Elisabeth TonaMarketing Director, Southeast Asia-Pacific



From Paris to Singapore: how to manage expatriation

What’s your Rémy Cointreau story?
My now husband and I moved to Aberdeen, Scotland —a town dominated by oil, gas, and whisky— for him to seize an opportunity in the oil industry. This was where I had my first encounter with spirits. I had five years of experience working in marketing for a FMCG company in Paris after business school, so I found a job in an advertising and communication agency linked with Rémy Cointreau on a couple of amazing projects. Through this, I got to meet the people of Rémy Martin and gain insight into the company culture. These brands had stories to tell: They were about craftsmanship, terroir, and heritage (something my previous job lacked). One of the key moments was when I went to Cognac to meet the cellar masters, wine growers … people who are passionate about what they are doing. I was amazed by this universe: the link to nature, time and heritage of the brands.

My husband and I then moved to South America for his job. Needing a job, I transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry, which gave me insight on how to handle brands from a distribution point of view. I worked with the Bolivian people out in the community, instead of resting in the expat bubble. It was a great experience.

I moved back to Paris in 2011 and reached out to my client at Rémy Martin. They were looking for someone to replace a Marketing Manager on maternity leave, so I started a six-month contract managing the brand’s Americas activities. Two years later, I was offered an opportunity in Singapore.

How did the Singapore opportunity come about?
I was approached by my managers. The previous Marketing Director in Singapore had resigned. My husband and I had been moving around, so were certainly open to the idea of moving again. The opportunity came earlier than expected, but I said, “Let’s go for it; it’s a new adventure for the family.”

How did family factor into the decision?
This time, it was different: My husband was having to move for my job. Now, more and more husbands are following their wives, as most modern couples are dual career-minded and want to find balance in their professional development. One is always following the other, waiting for him or her to find a place in the new country. For us, it worked out really well, but there is always a period of uncertainty. Everyone has to take a risk.

Preparation involved?
The process was very smooth. In fact, it was probably the smoothest move we had, as Singapore is a very organized city. The Human Resources team helped immensely with the visa and employment pass, allowing my husband to look for a job. The nation is very strict about the number of foreigners they let in, but when we arrived, all was sorted on the administrative end.

I was able to come with my husband for a few days to Singapore once I signed onto the project to explore different areas of the city to decide where we wanted to live. All of my colleagues were very happy to offer insight and tips about the city.

Advice for other professionals moving abroad?
Essentially, it involves communicating your intention. Tell your manager and HR that you are open to move, because not everyone is. The reason for moves are always different. Discuss the project with your partner to evaluate risks and be conscious of them. Along with the positive aspects (personal development, open mindedness, new horizons), there is always a risk when you move. You really need to think it through before leaving.

What tools did you use to make your decision?
A friend suggested mind mapping, and it works. It helps you clear your head. My husband and I mind mapped on the kitchen table on a big piece of paper before making the decision to move to Bolivia. Be very open about what can go well and what can go wrong. Be ready to deal with the negatives.

If you have kids, you should ensure that you will find the education option that works for your family. While your decision should not solely be based upon them, they have to find their place and be happy. It’s a family project; it’s not just about yourself.

Marketing Manager and career path at Rémy Cointreau

What does your role entail?
I am Marketing Director of Southeast Asia-Pacific region, which involves building our portfolio of brands within very diverse markets. Australia and New Zealand, for example, are very mature markets, where Southeast Asia is fast-growing.

There are lots of types of local structures in the region, so it’s varied, in terms of the entities I work with. I liaise with all the teams in local markets. In some, we have our own people. In others, it’s a third-party distributor. It makes our way of working different, depending on the type of entity. I put together marketing plans for the year and determine how and why money is going to be spent, identifying priorities throughout the year.

I visit the markets to gain an understanding of the culture and client behaviors, which is key for my marketing work: from events and product launches, to working sessions with the teams and market visits in the trade … My friends are like, “You’ve got an amazing job!” What they forget is that you are in meetings from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. before touring the bars!

What you love most?
The international aspect. Working with different cultures is very motivating. Thai people, Vietnamese people, Korean people, etc., all have different cultures and interpersonal skills. Moving to Asia was a change, and you have to adapt to each country and their way of reacting to challenges, the tone and manner they use, regardless of where you are working.

Why Rémy Cointreau?
To be honest, I think the signature: Terroir, people and time encapsulates a lot. This goes back to my first visit to Cognac. Dealing with brands that have been here for three centuries is very unique. It is a big responsibility. They have a rich history and will be here for many more years. They’re rooted in time, and you’re just passing through. It’s continuity through storytelling: stories about humble, authentic people who are passionate about these brands. It encompasses the same values of excellence and perpetuates the same traditions.

We’re lucky to be in a Group that is willing to grow and develop their people. I worked in Paris on global marketing, and now I’m in Singapore on regional marketing. There are quite a number of examples of people who have made similar moves within the Group.

People development is a key strength. I would also say the size of the company: it’s not too big; communication lines are direct, and you can easily access the CEO. You feel like you’re “not lost in translation.” Here, contact is direct, which means decision-making is quite quick, and acquisitions keep things exciting.

Since her testimonial, Elisabeth has been appointed CEO Liqueurs & Spirits and member of the Executive Committee.