Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer

A S Watson
by Patrick Chiu (Author)
Buy for $46.00 Excerpt

A S Watson Group (ASW), its health and beauty retail arm commonly known as 'Watsons' in Asia, traces its humble beginnings back to a matshed colonial apothecary shop called the Hong Kong Dispensary (the 'Dispensary') when it was set up back in 1841. This book unlocks the secrets and transformations of ASW from a colonial chemist to the number three global player in health and beauty retailing. How was ASW able to pull through each and every global or national crisis it faced in the 180 years to emerge more robust and vibrant?

In Part One of this book, Patrick vividly describes Watson's globalization journey over the past 180 years. He details how Watsons survived the waves of social unrest, civil wars, global financial turmoil, political crisis, and pandemics that confronted the world. One of the most exciting developments in this history took place from 1999 to 2006 when ASW achieved quantum leaps and consolidated its position as a leading global drug store chain under Wade's leadership.

In Part Two of this book, Patrick analyzes the corporate management practices of Watson. He articulates Andrew Chi-Fai Chan's 'Left-and-Right Circles' theory behind Ian Wade's branding strategy. He further draws upon Wade's other 'Prosperity Strategies' in parallel with the '4+2' Formula' advocated by Nitin Nohria et al. Over the past fourteen years, the global market has undergone tremendous changes in China, Asia, and Europe. And with it, ASW has undertaken a pragmatic growth approach to dodge the headwinds of the subprime mortgage crisis, the Eurozone crisis, China-US decoupling, Brexit, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.


  • From Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer:
    • 1841–1896: The Birth of A S Watson: Initial Public Offering and Opium Substitutes
    • 1897–1941: The End of the Qing Empire: Turbulent Sailing in Republican Times
    • 1942–1981: Japanese Occupation and Post WWII Era: Diversification and Privatisation
    • 1982–1988: New Leadership: The First Leg of Geographical Expansion
    • 1989–1998: Overheating Economy: The Asian Economic Crisis
    • 1999–2001: Y2K, SARS and Dual Springboards into the UK: Powwow and Savers
    • 2002–2003: A Quantum Leap for the Continent: Kruidvat, Superdrug
    • 2004–2006: Dirk Rossmann GmbH, and Enlarging the Beauty Business Portfolio: Marionnaud and The Perfume Shop, and the Emerging Markets
    • 2007–2021: Organic Growth: One Crisis After Another
  • Best Practice Management and the New Retail Era:
    • The Three Britons: Who Changed the Destiny of AS Watson
    • Li Ka Shing, 'Wangdao', and From Good to Great
    • ASW Business Model, Sustainable and Profitable Strategies
    • Consumer Trending, E-Commerce, and New Retail: Delighting the Millennials and Gen-Z
    • Temasek, India, and the Post-COVID-19 Era

Readership: Academics, undergraduate and graduate students, professionals, and policymakers interested in the history of China and Britain's former colony of Hong Kong as well as the strategic growth of Watsons and the health and beauty retail markets in Asia and Europe.

Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson is a must read for all business leaders in the FMCG, retail and service industries. Patrick provides an independent and impartial view in unlocking the DNAs of Watson's The Chemist with real cases of current and past leaders and strategies. From the humble beginnings of the Canton Dispensary in 1828, ASW has survived global financial crises, pandemics, wars and revolutions. Its fusion of Wangdao and best practice management in driving the ASW brands of Kruidvat, Marionnaud, Rossmann, Savers, Superdrug, Watsons and others in China, Asia, Europe and the UK could be a model for aspiring global retailers. ASW is currently the global #1 health and beauty retailer with over 130,000 employees operating 16,200 stores in 27 markets.' - Ian Francis Wade BBS, Commendatore; Vice Patron, Hong Kong Community Chest; Advisory Board Member, Hong Kong Red Cross; Board Member, Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation; Senior Director, Priceline.Com (now Booking.Com, 2002–2006); Managing Director, A S Watson Group of Companies (1982–2006)

