Recently, Chinese Chamber member ScottsMiracle-Gro shared with us their experience working in and with China during the pandemic. The following interview with Scotts Chief Digital Officer, Patti Ziegler, and Scotts China General Manager, Ken Liu, based in Wuhan, demonstrated that trust and communication are keys to succeeding at cross-border business.
Columbus Chinese Chamber: How has Scotts remained diligent in maintaining and cultivating new cross-culture business relationships during the pandemic?
Patti Ziegler: Ken and I have regular meetings with our teams. The time difference requires some adjustments, but we've remained diligent throughout the pandemic. We share documents in advance to make steady progress on our calls. Ken's leadership team does the reporting so we can build stronger relationships. The finance teams from both countries are also in close contact, and quarterly I share results with the US-based team for visibility. During the early stages of the pandemic, we also connected personally. Ken shared advice and we sent supplies. In more typical years, we will either meet in China or Ken's team will come to the US. We are looking forward to seeing each other again soon.
Ken Liu: The manufacturing site for potting mix and plant food is in Wuhan city. At the early stage of the pandemic, the Wuhan team was short of facial masks. I reached out to Patti for facial masks. Patti managed to get facial masks shipped to China via FedEx Express within 1 week. That really helped. When Wuhan city successfully controlled the pandemic, I shared my experience and protective measures with Patti and her team. I also shared these experiences and protective measures with the HR team from Scotts Miracle-Gro to help them develop the protocols for returning offices.
The critical success factor for a cross-culture business relationship is TRUST.
Patti and I held regular operation review meetings for China’s business. I updated what we had been doing in China and sought consultation, advice, and approval on important issues. Patti shared her thoughts and guidance. Patti and I had been working for 3 years since I took the position of General Manager. The critical success factor for a cross-culture business relationship is TRUST. I’m deeply appreciative of the 100% trust from Patti in China’s team. I lead the China team to deliver the target that I committed. Patti had always been the direct and immediate support for China’s business. She is a perfect leader. I enjoy working under this cross-culture business relationship.
Chinese Chamber: What has been the most challenging part of conducting international business during the pandemic? How has Scotts overcome/dealt with these challenges?
China's business managed to achieve strong growth in FY20, event though we were met with unprecedented circumstances...
Ziegler: I think worrying about each other and our families. Then worrying about the health of the business. We had the technology built in advance, as it's our normal course of business, so that kept the work going. But it was harder to worry about our colleagues.
Liu: I fully agree with Patti. The worries about the health of the family, the team, and the community is the most challenging part. As long as we keep doing the RIGHT thing, such as producing the best quality, staying aggressive in innovation, focusing on digital marketing, and maintaining a motivated team with a start-up spirit, I don’t think there is any business success we cannot achieve. In fact, China’s business managed to achieve strong growth in FY20, even though we were met with unprecedented circumstances that totally shut down the factory and warehouse for 2 months.
Chinese Chamber: Has Scotts developed any new business partnerships with firms in the Chinese-speaking world or in general? Could you speak to the nature of these collaborations?
Ziegler: Beyond the Chinese SMG business, Scotts Miracle-Gro does a considerable amount of contract manufacturing. During the pandemic, these relationships were tested. However, in recent months, the global supply chain has started to recover from the stress of the pandemic causing many relationships to grow. Our level of collaboration has never been stronger. The pandemic has created stronger connections at deeper levels at our partner organizations. This benefit will be seen for years to come.
Liu: I saw the business expansion of contract manufacturing in China from the Scotts Miracle-Gro in the pandemic. China’s production and supply chain had recovered quickly from the pandemic, and the Chinese government effectively controlled the pandemic. I think the relationship will be closer and stronger. I foresee more co-operation in this regard, which is beneficial for Scotts Miracle-Gro to build a resilient and strong supply chain.
Chinese Chamber: What is your company most excited about concerning the future of business opportunities in the Chinese-speaking world?
[The China team's] work with online selling, influencers, new video platforms, and audience-based product development have garnered learnings that will guide our US teams.
Ziegler: Marketing! Ken and his team have done incredible marketing and have developed skills in new digital platforms that are still being discovered in the US. His team's work with online selling, influencers, new video platforms, and audience-based product development have garnered learnings that will guide our US teams. It's exciting to learn, it's imaginative work, it's strategic work, and it's doing well in the Chinese Marketplace. I'm proud of Ken and the team and can't wait to leverage their work in the US.
Liu: There are 1.41 billion people in China based on the latest 7th People Survey released on 11 May 2021. We saw a growing need for gardening from this huge population, especially from the 204 million middle-class population. Fulfilling the gardening needs for the middle-class represented huge business opportunities for the Scotts Miracle-Gro company in China. The Scotts China team is now fully digitalized, and as Patti said, we are proficient in digital marketing and digital sales. Continuing to drive strong growth in China’s business to fulfill the growing need from the increasing number of middle-class is the greatest thing that all the China team is excited about.
The Greater Chinese Chamber of Commerce would like to thank everyone at Scotts for their continued membership with the Chamber and partnership during this project.