In one of the latest issues of The Economist, Haier was described as a metaphor for China itself. The Haier group is a multinational consumer electronics and home appliances company headquartered in Qingdao, Shandong. Its products include air conditioners, mobile phones, computers, microwave ovens, washing machines, refrigerators and televisions. In 2010 the Haier brand had the world’s largest market share in white goods, with 6.1 per cent.
The Haier management cult was born in 1985 when Zhang Ruimin, appointed a year earlier to rescue an ailing state-owned refrigerator factory, dealt with its quality-control problems by joining his workers in taking sledgehammers to 76 defective fridges. In the official history of the company that became Haier, the episode is treated as hallowed proof of its commitment to quality and to its customers. In the West, we often refer to this as public relations. Mr Zhang’s hammer is now in China’s national museum in Beijing, while Haier has become a global firm.
There are fridges now on sale that use computerised displays to tell you when the milk is off; ones with a video-message facility so you can tell your housemates the milk is off; others with six doors for fastidious Japanese customers who abhor the idea of keeping their frozen fish with their ice-cream; and freezers that stay cold for 100 hours without electricity for those relying on the African power grid.
From its shabby, humble origins, Haier has grown to a group with 70,000 employees, an annual turnover of $21 billion, and a 6% share of its global market. In the first half of the year its listed subsidiary in Hong Kong reported increases of 68% in turnover and 77% in net profit over the same period in 2010. The company has been one of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of the huge injection of Chinese government money into the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.
Much like Haier, China itself is transforming from a rather poor country into one of the world’s leading economies: China’s average annual GDP growth rate was at over 10% in the last decade. If you want to have a go at penetrating this market, ask SanTranslate, your translation service provider.