Lauren: Hi, I am Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Today we will be joined by James Mounter the VP of Sales for J&J China. James joined J&J in 2004 as a management trainee. He held various sales and marketing positions before moving to The Walt Disney Company as a key member of the team that created a new way for Disney to engage retailers and shoppers across all lines of business.
In 2001 he returned to J&J UK as Head of Trade Marketing and held various customer, shopper and innovation roles in the UK and Europe before moving to Asia in 2011.
While in Singapore, James led the Asia Pacific Regional Customer Development team and in 2014 he relocated to Shanghai where he is currently leading the Consumer sales organization.
James: Thank you very much, nice to meet you Lauren.
Lauren: So one topic that I’m constantly speaking with my clients about is employee engagement, and trust is a big factor in that. I’ve recently seen a study done by the Edelman trust barometer that says 51% of employees do not trust their CEO’s.
So, what actions you believe leaders can take to build trust within their organization?
James: So I think this is an interesting question. There’s of course a classic answer of clear vision, line of sight of goals and objectives, and making sure as a leader you keep commitments and develop the organization.
But as we move forward I think even more important now is authenticity.
Employees are looking for transparency and I’ve noticed at least over the last five or ten years that relying on humility and looking for input can really build trust with employees.
Lauren: And how do you think I mean, looking at that transparency, how do you keep that there on a day to day basis you know with your team?
James: Working in China this is really come into focus. Because of course as a foreigner working in China there are many things you don’t know culturally, and from a business perspective. And even in how transaction in negotiations are done, and I found in 3 years I’ve been here in China that are being humble and transparent about what I do and don’t know, being really clear on where I feel that they’re all our with our opportunities, where have clear line of sight.
And then reaching out to my team I feel is really allowed me to build much more trust.
Lauren: Ya, I mean some of the other factors while for employee engagement transparency is definitely one reason, you know having a purpose mission and values, as well as recognition and learning are just a few, do keep employees engaged. Do you feel that these are the same in the Asian culture, because a lot of the studies were done in western Europe or in the U.S. Would you say that’s the same in the Asian culture as well?
James: So when I first moved to Asia I think I wasted about six months when I first got here by worrying about cultural differences, probably the biggest piece of feedback I give to people moving to Asia is that we’re all people. We’re aspire look after our career, our family, to be successful, and we look for validation. Now maybe in Asia that might be about
having a Louis Vuitton bag and in Europe it might be about the vacations or holidays you take, but fundamentally we’re all the same.
I think there are two differences on leading in Asia. The first one is about being part of a crowd and this was a highlight to me when I saw some advertising from gap, the gap. Where in Europe the advertising be part of the in crowd.
Whereas here in China they actually advertising of being one of the crowd, so as well I’m standing alone, people in Asian culture looking to be part of a much more a wider family.
And really Asian culture is patriarchal and here in China is confusion and people looking to be part of family and group.
And so as a leader, building that engagement and trust is about creating more than a just the day to day work, than a day to day task mission and vision. It’s about how contribution come bring you closer together and how you can really partner together to make everybody successful.
And you read in books about the important of face and transactional relationships in Asia, but beyond that is just about making sure that people feel they respected within a framework of the people around them and that super important. The second thing that I found was because of that focus on overall position within a group as a western manager is really important to have one on one time and to really deep dive with people because you have to get below the surface.
And many people who come and try to work in Asia, they tried to apply theoretical approaches of leadership in Asian culture, really the faster you can get to one to one, build the trust personal relationship, the faster you can make a difference.
Lauren: Okay, I know that you recently wrote an article “8 things the Bike Sharing Boom can tell you about your business in China”.
What would you like readers to take away from that article?
James: It’s the first time I ever write anything about business but I was drawn to do that because if you live in Shanghai you’ve gone from having zero shared bikes on the streets. Maybe 5 or 10 bikes that are used in an average day, to five hundred thousand, half a million, even a hundred thousand of the rights here in Shanghai in the last month.
This is a highly competitive, completely new, uniquely Chinese, business which has sprung up in less than twelve months.
