that have potential. Call it a sportsperson's gut instinct! Setting new trends is important to Catalog's continued growth, so every decision helps us learn and do better. After all, victory is more than just winning the match – it's about what we learn along the journey.

As a young athlete, I also learned to go the extra mile for what I'm passionate about. That's why my team and I are also involved in product development, which falls outside our duties. Over the years, we've developed and launched numerous branded products in our own colourways, exclusively available at Catalog. We've achieved some major successes in this area in Hong Kong and Macau.

What's your advice for people who are inspired to pursue their passion?

I have a ten-year-old son who loves soccer and dreams of playing professionally one day. He's quite talented, and I'm proud of him! But I've told him that he needs to devote 10,000 training hours to becoming a professional player, and I've challenged him to plan his daily schedule accordingly.

My advice to any career starter would be similar. Set your goal, then make a realistic plan for achieving it, such as taking a related degree. Don't be afraid to take risks and make mistakes – but take time to learn from every success and failure. Most of all, believe in yourself, otherwise you'll never know how far you can go.
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