The direct-selling industry has seen no shortage of critics, with everyone ranging from the average punter to major media figures sharing their analysis of the business model. Few are more familiar with this than the president of one of Asia’s leading direct-selling companies, Nu Skin Enterprises’ Melisa Tantoco Quijano.
As head of Nu Skin Enterprises’ Asia–Pacific division, Melisa says she prefers to see this challenge as an opportunity to keep the quality of Nu Skin Enterprises’ work above average. “This industry is highly scrutinised, but there are bad elements in every industry, not just direct selling. Because we’re aware of that, we make even more effort to educate our employees and distributors to do business the right way, all the time, because there are a lot of people looking at us.”
With a vision to become the world’s leading direct-selling company, Nu Skin Enterprises specialises in the supply and distribution of anti-ageing skincare and nutrition products, in particular its patent-pending ageLOC brand. Melisa oversees 13 countries, including Japan, Korea, 7 markets in South East Asia and 4 markets in the Pacific. She also manages nearly 1,000 employees and more than 27,500 distributors and has served in various leadership capacities in her nearly 20 years with the company, including as regional marketing director for South East Asia, general manager for Nu Skin Enterprises Thailand and Malaysia, and vice-president for global market services based in the US.
Melisa also works hard to instil company values around doing ‘good’, encouraging the hard work and success of her employees and distributors as a means to also support more worthy causes. “Nu Skin Enterprises is very enthusiastic about doing good; we’ve institutionalised it so it reflects a lot of the culture of the company. Our founder would say it’s 5% of what we do, but it’s 95% of who we are,” says Melisa. “We want to engage our people in something that has more purpose than just business. It’s also created another reason for us to do well, because then we can do more good.”
One area of interest for Melisa is providing access to free medical care for children suffering from heart conditions across South East Asia. She serves as an honorary Board member of the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Foundation of Thailand, a Board member of the Child Health in Life and Development (CHILD) Foundation in the Philippines, and a Board member of the South East Asia (SEA) Children’s Heart Fund.
“We’ve partnered with these kinds of charity organisations since 1998 to fund heart surgeries for children who have congenital heart conditions and can’t afford treatment. Our employees and distributors rally around such programs; so far we’ve helped save the lives of more than 8,700 children in South East Asia,” she says. “The giving mentality generates a higher morale among employees, an increased sense of corporate culture and value, as well as a stronger and admired reputation.”
Doing ‘good’ is obviously good for business too: research by the UK Small Business Consortium reveals 88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society. Meanwhile, 78% of employees would rather
work for an ethical and reputable company than receive a higher salary. Meanwhile, direct selling, and Nu Skin Enterprises in particular, hasn’t seen any shortage of newcomers, both in clientele and distributors.
“The giving mentality generates a higher morale among employees, an increased sense of corporate culture and value, as well as a stronger and admired reputation.” – Melisa Tantoco Quijano
A report by the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) found the industry’s sales volume generated in 2015 was 7.7% higher from the previous year, and Asia–Pacific remains the world’s largest direct-selling region with a 46% share of sales overall. The most popular area for direct selling in 2015 was wellness and cosmetics — Nu Skin Enterprises’ main product categories.
The company’s growth under Melisa’s leadership has earned her the accolade of Best Asian Executive at the 2010 International Stevie Business Awards. The award came after Nu Skin Enterprises’ APAC region saw growth for 10 consecutive quarters and reported consistent year-on-year growth since 2008, making it the fastest-growing region in all of Nu Skin Enterprises’ global markets. The achievement was particularly impressive considering the challenging global economic circumstances that surrounded her appointment in 2006. Regardless, by 2009, the division had generated $109 million in revenue — a 17.2% improvement over the previous year, as well as a 16% increase in independent distributor count.
Building a career
Beginning her career in 1980, Melisa spent 10 years in retail consumer marketing for multinational corporations before transitioning into the direct-selling industry. She’s stayed in the latter for more than 25 years and has held executive roles within large companies such as Tupperware and Sara Lee. Melisa says switching industries was quite a challenge. “It was a very difficult transition from where I was before,” she explains. “Having spent more than 10 years in retail at the time, moving into direct sales was a culture shock. In those big, established companies, the programs and planning were more measured. With them I launched a couple of new products over 5 years. When I moved to direct sales, I’d launch hundreds of products within a year. There were so many moving parts, but I was also really happy with how we were accomplishing so much in such a short time.”
Melisa’s recent promotion to president for all of Asia–Pacific has seen her remit extend to Japan and Korea. “It’s been a great opportunity for me having 2 more vast markets in North Asia; the whole of Asia–Pacific now accounts for almost half the business at Nu Skin Enterprises globally. It’s quite a significant, and welcome, new responsibility for me, and shows a vote of confidence from management.”
Over her career, Melisa has helped hundreds of other female entrepreneurs build successful businesses. She’s an advocate of mentoring and empowering women in the workplace and serves as a role model with her executive achievements. “My goal, more than building business, is building people,” she says. “I’m really excited about taking a lot of people with me as I tackle greater responsibilities. I’m also delighted to see colleagues I’ve known and mentored in the past start to play a bigger role in the organisation.”