Menu Close

Beating the odds: Stephane Pariente

It was Boxing Day in 2004 and Stephane Pariente was soaking up the sun on Patong beach at the edge of the holiday resort town of Phuket. The retail executive had been living in Asia for 15 years and Thailand was a favourite holiday destination. He was relaxed and happy. But then the waves hit.


Triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia, massive walls of water smashed down onto the beach, tearing through the coastal village, destroying everything in its path. The Indian Ocean tsunami claimed more than 230,000 lives across 14 countries, with 259 of those lost in Phuket.

Stephane was lucky. He survived. “I was hit by the first wave and pulled to the very extreme, drowning under water. Yes, I nearly died. But it was not my time, so here I am.”

“Yes, I nearly died. But, it was not my time, so here I am.”

For the past two years, “here” has been Cambodia, where Stephane is the Managing Director of DFI Lucky Supermarket, a leading chain of supermarket and Guardian health and beauty outlets. The Lucky Market Group, owned by the Heng Meng family, opened its first supermarket in Cambodia in 1993.

In 2012, it merged with Dairy Farm International (DFI), with Lucky retaining 30% control and DFI holding the remaining 70%. DFI Lucky’s three sectors are Lucky Supermarket, Lucky Express and Guardian health and beauty store, which offers a wide variety of products to supplement health, skin and beauty.

Stephane has been with DFI since 2015 when he was poached from his role as Regional Director for Carrefour in Shanghai to take up the position of Vice President of Rustan Supercenters, another DFI subsidiary operating in the Philippines.

After nearly two years, he was asked to head DFI Lucky Supermarket in Cambodia and has since increased business by 100%. “I knew what to do straightaway,” Stephane admits. “I have an acute business sense for what needs to be done.”

That business sense has served Stephane well during his 25-plus years with hypermarket chain Carrefour, when he relied on it to work his way up from store decorator in a small French town to launching the chain in China and becoming regional director in multiple cities throughout Asia.

A natural communicator, Stephane uses this extraordinary insight to not only bring a vision to life but also exceed all expectations. He’s also very passionate and curious. In fact, it was his curiosity that triggered his adventure into Asia in 1995.

Stephane grew up in Toulouse in the southwest of France and was 19 when he scored a job writing up the promotions boards for the Carrefour store in the neighbouring town of Labège.

“It was 1989 and there was no printer to produce the signs for the promotions boards, so everything had to be handwritten,” he says. “I didn’t have a background in retail, it was just a job I took as a store decorator.”


However, what Stephane lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm and was moved into different departments and into management. After just five years, he was asked if he wanted to go to China to help open the first Carrefour hypermarket in Beijing.

“I knew nothing about China,” he laughs. “Nobody in France really did at that time. But I was 24 and wanted to travel overseas, so when my boss asked me if I wanted to go to China, I just said, ‘Yes, I want to try.’ I went for an interview in Paris and was one of six selected to go. It was a moment I will remember all my life.”

Wanting to avoid any preconceived ideas, Stephane read nothing about China before he left, preferring instead to discover everything “from scratch”.

His first impression when arriving in Beijing was perhaps a little predictable. “It was the people, the number of people,” he says. “They were everywhere!”

Obviously, his immediate challenge was not understanding the language, but it was an obstacle Stephane determinedly overcame. Not always relying on translators, he learned Chinese by pushing himself ‘out there’, more than happy to make mistakes and learn from them.

“I didn’t go to a school to learn Chinese, I just learned on my own,” he says. “It was the same for me when I joined DFI later. I had to learn English. Moving from a French company to an international one, I had to talk to English speakers from all over the world, so I had no choice but to learn.”

During his early days in Beijing as Carrefour’s Consumer Goods Merchandise Division Manager, Stephane quickly learned that what was taken for granted in retail in France was not a given in China.

A shift in mindset was needed for consumers more used to buying from government stores and unfamiliar with the concept of a hypermarket offering a wider range of products. Staff also needed specialised training and, while major brands were imported, local tastes had to be catered to, which meant finding reliable suppliers.