'In this highly readable and lavishly illustrated book, Patrick Chiu makes an important contribution to the history of pharmacy in Asia and the legacy of European colonialism. A S Watson had its origins in the founding of the Hong Kong Dispensary in 1843 following the First Opium War. By 1900 it was the largest supplier of opium substitutes in the Far East, and operated over 100 stores in China and the Philippines. This book records the firm's high and lows in an often turbulent political and economic environment, from its beginnings to the twenty-first century. It will be of interest not only to pharmacy and business historians but also to all those interested in the history of Hong Kong and China.' - Stuart Anderson, BSc, MA, PhD, FRPharmS; Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy History, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; President, International Academy for the History of Pharmacy (2009–2017); President, British Society for the History of Pharmacy ( 2002–2005); Chair, Society for the Social History of Medicine (2001–2005); Author, Pharmacy and Professionalization in the British Empire, 1780–1970 (2021)

'This remarkable corporate history has been written not by a commissioned historian but one of its former staff turned independent researcher. Armed with detailed historical research and interviews with key industry figures, Patrick Chiu unfurls a wonderful account of the successive challenges Watsons has faced since its humble inception in 1828 and of the agile marketing strategies it has adopted to steer clear. This is unquestionably a book for anyone interested in the Asian market, the rise of China or the British colonial presence within the region.' - Ning Jennifer Chang, PhD; Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

'As a student of business, an adjunct professor of marketing and someone who worked in a company highlighted in Good to Great and one who loves history, and whose parents were raised during the Great Depression in America, I found Patrick's latest work to be delightfully fascinating. There are so many lessons here that the book, quite simply, has truly something for everyone. A S Watson's journey has been on for some 180 years, highlighting the importance of many critical business concepts such as knowing your customer, targeting and segmentation, social responsibility, resilience, grit, and persistence. The work also shows firsthand the various approaches to managing and growing a business and the creative use of joint ventures, licensing, and acquisitions (not to mention the accompanying perils as well) selectively used in markets in many continents and countries as the local markets required. The tumultuousness of local economic development and currency swings are clearly annotated. The importance of business line diversity, as well as geographic diversity, is well highlighted and chronicled. I also found the work to be a terrific reminder of some of the key historical developments across the globe during this time. As someone not personally familiar from a business perspective with the development, the expansion into the mainland China, I was respectful of the timing of this expansion as the consumer changed.' - James G Wetrich, LFACHE; Author, Stifled: Where Good Leaders Go Wrong; CEO, The Wetrich Group of Companies

'Transformation from Colonial Chemist to Global Health and Beauty Retailer: A S Watson is a must read whether you are a student of Pharmacy, Retail, Asian History or indeed the Globalisation of business. As someone who has competed against Watsons for some 30 years, I feel that Patrick Chiu gives an in-depth and fascinating account of the development of the Health and Beauty giant and the characters behind its success. Particularly notable are the transformational deals in Europe and China and the digitalisation of the business. What makes this text stand apart is a comprehensive review of the business theory applied to the development and success of A S Watson.' - Gordon Farquhar, Former Director, Dairy Farm Health & Beauty; Former CEO, Mannings North Asia; Former Managing Director, Boots International

'The book describes the thrilling saga of the transformative journey towards global leadership of A S Watson in the last 180 years. Patrick, with his multifaceted and granular writing style, is providing us with one of the most meaningful and practical leadership book I have read in the last few decades. The real-life business examples offer a great management toolbox for companies which want to be 'Build to Last.' A must read for leaders and corporations which want to sustain their competitive advantage across centuries.' - Pierre Guyot, Chairman, Limflow SA; Former CEO, Molnlycke Healthcare AB

'Patrick Chiu has always been a role model when the fusion of business acumen, superb analytics and cultural understanding came into play. This book is truly his masterpiece of using the experience and the empirical data spanning more than a century of a company icon to draw the proper conclusions and showing the right elements for an enrichment of the toolbox every manager should not only be familiar with, but be ready to use in our fast moving business environment. This book is one of the rare examples where the fun to read is perfectly combined with the learnings to be had — to cope with the always very unique challenges around the topic of M&A.' - Andreas Joehle Equity Partner, Ufenau Capital Partners AG; Former Global CEO, The HARTMANN Group

'Forbes and A S Watson are leading global media and retail companies with over a century of corporate heritage. Patrick has vividly elucidated the composition of Watson's DNA, retained with its core competencies harnessed since the early 1980s. In addition, Watson's aggressive overseas investments and mergers and acquisitions in Europe and the United Kingdom after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s enabled it to become one of the most outstanding health and beauty retailers globally.' - T C Yam, Founder & Chairman of Integrated CapitalBoard Member of Forbes Media LLC