30-40 million US dollars worth of capsule already burnt by the companies as they enter. So really, I wrote that article to help explain to people what it’s like working in China, and how China is different because when you’re outside normally teams in China tell you it’s different, it’s very unusual here, go away, tell us to come back when we finished our plan, come back and tell us what you’ve done when we finish our plan.
But really it’s despite sharing illustrates the key business challenges of operating in China, huge capital inflows from competitors, rapid innovation, enormous manufacturing capability to create thousands of bikes overnight that just appear, a link with e-commerce with micropayments with social media and so the people using their mobile phones to unlock the bikes, to share what they are, to just find where the bikes are, and then combined with heavy government regulation. More and more competition piling in as it becomes clear this is a way to make money. So it was in the way of illustrating the factors which are occurring every industry from chocolate to baby shampoo, the same factors hitting everybody you competes here in China.
Lauren: Okay, so would you say that those are the biggest challenges in Asia at the moment?
James: I think China is unique in a that it’s incredibly superheated because so many people want to invest here. When you look at the challenges in Asia, there’s couple of things which spring into mind, three things spring into mind. The first one is this is becoming the center of gravity for innovation. Many of the new innovations coming from Asia or maybe not considered as innovations but stick globally, of course there’s beauty innovation coming from Korea and Japan.
Samsung would be a good example of a Korean innovator, who probably don’t get enough credit. For the way, they just create new ideas day in and day out, and then invest behind the ones that stick. And so there’s a real center of gravity of innovation and the old way of thinking that Asian businesses are ones who just copy, is tremendously outdated. It’s a huge challenge for people and multinationals.
The second one is about the local competition as the middle classes rise in Asian and Chinese countries, we seeing a much more capital run into a business and we finding that local competitors have more capital, more access to government, more access to media, more local understanding, and so they are really becoming much more aggressive.
The third is the rapid evolution of the business. International companies be the retailers like Tesco or Walmart, be there manufacturers like Unilever or Procter & Gamble, have long term horizons, business plans, long term planning cycles, and new product in introduction processes that they developed, which take a long time. The local competitors you find in Asia, are really short circuiting that, they are tapping into a vast pool of manufacturing capability across Southeast Asia and China and rather than innovate and then build the process to deliver, they are co-innovating with the people who own the manufacturing facilities. That means that in my industry for example, competitors are bringing products to market in let’s say three months, where as I guess the average would be maybe 12 to 24 months globally. So, you have a center of gravity of innovation, you have local competitors who really plugged into the market and have a huge inflow in the capital. And then you also have a vast manufacturing base where people are able to unlock that innovation very quickly.
Lauren: And how do you think that multinational organization will deal with those challenges to keep relevant in the market?
James: I think if you look at the multinationals in Asia at the moment you can see them struggle and if you look at the quarter one filings from and many of the international manufacturers, you can see that they are losing share in Asia. I think there’s a couple of things which can really address that, the first is leaning heavily on local talent. The days of expatriates like myself coming to markets and bringing ways of working, processes and methodologies for doing business, are long gone. It’s the time to really learn from local talent and hire outside. Our most successful hires here in J&J have been people who have been working in aggressive local startups who bring the culture and the network that we can tap into.
The second is developing the mind of the startup and educating the organizations. But to compete in these markets you need to fail fast, be hungry, and also be willing to invest outside of your comfort zone because that’s what the competitors are doing. And if you look at for example, the growth of L’Oréal here in China, you can see that they rapidly accelerated their process, they work with third party manufacturers, and I really do have that approach which is more like a start up. And then third goes back to the discussion we had on leadership that is humility. The old ways of doing business definitely do not translate into these markets now. And so being humble to learn and to look at in the cases of how the market’s changing is really important. In my industry, there has been eleven thousand convenience stores opened in the last six months in China. And there will be twenty-four thousand open by the end of this year, minimum. That requires a general level of humility and flexibility, which I think everyone can learn from and hopefully impact overall global business.
Lauren: Sure, well James, thank you so much for being our guess today.
James: It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much Lauren.
Lauren: And also thank you to all of our listeners and I hope you tune in the next month to the Career Success Podcast.