“It was a revolution,” Stephane recalls. “We had to overcome many obstacles. We even had problems getting electricity and had to run power from a generator we sourced from the army, which we connected to a neighbouring hotel. But it was a very exciting time and if I had to go through it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was fantastic for me.”


Serving in multiple senior roles throughout China, Stephane was sent from region to region to oversee operations, including coping with -30°C in the north. He also spent time in Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand.

Stephane admits he jumped at the chance to try a new challenge when he was approached to join Rustan Supercenters, a leading Asian retailer operating the Shopwise chain of hypermarkets and Wellcome Supermarket in the Philippines.

Just two years later, the opportunity to head DFI Lucky Supermarket was offered and Stephane moved to Phnom Penh. Once again, bearing a reputation for getting things done, expectations were high. For Stephane, though, it was business as usual.

“Honestly speaking, retail is the same everywhere,” he says. “I’ve always relied on my strong commercial sense and experience, which steer me towards the concept I want to develop and how it’s going to work. That is how I get the vision for the future.

“But I have to say, I’ve also been fortunate to have had wonderful support from Lucky’s Heng Meng family. They know me, they know what I can do and have always assisted me, particularly our Executive Chairman Mr Heng and his daughter, Patty Heng, who is the COO.”

Part of Stephane’s vision included Cambodia’s rising middle class. While recognising that the way of doing business throughout the country was still largely very traditional, based on hierarchy and respect, he saw a future for modern retail.

“Cambodia is a strong growing market. It has the same entrepreneurial spirit that China had 25 years ago,” he explains. “When I visit the head office, I’m always confident because I have core points to get across, which I know will set the agenda for the future. I could see what was happening in this country with the middle class – dominated by younger people – growing and they want different products.”

Health and beauty products available through 25 Lucky supermarkets and 12 Guardian stores are proving immensely popular and are arguably a pet project for Stephane. He was the first to launch them in Carrefour stores throughout China, using that dependable sixth sense to tap into China’s emerging middle-class consumers.

Meanwhile, Stephane admits his instincts were not so sharp when the biggest game-changer hit retail worldwide. He was thrown by the digital revolution, which seemingly had little use for his natural skills for face-to-face communication and foresight.


“Years ago, I was sent to Palo Alto to visit eBay and Google to learn about the millennials and their world,” he says. “I did learn to understand them, but at the age of 42, I walked out of there feeling 80 years old,” he laughs. “It was a shock learning how this new generation approaches things.

“Today, it is all about connecting people through a computer and I understand that. But you can’t put feelings into a computer. Me, for example, I’m very passionate and that is why I can sell anything I want to anyone I want. How do you get that passion across on a computer?”

While Stephane concedes luck must have played a part in his survival from the tsunami, he refuses to attribute it much to his success. He rejects the notion when people tell him how lucky he has been to work across Asia in executive roles.

“No, I don’t accept that,” he says. “I was lucky when I was asked many, many years ago if I wanted to go to China to help launch Carrefour. I held that destiny in my hand, is it a yes, or is it a no? The choice was up to me. I’m a circle that always fits into a square.

“My way of managing is the way I like to be managed,” he adds. “I fit up my team, I delegate and control it. Yes, I’m strict about what I want, but what I want is clear, it is simple. People are striving for simplicity, they are always looking for it.”

“My way of managing is the way I like to be managed. I fit up my team, I delegate and control it.”

Ironically, despite Stephane’s preference for face-to-face communication, it was the digital world that helped him reconnect with a woman who’d lived in his Toulouse neighbourhood.

“Yes, she is French and I knew her when I was young. We connected on Facebook, she is now my wife and we have a little girl born in Shanghai and a son born just six months ago in Bangkok.”

Stephane admits he’s changed his approach to life since his near-death experience on that fateful day in Phuket but, at the same time, you can’t help but wonder whether it was his usual fearless approach to life that helped him survive the tsunami. That strong gut instinct to beat the odds.

