Singapore

With O levels, she rose to CEO

Singaporean businesswoman bet on the Greater China market, and flourished

HONG KONG: She may not be able to call herself a university graduate, but self-made businesswoman Adeline Lee holds an even better title - chief executive officer.

Ms Lee, 52, who completed her O levels and went on to take a part-time graphic designing course at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts while working as a bank teller, was hired by a desktop publishing company, Commercial Print, and posted to Hong Kong as a 21-year-old marketing director in 1986.

After 10 years in the publishing field, she decided to stay on in Hong Kong and start her own business in digital printing, combining printing services with ready-made printed consumer products such as personalised wedding cards. The goal was to grow in the Greater China market.

"In Hong Kong, we are so close to mainland China, and the Hong Kong market alone is so big compared to Singapore," she said.

"Personally, I wanted to go home. But looking at the business opportunity and the scale of the market, I decided to pick Hong Kong.

"Digital press back then was so new, we needed a big audience to support this big business development. I don't think I made the wrong choice."

Her company has since evolved into retail design, shopper marketing and advertising consultancy Grey DPI.

It designs marketing materials tailored to the physical shopping experience, including brand counters in department stores and shelf displays.

It now employs 150 people, up from just 20 in 2003.

In 2009, Ms Lee set up two more offices in Guangzhou and Shanghai.

In 2010, Grey DPI was acquired by British advertising and marketing giant WPP, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq exchange in the US.

A press release at the time of the acquisition said Grey DPI's unaudited revenues for 2009 were HK$29.7 million (S$5.5 million) with gross assets at the same time of HK$48 million.

Ms Lee stayed on as CEO, and oversaw Grey DPI's 2012 expansion to Taiwan, and Singapore a year later.

Ms Lee declined to reveal Grey DPI's profit and revenue, letting on only that she runs a multimillion-dollar company and that revenue has doubled over the last five years.

Grey DPI has also moved from its 2,000 sq ft office back then to the current 8,000 sq ft space on the 28th floor of Prosperity Millenia Plaza, overlooking Kowloon Bay.

The company counts big brands such as Ferrero, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola among its clients.

- This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday

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