Shi Xueli: Growing up with Oishi

February 20, 2012 Edited by He Shan

Snack food producer Oishi is known as "Shanghaojia" in Chinese, a word whose three constituent parts hint at both the food the company produces and its central tenets: 'Shang’ means superior and high-quality raw materials; 'hao’ implies tasty flavor; and 'jia’ is the homophone of "home". All three words, however, have one common meaning: Excellence. Shi Xueli, 39, is now the head of Oishi. His style of speaking is, like the famous Oishi logo itself, clear-cut and concise. The logo, which reflects the company’s cheerful nature, is emblazoned in the hearts of all the company’s employee’s and has also had a profound effect on the nation over the past 17 years. As the "Young Marshal" of the firm, capable and charismatic Shi shoulders the responsibility of leading the food giant into the future, while safeguarding the company’s traditions.

Testing times

Before making himself the general manager of the big family firm, softly-spoken Shi served as a basic-level promoter and a department chief.

In 1995, Oishi, which was established by Shi Xueli’s father, the famous Filipino businessman Shi Gongqi, boasted rapid development in China. Shi Xueli came to China from the Philippines to act as Oishi’s vice president. He traveled with his father’s high expectations weighing on his shoulders. "I was just fresh out of college and still looked like a student," he recalled, smiling. "Therefore, I decked myself out every day in a suit and a tie in order to ensure that I came across as being more mature [than my age]. However, many people still thought I was too young." However, Shi did not let his age hold him back. In only six months, he was confidently communicating with employees in Mandarin. Now, Shi’s "Mandappino" style of Chinese is very much the voice of Oishi. It reflects Shi’s confidence and is a mark of how he has grown into the role. "I cared about how others judged me in the past," he said. "But now I concerned with making progress. Good performance wins you respect."

He continued: "My father often tells me that conducting oneself [properly] should come before doing business. It was my father who taught me that credibility and reputation lead to success in business." Underscoring the importance of father’s influence on his career, Shi commented that he would watch how his father received clients, how he behaved and how he dealt with any issues that arose during meetings. After the clients left, the inquisitive son liked to talk to, and even argue with his father if he had any questions to ask.

Shi stressed that his learning curve is ongoing. "In fact, I am still tested by my father. It’s not over yet," he said.

Friendliness leads to productivity

Shi stated that, in order to sustain the enormous food empire, he has developed his own unique management style and marketing models. Chief among his aims is the desire to forge lasting relationships. To date, Oishi has cooperated with a host of commercial agents with whom it has long-term relationships. Much of the cooperation have lasted more than a decade, and the longest is approaching two decades. "Our corporate culture is to be patient with dealers," said Shi. "When choosing whom to cooperate with, we prefer those who will endure with us through thick and thin and grow with us instead of simply choosing the strongest or biggest companies."

"We had a distributor in Ningbo whose performance was mediocre at first. However, we were patient and gave it [the relationship] three years and business is magnificent now. We can only nurture loyalty in a dealer if we have a stable, long-lasting platform on which to do so."

Shi also has an incredible talent for marketing. In the mid-1990s, people had little knowledge of (leisure foods.) In order to familiarize more people with Oishi, he took the bold step of inviting potential customers to a free food tasting at Shanghai’s Huahai Road commercial, making Oishi the first such company to offer this kind of free trial.

The strategy was an unqualified success, with sales soaring, in concert with an improving economic situation. Shi was undoubtedly on the right track and, in 2001, he was appointed president of Oishi (China). Commenting on his management philosophy, Shi said: "The Chinese people emphasize relationships and prefer long-term cooperation. I appreciate the humane, oriental philosophy of management."

This management philosophy means that Shi focuses mainly on the protection and development of China’s "When cooperating with Chinese partners, we find that many national brands boast historical and cultural heritage, he said. "In those firms, the decades-long collaboration has integrated the employees with the companies. This kind of team spirit is what other modern firms lack. These time-honored brands are symbolic of the glory and essence of China's early industry and commerce. They deserve better protection and more development opportunities."

When promoting cooperating with such brands, Shi also establishes a system of commercial confidentiality. Special original flavors and modern designs give the brands a fresh take, attracting many peers and competitors to visit and learn.

Commenting on the visits, Shi said: "Friendliness also leads to productivity."

Culture of trust

As a company, Oishi has a culture which places trust in its employees. There is an unwritten regulation at the company which states that production-line workers have the right to switch off a machine if they think it’s necessary, a practice which would be unthinkable in other food factories. "Workers on the production line know the operational status best, said Shi. "They can stop the machine if they are concerned about safety and they will not be punished, even if it turns out to be a false alarm. Food safety should be given priority in food firms.

However, Shi is strict with those employees who are closest to him. His philosophy is that these employees should be better able to understand his thought process as a result of their more frequent contact with him. He also believes that such employees should be well placed to uphold the firm’s rules and regulations. "Intimate relationships mean responsibility," said Shi, underscoring the fact that Oishi looks for ability, pragmatism, and a sense of leniency and responsibility when recruiting workers.

Pillar of the community

Shi, and by extension Oishi, embody the traditional Chinese characteristics of philanthropy and friendliness. "Money is valuable only when it is given those in need," said Shi. After the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008, Oishi immediately donated 12 million yuan to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council. It also invited 100 child victims of the earthquake to the Philippines to recuperate. In 2004, Oishi contributed 10 million yuan to the preparation center of the 2007 World Summer Special Olympic Games. Oishi serves old and young alike, donating annual gift packs to the elderly at welfare homes in Changning District and Qingpu District of Shanghai, as well as generously sponsoring -- world youth exchange activities.

Striving for excellence

In 2006, Oishi was named one of the "100 National Star Overseas Chinese Enterprises" by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council. It is an award which clearly means a lot to Shi. "I have grown up with Oishi," he said proudly.

Shi now has a deep attachment to Shanghai, and likes to take his children to the zoo at weekends. And so, the shy young man has grown into an outstanding manager who has grown in stature as his Oishi empire has grown. However, in typical style, he refuses to rest on his laurels. "My life is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence," he said.