Cao Shiru, the woman behind Zhongnanhai’s Hongqi supermarket; “In business, it is not enough to be self-possessed, you also need innovation”; Cao gives her staff the freedom to carry out their plans and backs them strongly if she believes that their ideas are right.

Cao Shiru, the woman behind Zhongnanhai’s Hongqi supermarket

Staff Reporter 2013-03-28

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Until its mysterious closure, Hongqi of Chengdu was the only supermarket chain to operate an outlet in Zhongnanhai, the government compound in the heart of Beijing that houses the State Council and the headquarters of the Communist Party.

Despite the setback, the chain’s founder Cao Shiru has proved herself a canny operator in the retail industry, reports the semi-monthly China Entrepreneur.

“The first two characters of my name are pronounced the same as supermarket in Mandarin,” Cao told the magazine, explaining why she has a strong affinity for the retail sector.

Cao’s chain employs over 13,000 workers, and while around 80% of them are female, most of her senior executives are men.

Yu Shi, the company’s deputy general manager, told the magazine that Cao gives her staff the freedom to carry out their plans and backs them strongly if she believes that their ideas are right.

Yu once made a mistake by investing in the company’s stock after the chain went public, which brought scrutiny from the regulators and caused damage to the company’s reputation, but Cao trusted him none the less. “It encourages me to do my best at my job to avoid disappointing her again,” Yu said.

Another senior executive, Hu Yaoming, said Cao has good foresight and has insisted on projects despite objections from her managers, and she has often shown to have made the right decision in the long run.

Hu said Cao decided to set up a logistics center in Cuqiao, Chengdu, investing tens of millions of yuan during Hongqi’s early years when the company was strained for cash. Many tried to dissuade her, because Quqiao was nothing but a small village outside the Sichuan provincial capital at the time, but after a couple of years the logistics center became the basis of the chain’s success.

“Cao was reckless when it came to small losses or gains, and often made business decisions within five minutes,” said Mi Xili, a Hongqi supplier. She rejected kickbacks and has forbidden her subordinates from accepting commissions from suppliers, which encouraged them to deal fairly with Cao’s company.

Hongqi was plunged into a financial crisis when D’long International Strategic Investment collapsed in 2004 during a takeover of the supermarket chain. Many of its around 1,000 suppliers continued to deliver to Hongqi despite the company’s financial troubles because of their trust in Cao, said Mi.

Now in her 60s, Cao is grooming her only son Cao Zengjun as her successor, but has said that he is not ready to take over her empire, despite the fact that he has impressed industry observers. “In business, it is not enough to be self-possessed, you also need innovation,” his mother said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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