Think about how you got the jeans you’re wearing. As the con­sumer, your role was pretty simple: You went to the store, tried them on, flashed the plastic, and left with your pur­chase. But that’s merely the tail end of a mas­sive, com­plex global process that brought those jeans from ini­tial design to man­u­fac­turing to the store where you found them.

Spencer Fung, PA’96, group chief oper­ating officer and exec­u­tive director of Li & Fung, is immersed in this intri­cate process. He heads up global infra­struc­ture for Li & Fung, a multi­na­tional group head­quar­tered in Hong Kong that engages in the design, devel­op­ment, sourcing, and dis­tri­b­u­tion of con­sumer goods world­wide. The com­pany man­ages end-​​to-​​end supply chains to con­nect more than 7,000 retailers and 15,000 sup­pliers glob­ally through three busi­ness net­works com­prising trading, logis­tics, and distribution.

Fung, who is also a member of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, spoke Wednesday at the university’s CEO Forum in Hong Kong.

In his talk titled “New par­a­digms in global sourcing,” Fung described how the family busi­ness was founded in 1906, its global expan­sion over gen­er­a­tions, China’s labor force, and the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties facing the com­pany today.

He said numerous fac­tors shape the global sourcing arena, including the price of raw mate­rials, wages, demo­graphics, trade rela­tions, and polit­ical and eco­nomic sta­bility. This all makes for a mul­ti­fac­eted global supply chain that’s evolving daily and facing new chal­lenges and opportunities—whether it be con­sumer trends or needs, regional trade agree­ments, pro­to­cols due to wage infla­tion, or safety mea­sures fol­lowing last year’s deadly col­lapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory.

If you look at the global sourcing land­scape, there is no con­stant. Almost every week you’re reacting to some­thing,” Fung said. “You have to be nimble, fast, and flex­ible to be able to change almost on the fly. Oth­er­wise you’ll have no goods to sell, and you’ll have no jeans to wear.”

In wel­come remarks, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun ref­er­enced the impact Fung said his own inter­na­tional co-​​op expe­ri­ence had on his career. Aoun also lauded the oppor­tu­ni­ties Li & Fung has been pro­viding North­eastern stu­dents with in Hong Kong. North­eastern is a global leader in expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion anchored in its sig­na­ture co-​​op pro­gram. Since 2006, stu­dents have com­pleted expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties in 114 countries.

We need to increase the oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to go over­seas because we want them to be exploring the world and becoming global cit­i­zens,” Aoun said.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun delivers opening remarks at Northeastern's CEO Forum in Hong Kong. Photo by Om Events.

North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun delivers opening remarks at Northeastern’s CEO Forum in Hong Kong. Photo by Om Events.

For his part, Fung’s job requires him to be closely in tune with the global busi­ness world, or risk Li & Fung falling behind its com­peti­tors. Along with keeping up with tra­di­tional fac­tors that affect the global supply chain, Fung pointed to new forces coming into the fold. Social media has driven com­pa­nies to be more trans­parent. The “fast fashion” trend has trans­formed the industry by dra­mat­i­cally shrinking the pro­duc­tion cycle and forcing industry to churn out new clothing options much more quickly than ever before. And omni-​​channel retailing pro­vides a seam­less, inte­grated cus­tomer expe­ri­ence that today’s con­sumers expect.

Fung said pre­dicting the impact of emerging fac­tors isn’t easy; rather, the key is set­ting up an infra­struc­ture that can react swiftly to them. To that end, he called 3-​​D printing “the biggest unknown.”

Right now, it’s a hobby for enthu­si­asts or pro­to­typing, but who knows about tomorrow?” he said. “I can imagine a day when there are fac­to­ries in Mexico or North Car­olina with thou­sands of 3-​​D printers mass pro­ducing prod­ucts for the con­sumer and cus­tomizing every­thing. You can even do it at home. What will that do to global supply chains? There are huge social implications.”

In a Q-​​and-​​A fol­lowing his talk, Fung fielded inquires on topics ranging from the work-​​life bal­ance to family busi­nesses. One attendee asked him to name the biggest com­pet­i­tive pres­sure facing his busi­ness. In response, Fung said, “Our industry is highly frag­mented around the world. … As large as we are as a com­pany, we have a small share of global sourcing. Com­pe­ti­tion is every­where.” He added: “Being able to com­pete with these small– and medium-​​sized entre­pre­neurial quick-​​moving units is what we’re going against.”

Wednesday’s event coin­cided with the launch of Northeastern’s his­toric Empower cam­paign in Hong Kong. Launched one year ago, Empower: The Cam­paign for North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, is a com­pre­hen­sive fundraising drive to secure $1 bil­lion in sup­port of pro­grams and ini­tia­tives, with a par­tic­ular focus on three strategic goals: stu­dent finan­cial sup­port and finan­cial aid, fac­ulty advance­ment and expan­sion, and inno­va­tion in edu­ca­tion and research.