Steven Wang (SK 2004) - “In Hong Kong, people remembered SARS”

27 April 2020

Steven Wang, Logistics Director for LVMH Fashion Group in Hong Kong and SKEMA alumnus, gives us his perspective on the health crisis, from the major Chinese city where there are now several thousand confirmed cases.


What happened during the first weeks of the epidemic in Hong Kong?

From early January, we monitored the situation in Wuhan closely from Hong Kong. But at the time we were told that the epidemic was limited to very small areas and that there was no proof the virus could be transmitted from one human to another. So our daily lives at that time went on as normal. I was even able to take a business trip to Australia for a few days on 20 January. But when I got back, we were informed of the virus’ transmissibility from person to person and of the seriousness of the situation. The government then asked us to stay home and limit our outdoor activities. We could still go to work during our regular work hours. But on 10 February, two cases were confirmed in a company located in the same building as LVMH, where I work. As a result, our offices closed and we worked from home for a week because the entire building had to be disinfected. We were then able to return to work but with more flexible hours, arriving later in the morning and leaving later in the afternoon to avoid peak hours. It was after this that the company decided to implement rotations during the work week. In practice that meant half the employees worked on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the other half worked on Tuesday and Thursday and then the groups would swap. That went on for two weeks and we went back to our normal work schedules at the beginning of March.

Then, following a second wave of coronavirus cases in Hong Kong in mid-March, we went back to alternating work days. Finally, the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong dropped significantly in early April. Our company is gradually resuming its normal operations.

The government has also taken some strict measures, by forbidding gatherings of more than 4 people at a time for example. So there are a few extra restrictions in place, but people are still allowed to move about freely and restaurants and shops are still open. Schools are closed though, and that will likely be the case until May or June, although that’s still difficult to say with any certainty.


What has been the impact of the health crisis on your employer, LVMH?

There has been some impact on the company’s operations and, of course, there has been a significant drop in sales. Many of our central warehouses in Europe have had to close. Some are getting back up and running progressively, but their operations are rather limited for the time being. We cannot receive new merchandise from them yet, but we still have enough stock to meet the demand from buyers.


In your opinion, how well has the Hong Kong government managed the health crisis? 

I think government policy in Hong Kong is very different to that in the rest of China. From the Chinese New Year, at the end of January, everything in the country ground to a halt: people were no longer allowed to leave their homes, only one person per household was allowed to go food shopping... But in Hong Kong, since the start of the epidemic, the government has tried to maintain a minimum of economic activity by allowing businesses to keep operating and by authorising the population to go out rather freely. So the situation is quite different to the rest of China. In my opinion, these decisions are appropriate but they also require residents to be on board. For example, anyone leaving Hong Kong must, upon returning, isolate themselves for 14 days, but many people disobey this rule and go out anyway. This makes the situation much more difficult to control.


How has the Hong Kong population reacted to the health crisis? Do you see any differences compared to the reactions in Europe?

In Hong Kong, people are taking the situation very seriously, because they remember the SARS epidemic in 2003. That epidemic was very serious and killed several hundred people in Hong Kong. That is why this year, when the coronavirus epidemic started, many inhabitants dreaded having to live through a situation similar to the SARS one 17 years ago. They really learned from that event and so a great deal of importance was given to the measures taken to tackle the current epidemic. In Europe on the other hand, the people had never been confronted with a similar situation, so I think many didn’t immediately realise the seriousness of the situation or the impact on their daily life. I also think that wearing a mask is a reflex that is very ingrained in Asian culture, whereas in Western culture it is not perceived as necessary unless a person is ill. The mindset is very different.


What have you learned from this health crisis, both on a personal and a professional level?

The epidemic is having an impact on the whole world, which is why I think it is essential that we all work together from our respective countries. At LVMH for example, we have several branches in different countries and we are now working together to deal with this situation and trying to help one another. I also think that this virus is an enemy to every one of us and to all countries. So we should be ignoring the differences between each nation and trying to cooperate with one another to overcome this situation together.

Contact: Steven Wang (SK 2004), Director at LVMH Fashion Group Asia Pacific

Interview by for SKEMA Alumni