Anyone who wants to be an intern at Lowe China has to get past Chairman-CEO Kitty Lun first.
"I find it fun," said Ms. Lun, who had noticed interns were often picked because "a junior account executive wants someone to pour him coffee, and hires the cousin of a neighbor."
Not any more. She meets and grills candidates first, looking for interns who can later be hired, trained and promoted. Ms. Lun herself started as a copywriter and rose through the creative department ranks, eventually leading several international agencies and even briefly running an internet portal.
She was brought in to fix Lowe, mired in a disastrous joint venture with a local partner. She transformed the new standalone shop into one of Lowe's best agencies and has been working on reducing the China shop's dependence on internationally aligned business from a high of 90% when she took over to not more than 50%.
"The tipping point is when you start attracting local clients," she said.
That includes Shanghai General Motors, a joint-venture between General Motors and SAIC Motors. She and her team have won three of the company's brands one-by-one in hard-fought pitches. For Buick Excelle, for instance, the agency has taken a compact car that sells best in China's less sophisticated lower-tier cities and tells little stories about people living the Excelle life. The small but important-to-them moments, which mostly happen inside the car, include a father who gets up early to heat up the car on a freezing day before taking his small son to school.
"In 'Your Excelle Life,' even ordinary people can have extraordinary lives," Ms. Lun said.
And although Lowe China still does about half its work for Unilever, the agency has picked up assignments for local marketers like information technology company Founder and Pay Pal-like Alipay, with a series of micro-movies about trust in Chinese culture that "turned Alipay from a tool into a brand," she said.
"They were profound, deeply thought-out, highly creative marketing campaigns for powerful Chinese brands, said Michael Wall., CEO of Lowe & Partners Worldwide. "Kitty is an irrepressible force for good, a hustler and a team builder."