It wasn’t until their IPO last year that Alibaba really started to become a household name in the US, but for those of us working in China, Alibaba has been a key component of our toolbox for much, much longer. As one of the oldest and largest directories of products and manufacturers, Alibaba is my go-to search tool when I need to find a specialty supplier in China. Like any tool, the more you know about how to search, the more effective your searches will be.
It still shocks and amazes me when I meet people that source product from China, sometimes for many years, yet they have never actually traveled to China or visited their suppliers. It’s really not as daunting as it seems; yes there is some paperwork involved and the flight can be long-ish, but as always, there is no substitute for being on the ground to meet suppliers and manage production. I always tell my team to listen to that little voice that tells you that you should get on a plane and go check-in with a supplier. With cheap round trip tickets available from many US cities, and reasonably priced, decent hotels available in most cities in China, these trips are cheap insurance for your production.
As always, the earlier you catch issues the cheaper it is to rectify them.
Last year I was invited to speak to a group of business students at a university outside of Shanghai. After a brief presentation about the work that I do in China, the class took turns asking me questions about business and entrepreneurship in general.
One of the students approached the microphone and asked “you’ve done a lot and accomplished a lot, what advice would you have for someone that also aspires to accomplish great things?”
Back when I was the General Manager for our Asia operations at Lynx Innovation (I’ve since returned to the USA and now spend only half of my time in China), I challenged our executive team to come up with a mission statement. I told them to talk amongst themselves for a week and come back with what they thought was a statement that reflected our values as a company. At our next meeting I asked them what they came up with, and they proudly proclaimed “Impossible is Nothing!” It was a proud moment for me, reinforcing our success in attracting a team that embodied the right cultural orientation. You’ve heard me say it before but truly nothing is more important than choosing employees that embody the culture of your organization; almost anything else can be taught.
It was this mission statement that lead to the slogan I’ve attached to our China business years later. When discussing China, especially with newcomers, I often explain that in China, anything is possible but nothing is easy.
A continuation and refinement of the ideas presented in last week’s spellbinding, food-based perspective on outsourced manufacturing. What I want to talk about today is the different perspectives that exist between fast-food and fine-dining restaurants and how these perspectives inform our techniques in managing a global manufacturing footprint. And hamburgers; I always seem to work those into my story.
I recently heard an example used to explain the complexities of outsourced manufacturing that has resonated members of our team that spend a great deal of their time in China.
We sometimes take for granted that our years of experience in this industry give us insight in the right and wrong ways to undertake so many of the tasks related to the manufacture of our products (or as we often say, we always know which end is up). Our outsourcing partners, on the other hand, lack the advantage of this contextual knowledge, and we pay the price in issues as small as upside-down stickers and as large as whole mis-manufactured runs of product.
Recently I’ve been sharing an article that I wrote for Quora some time ago, about the challenges of sourcing and manufacturing in China, especially for a start-up firm or those not buying items by the millions. The original question was, “Why are Chinese products of such low quality? If apple can make the iPhone in China, why do we still struggle?”
Ask almost any company founder or senior executive today about their greatest challenge and the odds are good that they will tell you that managing people is the task that occupies the most of their time, be it at the office or thinking about it over sleepless nights.
We’ve recently started repeating a new mantra in our meetings that will hopefully become cemented into our organizational culture and that is this:
In order to succeed, we need hire and develop adults.