Amway China’s Frances Yu on Empowering Women and Driving Innovation
By Norris Tangen
Frances Yu, President of Amway China, is at the forefront of promoting innovation and empowering women in the company’s largest market. In an exclusive interview with the AmCham China Quarterly, Yu discusses her passion for female empowerment and equality, her role as a Co-chair of the AmCham China Women’s Professional Committee, and how Amway is working towards a healthier and brighter future.
Amway, short for American Way, began its China operations in 1995. Frances Yu, the current President of Amway China, joined the direct-selling company in 2000 and has since worked her way up through the ranks of the family-owned business. Over the course of her two-decade tenure with Amway, Yu has held numerous leadership positions across a range of departments, including Director of Corporate Communications, Vice President of Public Affairs, and Chief Marketing Officer. In 2018, she was appointed as President of Amway China, where she oversees strategy and operations for the company’s largest market.
One of Yu’s top priorities since becoming President has been innovation. She shares that she has been constantly exploring new operation models for a traditional business in the digital age, innovating an integrated business model of “digital driven + offline expansion + online social e-commerce”. Yu adds that she has also been promoting the company’s digitalization and intelligent transformation and upgrading.
In 2019, under the backdrop of Amway’s 60th anniversary and national agenda of building a “Healthy China”, Yu led her top management team to launch Amway China’s “A70 Health & Wellness Strategy”. Yu says she is especially proud of the A70 program which establishes Amway’s corporate position as a “promoter of holistic health and wellness” and works to fulfill their corporate vision of “helping people live healthier and better lives”.
Notably, Yu’s leadership has helped Amway China thrive, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic. According to the company, Amway China’s sales revenue achieved a double-digit growth rate in 2022, the highest rise in the past decade, demonstrating the company’s resilience and adaptability. Most recently, the company reported global sales of $8.1 billion USD in 2022.
Women’s Professional Committee
In addition to her role at Amway China, Yu has also volunteered her time and expertise by becoming a Co-chair of AmCham China’s Women’s Professional Committee (WPC). The WPC aims to foster the development of women in business through information, advocacy, networking, and services. It implements events and activities that enhance selected skill areas and address issues integral to women’s success in the business world. Yu says she was drawn to become active in the WPC after seeing the countless online and offline events, conferences, lectures, and trainings the Committee has organized over the years. “The WPC has strived to raise public awareness of the important role of women in economic activities, worked to support women leaders and entrepreneurs, and help them implement more women-friendly development policies within businesses,” she says.
Yu points out that women’s progress is an essential barometer of global development and social progress. As a female business leader, she has long been passionate about women’s empowerment. “I believe that gender has never been, and should never be, a barrier to personal development, it’s our duty to uplift other women and help them to embrace unlimited opportunities of tomorrow.”
Whether it’s in the Women’s Professional Committee, Amway, or other social organizations that she works for, Yu vows to continue to advocate for an equal and inclusive workplace, encouraging women to break down traditional prejudices and barriers, stimulating women’s internal drive for continuous growth, and creating an enabling environment for women to become leaders. Additionally, in March, Yu joined the 2023 AmCham China Women of Tomorrow Summit as a keynote speaker, sharing her thoughts on supporting female entrepreneurs, career development, and promoting women’s self-expression and self-realization.
Empowerment the “Amway”
Amway and Yu’s commitment to female empowerment is evident in the organization’s operations. According to Yu, “46% of the management team at the director level and above are women. This proportion is quite high among multinational or local companies.” However, this representation is not limited to the management level. Amway has empowered more than three million entrepreneurs globally, with 73% of them being women, and in China, two-thirds of their top performers are women.
Yu outlines the three main strategies that the company adopts to reach its goal of creating an equal environment for all. “First, we must create a business environment that truly guarantees women a level playing field. This involves addressing systematic inequality and prejudice that exist in society through institutional improvement and culture building, rather than just relying on hiring quotas and related training. Second, we must create robust business mechanisms that motivate and reward personal initiative, especially in the new era of social e-commerce, communities of interest, and independent entrepreneurship. Such mechanisms should have a low barrier for entry, low upfront costs, and incentives that reward women building up their capabilities.” Yu continues, “Third, we must provide tools and resources to empower women to develop new skills and succeed in business on a larger scale. At Amway, we are closing this gap by offering training and mentoring programs in health and fitness, leadership, digital skills, community operations, and more.”
Beyond these strategies, Yu emphasizes that achieving true equality is a collective responsibility. “Each of us has a responsibility to challenge traditional paradigms and the status quo, encouraging women to realize their potential,” she says.
Women Leading the Way
Contributions made by the group of female executives at Amway China have had a significant impact on the company’s strong rebound post-pandemic. Yu believes that their success highlights Amway’s achievement in creating an equitable and inclusive workplace where women are empowered to thrive. Additionally, she notes that female leaders often bring a delicate touch to humanistic care and interpersonal interactions, promoting fairness and harmony within the team. Yu highlights two outstanding female Amway executives as examples of this.
