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Wang Shutong, A Ladylike Success in China's IT Field
    2009-07-20 18:15:36     CRIENGLISH.com

A beautiful woman and a successful CEO, Wang Shutong's name enjoys resounding fame in China's IT field. From humble beginnings she became the youngest local manager of Microsoft and Cisco China. She then went on to create the most thriving online bookstore in China. And she is on the road to more success, this time with a brand new business model she devised herself.

Wang Shutong in her office [Photo: cribeyondbeijing.com]

Shuangfeng has her story.


A charming, ladylike businesswoman with a pretty smile straight out of a storybook about ancient Chinese beauties, Wang Shutong looks so different from other VIPs. She's not tough, not in a hurry; not at all. However, it is this tender lady who has led her team to create many sales records in the IT field across China.

She runs an online shopping company DHgate which provides a platform for small and medium sized businesses in China to sell their goods abroad. Talking about the simple trade model she first shaped five years ago, Wang is in no doubt about its success.

"I can tell you, in the future, there will be more and more businesses happening in this way. People can't visit distant factories frequently nor check samples from a distance. More and more business will have to be done via the Internet."

From her body language, Wang Shutong's personality is not as confident as people would imagine. In most of her photos, the successful entrepreneur crosses her arms, wears a scarf, embraces a book, or sits behind a desk. It seems she must hold something in front of her to make herself feel secure.

Wang Shutong herself knows it better than anyone else. While working for Microsoft in the early 1990's, she knew she had to conquer her weak points. She began facing her elite male counterparts, from other top global IT companies, at joint press conferences.

"Around me they were all males wearing black or blue suits. But for Microsoft there was only one girl in a pink skirt. I remembered when I sat there I felt so lonely and felt a bit afraid. Around that time, Microsoft was always under the spotlight. So every question would come to Microsoft. So I had to, you know, step onto the podium. And I could feel myself shake. But I had to face the media."

Wang Shutong was born in 1968 in Beijing. Before working for Microsoft, she was teaching at Tsinghua University, one of China's best colleges. In 1993, she joined Microsoft and experienced culture shock for the first time.

"When I worked in Tsinghua University, people liked to maintain a good relationship. People cared about saving and maintaining face. When I first joined this multinational company, I felt strong cultural conflicts. I still remember my boss telling me: you know Chinese people like to talk about saving face. In our company, face is not so important. For example, when you do a presentation in a Chinese company people like to clap their hands and say 'good, good'. But in our company people spend time listening to your presentation. Then, if they think it's of no value, they will throw eggs or tomatoes at you. I was shocked. That's the very beginning."

At that time the software giant was in its initial stages in Beijing, not well-built-up yet. Six or seven employees stayed in a poorly-ventilated hotel and moved to four or five different places within two years. But Wang Shutong still learned a lot, and finally became one of the youngest local managers in the company. Once she led her department to contribute one third of the whole revenue of Microsoft China. And then she transferred to a leading network equipment company Cisco.

"I got the opportunity to join the company's senior management meetings. And I attended meetings worldwide representing the whole company. That's a very unique opportunity for young local staff, because it can broaden their global views. I think that laid the foundation for me. Today I start businesses which not only focus on the domestic market. We have a global view. We have opened our eyes to see the worldwide situation."

What's the worldwide situation? Wang Shutong always thinks a step ahead. In 2000, right around the time Internet companies were rising rapidly, she quit her high powered job to become CEO of a small online game company, named Joyo, which became the NO.1 online book and video store across China within a year. The company was later purchased by Amazon and is now known as amazon.cn. The case was even included in a Harvard MBA textbook.

"I think the most important thing is your faith, or belief. This is the no.1 thing. We were the smallest potato in that market. There was a huge gap. The management and the staff felt very down. They didn't know how the future would turn out. A lot of staff quit. So I didn't think strategies or techniques would help, only belief. I remembered the first all staff meeting when I was in Joyo, I told my staff we wanted to build Joyo into the no.1 brand in China in terms of the B to C sector and become the most popular online bookstore, CD and DVD store. And we made it."

By this stage, Wang had been recognized as one of the most successful managers in China. But she left success behind, again. She left Joyo, gave birth to a baby girl, and began to think about a brand new idea to do international trade online.

In August 2004, she founded her own trade website company DHgate. DH is the acronym of Dun Huang, the place which thousands of years ago was famous for its grottoes and mural arts. Also, Dun Huang served as an important portal through which people from China and the west travelled and exchanged goods and culture in ancient times. With her DHgate.com, Wang Shutong wanted to help overseas shoppers and Chinese suppliers in modern times find and trade with each other.

Few people understood the move.

"Microsoft and Cisco are very successful companies. They have worldwide brands. Everybody admires you if you work for this kind of company. They have a very good working environment. When you travel, you can stay in five-star hotels and fly first class. But a small potato doesn't mean anything. That means you have to take a train, you have to eat at small restaurants. And sometimes when I travel to different cities I have to live in my friends' homes. That's quite different."

Survival was the first thing she and her company faced. The new business was short of money. She had cut the expense to a minimum. But to pay for salaries and other outlays, she had to use her own savings.

"That's the real situation. I had to think about maybe next month selling my car. I don't know. Maybe after several months I would have to sell something else."

Wang has put great efforts into building and promoting her site, which represents her ideas about international trade. Unlike traditional trade, which must go through complicated procedures of quoting, sample sending and checking and negotiating, the new model is so simple that overseas customers just have to click a button and wait at home. A huge sales pool was built based on a large number of small and medium sized companies and factories in China. And foreign demand is rising. Chinese products including clothing, electronics, cell phones, handbags, shoes, DVDs and watches can all be found here.

Wang still remembers when DH gate got its first order.

"We got our first order in July. One customer purchased a notebook. The whole company was thrilled, although it was only six dollars. The six dollars, we received from people across the ocean on the other side of the earth thousands of miles away. We don't know that person. But he trusted our platform and paid for the first order. That gave us confidence. We could move on. We could move on."

DHgate.com has now attracted some one million registered buyers from more than 200 countries. The number of successful transactions on the website has reached over two million. In last year's Deloitte report on the 50 fastest growing companies, DHgate was ranked 7th. The once unrecognized new born model has now been widely emulated by many ecommerce websites, including Alibaba, the largest one of its kind in China.

Wang Shutong says she is ready for more challenges and will still persist with what she believes in.

"I believe in one particular statement from the ex-Intel-CEO Andrew Grove: only the paranoid survive."

For China Now, I'm Shuangfeng.



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