Over the past 30 years Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin has led the company through several path-breaking business model changes, which have helped the company build a strong brand, grow both organically and through acquisitions, globalize and “get close to the customer”. Zhang is now leading the company through yet another transformation to make it what he calls an “internet-based platform company” made up of extremely responsive micro-enterprises. For the closest parallel, think of a Silicon Valley within a company. In this rare interview, he talks about his management philosophy.
Anil K. Gupta, the Michael Dingman Chair in Strategy, Globalization and Entrepreneurship at University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, questions the logic behind Haier’s giant leap towards its new platform strategy. What’s at stake for Haier if it doesn’t embark upon this ambitious plan? According to Gupta: Haier now faces a major conundrum. Unless the company can find other growth opportunities fast, it faces years of potentially very slow growth. It is in this context that one can understand why CEO Zhang Ruimin has embarked on this new strategy.
White goods manufacturer Haier is turning itself into an internet-based ‘platform company’ made up of several micro-enterprises. The idea is to create an organization that is extremely responsive to customer needs, constantly cultivates new ideas and innovates quickly. To do that it needs to discard the traditional organizational structure where ideas flow top-down and execution is done bottom-up. The company is now a flat organization which is a marketplace of ideas, talent and resources. The plan sounds good in theory but will the execution be easy?
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Whether it’s the progress of technology, the rapid growth of the emerging markets, or the nature of capitalism to destroy and renew industries, the challenges of maturity have tended to be overlooked in recent years. Now, however, with many economies slowing down and the world’s population getting progressively grayer, this may need to change. In this series, we look at what it takes for businesses to navigate their middle years. In part 1, we explore what it takes to lead a mature company.