Firstly, Yu mentions Katherine Li, the Vice President of the ABO Enablement Center, who has been with the company since 1997. Yu dubs Li a trailblazer who continually pushes herself to explore, learn, and make breakthroughs. Yu shares that Li has successfully led the corporate initiative of digital transformation, integrating the company into China’s digital ecosystem through partnerships with digital giants like Alibaba and Tencent. “Under her leadership, ABO capabilities in creating innovative solutions, content generation, and community operation have been enhanced, laying a solid foundation for the company’s long-term stable development.” Yu says.
Another colleague Yu underscores is Chen Jia, the Vice President of Innovation & Science East Hub and Chief Marketing Officer of Amway China. Yu explains that Jia is responsible for establishing the Amway Shanghai R&D Center and Guangzhou R&D Center. She also helped establish the Amway Botanical Research Center in Wuxi in 2015. Yu recognizes Jia’s many achievements with Amway, including her significant contributions to product development and raw material research, as well as raising the company’s influence in technical regulations and scientific reputation. In her newly added role as the Chief Marketing Officer of Amway China, Jia will help to shape the future development of the company from a strategic perspective.
Yu underlines that these two examples illustrate that female managers and employees can fulfill their potential through lifelong learning and improvement in Amway. As Yu says, “Katherine and Jia not only have the courage to try themselves on new endeavors and make continuous progress but also lead the team to achieve greater success. They have played a pivotal role in the strategic transformation, innovation, and development of the company.”
Partnerships Empower Success
When Yu mentions the millions of global entrepreneurs that Amway empowers, she is talking about the Amway Business Owners (ABO) who operate in the 100+ global markets where Amway has a presence. At the heart of the company’s operations and success is the core value of partnership. “Amway itself is built on partnership – the two co-founders, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, put forth Amway’s fundamental values: partnership, integrity, personal value, personal responsibility, achievement, free enterprise. Amway always places partnership in its strategic core.” Yu says. She adds that Amway is proud of the 60-year legacy it has created by building out a competitive entrepreneurial platform, enabling countless people to improve their lives and realize their dreams.
For its part, Amway offers their ABOs the tools needed for success. “The training, guidance, experience sharing, and mutual help among the ABO teams have led to their common growth and success, which paves the way for Amway’s business growth,” Yu explains. In addition, Amway is working to strengthen its position as a “holistic health & wellness promoter” with a corporate vision to help people live healthier and better lives. “We empower ABOs to operate healthy communities that integrate online and offline interactions through which ABOs could provide solutions and professional services for the community peers, and drive the public to increase their health literacy, cultivate healthy habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Yu adds.
Digital Transformation, Health, and Wellness
According to Yu, digital transformation has played a significant role in modernizing Amway’s brand and empowering independent ABOs to meet shifting market trends. She shares that the company has adopted cutting-edge technologies like big data, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing to build multi-layer touchpoints and digital interaction capabilities, creating a business model of “digital-driven + offline operation + online social e-commerce integration.”
Amway China has continued to upgrade its social e-commerce platform since 2015, with “ABOs mobile studios”, “Amway Cloud Shopping” and “Amway WeChat Shopping,” launched successively. Yu also notes that Amway has established a 360-degree training system, providing a variety of learning resources from professional knowledge of nutrition and health to basic entrepreneurial skills. Additionally, she says, the company has partnered with Tencent to develop an enterprise WeChat community management tool, helping ABOs enhance their communication and management efficiency.
Amway’s health and wellness strategy has also benefited from digitalization, creating an intelligent, personalized, and life-oriented nutrition and health service platform based on health-related big data and artificial intelligence algorithms. The “Xiao’an Nutritionist WeChat Mini Program” provides customized health plans, including personalized product recommendations, exercise plans, lifestyle and community activity suggestions for different population segments like adolescents, pregnant women, office workers, middle-aged and elderly, as well as people suffering from chronic diseases.
However, despite many successes, Amway China has also faced challenges in recent years, including adapting to the dynamic market environment, ensuring supply chain security and stability during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dealing with offline events being put on hold due to pandemic control measures. Yu reveals that the company overcame these obstacles through strategic transformation to health and wellness in the era of mobile internet and social community, improving safety and resilience through measures such as finding local alternative raw materials, strengthening local inventory, and accelerating the development of domestic supply chains and agile production deployment.
Through these comprehensive measures, Yu proudly reports that Amway China has greatly improved the consumer experience, ABO entrepreneurial experience, and business efficiency.
Recently, Amway China has revealed plans to implement more aggressive localization strategies in the country. Yu highlights Amway’s commitment to localization strategies, stating that Amway China has been the leader of Amway’s localized innovation in the world. “Amway world headquarters has followed the ‘China First’ strategy and made significant investments in China in recent years.”
Regarding localization strategies in China, Yu explains that Amway is exploring smart organic agriculture, innovating green-nutrition solutions, building out a green and low-carbon industrial chain, and advocating for a life based on total wellness. As part of these efforts, she says that Amway plans to build a self-owned organic farm in China, completing its three-tier farm system.
Yu is also excited to share that Amway is making contributions to China’s carbon emission peak and caron neutrality. “This year, we will release our first zero-carbon product as well as announce our corporate carbon neutrality goals and roadmap. Please stay tuned for more good news from Amway China.”