“Maybe,” he says. “But yes, my attitude to every aspect of my life has changed. The experience grounded me, definitely. I don’t let the small things get to me and I don’t let the small things bother my employees.

“I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery. It took me 42 years to find the right woman and now I have children and I want to take the time to see them grow. That is the legacy I want to leave on Earth.”

Working together

Stephane Pariente relies on a strong and dedicated team for the success of DFI Lucky Supermarket. The CEO Magazine spoke to just a handful of these people to discover their challenges and what they enjoy most about working for the company.

Nary Ouk, Buying Administration Manager

How long have you worked for DFI Lucky?
I started working at Lucky 19 years ago, before it merged with DFI, starting as an office clerk and working my way up to Merchandise Manager for the Central Data Management System.

What do you enjoy most about working for DFI Lucky?
The working environment, which is based around great teamwork and support from management to grow.

What is your proudest achievement?
Building the Sage System to support the company data management from zero to its current capacity.

What are your daily challenges?
Updating the reports needed to track the requirements of our group and ensuring there is consistency in training and follow-ups.

How do you choose the products you buy?
Our products must suit the needs of our customers, obviously in terms of specification and always on price point.

What is your best-selling product?
Definitely Dairy Fresh Milk.

Sopheakvitou Sann, Area Manager

How long have you worked for DFI Lucky?
Since January 2014. I’ve just celebrated six years.

Which area do you manage?
I look after the eastern part of the Phnom Penh area comprising five DFI Lucky supermarkets, five Express stores and five Guardian outlets. While I’m based at head office, most of my time is spent visiting each of these stores.

What do you love about working for DFI Lucky?
I love working with all the different people from various backgrounds and collaborating with multiple different departments to get things done.

What is your proudest achievement since joining the company?
Being able to handle different categories and maintain stable growth, such as Dairy Frozen Dell and BWST while doubling the sales of our own house brands to be recognised as a top performer in the Cambodian market.

What are your daily challenges?
Growing and training the talent in our operations department to meet the company’s expansion plan.

What makes DFI Lucky stores better than the rest?
We offer stores providing competitive pricing with the best quality and range selections from around the world. We also have the highest operating standard on food safety in Cambodia.

Samnang Khouerth, Senior Store Manager

How long have you worked for DFI Lucky?
I have just recently celebrated my ninth anniversary with the company.

Which stores are you responsible for?
I am responsible for all the 13 Guardian stores throughout Cambodia and the 75 staff who work in them.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I always try to inspire my teams to do their best and I delegate tasks to those who are best at doing them. The most important thing is to be able to motivate people and communicate effectively about what needs to be done.

What do you enjoy most about working for DFI Lucky?
I love the team spirit of the company. We work as one family, supporting each other to deliver great customer service in our stores.

“We work as one family, supporting each other to deliver great customer service in our stores.”

What is your proudest achievement since joining the company?
I have proven to be an excellent team player and have led the team to drive excellent sales.

What daily challenges do you face?
Building staff capacity and implementing training to meet the company’s growth. Meanwhile, I need to make sure all stores are well organised in their daily operations so we can continue to provide excellent service.

Khin Kimchhai, Store Manager

How long have you worked for DFI Lucky?
Around 17 years.

Which store do you manage?
The DFI Lucky Supermarket at Toul Kork Avenue in the north of Phnom Penh, which employs 45 staff.

Describe your leadership style.
I focus on three main points. I need to make sure my store and my staff consistently follow company policy, that we always work as a team and the communication flow is well established, and that I always act as a good role model for my team.

What makes your store better than others?
I ensure that my customers can find their products at the right price every day and that my staff works as a team to deliver service quality. Happy employees equal happy customers.

What do you enjoy most about working for DFI Lucky?
The company always offers opportunities for staff to grow through training and coaching.

What is your proudest achievement since joining the company?
Since I joined in 2002 as a cashier, I’ve been promoted through various positions to become store manager.

What daily challenges do you face?
Finding the right staff to employ to meet the demands of company growth, then getting that staff at entry level trained to delivery-service standard.

Proudly supported by:

Unilever Cambodia

Leave a Reply