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Yashili NZ looking to unite different cultures

Tom O'Leary Dec 12
Yashili NZ looking to unite different cultures
David Song - delivering a hands-on management style.

Working in diverse cultural environments has been David Song’s bread and butter throughout his career, developing close intercultural relationships as a key to success.

Born in China, after graduating from Beijing Language University David moved to Australia completing a Master of Business Administration from the Australian National University in Canberra.

The next 12 years were spent living in Japan working for a Japanese bank, managing businesses and establishing his own businesses before taking a role with Yashili Holdings International in China, the parent company of Yashili New Zealand. In November 2017 David moved to New Zealand to take up the mantle of Yashili New Zealand’s Managing Director.

“In the very beginning I thought I was just going to be the MD but there were a number of differences to culture and business practice from the accepted norms in China and so I had to step into daily operations, taking on the additional role of General Manager.”

That extra hat requires close oversight of Human Resources, Finance, IT, Health and Safety, Regulations, PR and Business Development – everything except Manufacturing and Production – the domain of French ex-pat Remy Charbonnel.

Arriving in New Zealand May 2017, Remy had previously worked for Danone Group – a major shareholder in Yashili Holdings.David says he and Remy’s job was to help turn around significant financial losses incurred under previous management.

“In the first year of operation there was a substantial amount of net loss.  In the middle of 2017, the net loss was still close to NZ$10 million. “Remy focused on quality production, while I focused on developing culture, efficiency and communication of the business—together we provided direction for the company to grow.”

By the end of 2017 the financial report showed that Yashili New Zealand had broken even and by the end of 2018 it had achieved substantial net profit to bring the business back on track.

Getting the balance sheet back in black was achieved through getting the technical operating systems right and providing a clear vision for where the business was heading.

“We had to plan backwards what we had to provide and do monthly and six monthly to achieve our vision and goals. The goal wasn’t just set by me or the management in China -it was set by repeated focus groups consisting of my senior management team and the staff.”

The first thing David and the team did was re-do the company vision, which is ‘Next Best to Nature’. “That’s where we want to get to in New Zealand—we can’t be as good or better than nature, but we can try to be the next best thing to it.”

Given Yashili’s focus is on infant formula, a new mission was developed around ‘delivering quality excellence through nutrition for our next generation’.

Breaking that down, David explains that the key elements are: quality, nutritional products rather than commodity product, and children.

“That directs our team to look at their own children to understand what they have to do in order to align the business goals with their own personal family goals.”

Another key to success was bridging any cultural divide within the organisation by employing a broad range of nationalities.

“The main purpose of that is to facilitate and countenance a special Yashili culture in New Zealand that is more accepting of cultural differences. “So far we have 27 different nationalities across our entire business.

“It’s creating a much better understanding, acceptance and extended cultural tolerance to include how people work in China, Europe, New Zealand, the Pacific Island and the United States, for example.”

While thinking in a much bigger spectrum than the accepted norms of New Zealand or China is showing very positive results, David admits it has been quite a journey to walk over the last couple of years. “In that time we’ve designed a few culturally related training programmes around how to communicate respectfully.

“We put all our middle range management through leadership training seminars to help them understand communication and what the tools and skills are to be a good leader in this organization. So it’s a bit of a journey to walk to make it work as a whole team but it is definitely rewarding and we are succeeding.”

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