BCom alum builds coffee culture in Asia
In the early 1990s, Belinda Wong was pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at UBC Sauder School of Business. Unbeknownst to her then, a stroll in Vancouver’s downtown core — and a cup of coffee at an international chain — would set off her meteoric rise in the business world.
Today, Wong is the chairman and ceo of Starbucks China. She's playing a leading role in expanding the international footprint of the same cafe in Vancouver's downtown where the charm of baristas invited her into the world of gourmet coffee. That world placed Wong on a path to becoming a business leader, and now, a recipient of the UBC Alumni Builder Award.
Brewing a success story
When Wong graduated with her business degree in 1992, she was determined to gain experience in high-growth emerging markets, so she moved to Hong Kong and worked in brand marketing for McDonald's for five years.
When the turn of the century arrived, it brought with it a new opportunity: a job with Starbucks Coffee Company. Over the next decade, Wong would prove herself in a string of leadership roles in Asia Pacific, Singapore and Hong Kong. Based on her success in developing the Asian market, she was appointed president of Starbucks China in May 2011, followed by ceo and eventually chairman and ceo.
Expanding markets and sustainability in China
China is the American coffee giant's largest and fastest-growing international market. According to the company, a new store opens nearly every 15 hours and close to 10,000 jobs are created every year.
Wong steers the Starbucks vision, growth strategy and brand development in this dynamic market. This includes building the coffee culture in China, as well as shaping the social impact of the company. Under her leadership, Starbucks has offered free agronomy expertise to local farmers through its 'Farmer Support Center' in China’s Yunnan province since 2012.
Other initiatives include an employee benefits program, introduced in 2017, that provides critical illness health insurance coverage for not just Starbucks China employees (referred to as ‘partners’) but also their parents.
Wong is also overseeing the construction of a 'Coffee Innovation Park' in China – its largest and greenest manufacturing investment outside of the United States. Once operational in 2022, it will source coffee beans from China and around the world directly from origin for processing, roasting, packaging and distribution.
According to Wong, “We hope our efforts will also serve to inspire the industry, and members of the public, to each do our part towards realizing a greener future.”
Leading with your heart
Looking back on her career, Wong believes one of the steepest learning curves has come about in the past year as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. As a business leader navigating the challenges of a turbulent market and uncertain future, she has some words of wisdom for budding business leaders, alumni and students of her cherished business school.
“We make the best decisions when we are guided by our values. They provide clarity in times of extreme ambiguity, and give us the courage to take bold steps when no one else will. Our obligation to our people and the communities we belong to must always come first.”
A dedicated alumni builder
Throughout her inspiring journey since graduating from UBC Sauder School of Business in 1992, Belinda Wong has never lost sight of her academic roots.
Over more than two decades, she has supported the UBC Sauder community by mentoring business students and graduates, appearing as a guest speaker at school events, and sharing her global expertise and knowledge as a member of the UBC Sauder Faculty Advisory Board. She has also supported fundraising efforts through generous donations.
In recognition of her enduring support and engagement, UBC Sauder Dean Robert Helsley recently presented Wong with the 2020 - 21 UBC Alumni Builder Award.
Launched in 2017 and offered to alumni from different faculties, the award honours individuals who have made significant contributions to UBC by enriching the lives of others and supporting the university’s mission of realizing the promise of a global community and better world.