'Patrick's articulation of A S Watson's corporate social responsibility is a model of its kind since the late 19th century. A classic example was John Humphrey's scholarship to sponsor students to study medicine at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, with beneficiaries including Dr Sun Yat-sen, my late great grand uncle, who later became the first provisional president of the Republic of China in 1912.' - Chung To, Founder and Chairman, Chi Heng Foundation

'A S Watson is an international retailing giant in the industry with roots dating back two centuries ago. Its rich history of organizational development and change lends diverse analytical angles for business scholars and historians to understand how a family conglomerate transformed itself into a highly diversified international empire of personal health care and cosmetic products. Garnering the business facts and figures in a meticulous manner, the author has crafted a book of perceptivity and profundity. It carefully blends stories of different legendary figures and business leaders in his thorough review and dissection of the globalization of Watsons. The thorough research and professional interpretations covered in the book connect the ties between the selection of capable firm leaders and their constant navigations of the firm's internal and external environments. This book represents a sound narrative of the company's development and sophisticated business analysis through an objective and independent professional lens. Speaking overall, this book captures major developmental milestones of ASW that will be of interest to a wide range of readership: from economic historians to strategic management scholars.' - Jeanne H Y Fu, PhD, Professor, Head of Department of Management and Head of Honours Academy, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong

'Patrick's book on A S Watson's journey to sustain and to be a responsible employer is a timely one in the COVID-19 pandemic period. Watson's 180-year business history and the adoption of Wangdao and best practice management in the past four decades could serve as a model for those entrepreneurs who have an eye for the global market.' - Huang Junli, PhD, Executive Director and Associate Professor, Institute of Entrepreneurs, Peking University

'As a first of its kind book-length treatment of the business history of the global brand AS Watson, its strength is the author's keen management insights and the description of compelling business scenarios of the company over its expansion. Patrick Chiu is persuasive yet objective, bringing his over 30 years' rich experience in the fast-moving consumer goods and retail industries. Patrick's pharmacist and health care background lends further credibility to his analysis of the ASW case. The book illuminates humanist concerns for Hong Kong's history. Moreover, the author is passionate to elicit evidence about traditions, business acumen, foresight and resilience; especially about how these qualities have been played out along the trajectories of the Watsons Group over the course of its gloried 180 years of operations in Asia and in the world. This work is highly recommended for general readers and specialists alike; namely readers of general history, the history of business in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, as well as students and researchers of Asia-Pacific commerce and international business.' - Andrew T Chan, PhD, Associate Professor, Associate Head of Department of Management, The City University of Hong Kong

'As managing director of Watsons, opening 50 Park 'n Shop stores after arriving in Hong Kong in 1979, I wrote the initial business plan when Watsons only had eight stores in 1983 reflecting the market opportunity to expand not only in Hong Kong and China but also worldwide as there was an enormous gap for this type of more up market beauty operation than standard drug stores. I initiated the early stages of the expansion, apart from opening over 100 stores in Hong Kong, we opened in Taiwan and Singapore in 1987 and then Beijing and Macau in 1989, the first retailer to be open in both Taiwan and Mainland China. It is quite remarkable how this chain has now expanded over the following 25 years to be the worldwide force it now is with over 12,000 stores worldwide.' - Rodney Miles, Founding Chairman,; Director, Hong Kong Retail Association

'Based on his in-depth knowledge of Asia and the retail industry, firsthand experience in the NGO sector, and his research on China's treaty ports, Patrick articulates ASW's business history, corporate management practice, and Chinese business philosophy in a balanced manner. It is indeed a book recommended for students and graduates pursuing their careers in the business world, and for the general public interested in the modern history of Hong Kong and China. It will also be interesting for those investing in the retail sector to learn how Watsons might take its next quantum leap in the decade of the 2020s.' - Andrew Chi Fai Chan, PhD, SBS, JPPresident, Greater Bay Area Business SchoolEmeritus Professor in Marketing, The Chinese University of Hong KongHead, Shaw College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (2010-2020)Director, EMBA Programme, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (2002-2020)

Key Features:

  • Unlocks the secret transformations of ASW from a colonial chemist to theworld's largest international health and beauty retailer
  • Shows how ASW was able to pull through each and every national or global crisis it faced over the course of 180 years to emerge stronger and more vibrant
  • Tells a story every consumer, business leader, graduate or undergraduate student in history, business administration, and best practice management is keen to learn

DRM Protected
Publication date
July 20, 2022
Page count
File size
12 MB
The publisher has not provided information about accessibility.

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