While Ms Jamie Lim is best known today as the Regional Marketing Director of furniture brand Scanteak, her initial career was a world away — both literally and figuratively — from what she is doing now. As a teenager, she had set her sights on Hollywood, and enrolled in Loyola Marymount University to study film. Though also offered a place at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Ms Lim chose the small Christian college because of its value system and the opportunities it afforded students. “Producers like Ralph Winter (Star Trek, X-Men) would come and talk to us in a small class setting,” she says of her time at Loyola.
At university, she also discovered her love for marketing, and directed her energy towards marketing films. After graduating, Ms Lim interned with Universal Studios for a year, before being hired by Walden Media. “I handled publicity, arranging press junkets and getting the word out about the films.” Films that Ms Lim marketed included Mulholland Drive, the Chronicles Of Narnia series and Ray, which won Jamie Foxx an Oscar for Best Actor. For Ms Lim, whatever she found was worth her effort to do, she would pull out all the stops to be the best at it. “At Walden, the president asked me where I saw myself in a few years — I saw myself becoming my boss, to be honest.” Indeed, things did turn out that way — only not where she expected.
THE CALL HOME
In 2004, two years into her career in movie marketing, Ms Lim received a call from her father, Mr Lim Pok Chin, managing director of Scanteak, who had started the business in the 1970s with his wife, Ms Catherine Foo, Scanteak’s executive director. “He said, ‘I heard you are coming home. Come visit me in Taiwan.’” Her suspicions were aroused when her father picked her from the airport in his Mercedes, and took her to Taipei’s best Japanese restaurant. “He asked me, ‘Are you making an impact yet? Why not do your own business? You can have flexible time.’”
Even at that point, Ms Lim was no stranger to the family business. As a youngster, she was enlisted by her parents to provide “customer service” to the children of shoppers, till their parents had made the purchase. She also would draw up “press advertisements” for the latest furniture, and follow her mother to meetings.
Her father’s is suggestion came at the right point in Ms Lim’s life. She had just read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, which proposes that a person should not work for money, but make money work for him, by way of businesses and investments. “I decided that the opportunity made sense,” says Ms Lim, who accepted the offer, so that she would also be able to spend time with her sister Julie, who was only three at the time.
However, she jokingly adds that “my father conned me. Life wasn’t as easy as he said. I lost 17kg in my first six months!” Mr Lim did not actually have a clear plan for his daughter. When Ms Lim asked him what he wanted her to do, he told her, “Go and learn sales. You’ll get out only when you have hit top sales for the month.” Ms Lim met that target easily within six months. “They didn’t know what to do with me,” she says with a laugh.
So she found her own place. “Teak is old-fashioned. Coming from Hollywood, where everything is so edgy, I thought it needed a change. I told my dad, ‘We are marketing to an old audience.’ He said, ‘But they are the ones with the money.’ I said, ‘Tell you what, I’ll go and shoot a TV commercial. Give me some money.’ He gave me $20,000! What can you do with $20,000?’”
Ms Lim went to her mother and pitched the idea of a rebranding exercise for Scanteak. Ms Foo asked for favours from friends, and Ms Lim hired a creative agency. They crafted a story about a family’s life over decades, with Scanteak’s furniture in the background. Ms Lim used the money her father gave her to buy airtime on Mediacorp TV. When the commercial “Table” was completed, Mr Lim asked, “What are you trying to say?” She replied, “That Scanteak is a lifestyle, not just a product.”
Scanteak’s first TVC was a hit with viewers. At the Viewer’s Choice Awards that year, “Table” was among the top 10 most popular TV commercials. That success helped fortify the change in branding for Scanteak. “Buying is based on passion. I have to want to buy the furniture myself. So, I redesigned some pieces. My father couldn’t see why we had to do it, but I said, ‘Try lah.’ They sold very well.”