When I set out to interview and learn from entrepreneurs around the world, one of my main goals was to connect with business owners who differed from my business background. Specifically, businesses wouldn't all be in technology field and wouldn't all be based in the United States, in order to provide me a different slice of best practices and insights than what I'm used to. So I was excited to talk to Jason Bosch, a South African running a fruit import and trading operation in Shanghai. And who knew that the only fruit valuable enough to ship via airfreight are early season cherries and mangos?
Jason Bosch's first job was working for the South African Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB). Jason inspected fruit all over South Africa, and he quickly learned that he wasn't well suited to work for the government or any large organization because of all the bureaucracy. To illustrate, in 1998 they were conducting all their inspection write-ups by hand, which would then be transcribed by an admin. Jason lobbied to use a laptop to enter his report, which would more efficient and accurate. After his request was sent up one level after another over many weeks, his request was denied.
So when a company that grew and exported fruit out of South Africa approached Jason Bosch to run their Far East and Middle East operations, he jumped on board. While in that role, Jason noticed that there was an increasingly large appetite for fruit in Honk Kong and China.
In 2008, Jason Bosch took the plunge, moved to Shanghai, and started Origin Direct Asia as a joint venture with the Afro Fresh Group. Today, Origin Direct Asia is a leading importer and trader of fruit and employs six people in Shanghai, two in Chile, and one in South Africa. Not only did I learn a lot about the fruit business, while talking to Jason, but I also learned the following guidance:
*From Aggression to Respect at Work - Jason reveals that Western corporate culture is much more aggressive than in China, where it is much more personal. He learned the hard way that the aggressive mentality doesn't work well, so he had to adapt his work approach. He didn’t have to be an employee's best friend; however, he did have to take a more active role in becoming a respected friend.
*Customer-Centric Feedback Replaces Annual Reviews – Origin Direct Asia is the first business that I've encountered on my trip that has never conducted a formal annual employee review process. Instead, they rely on setting goals to determine performance-based bonuses and raises.
Jason also procures another active feedback loop by actively asking customers what the company can do better after the season is over. He asks what the company has done well and where they need to improve. Jason receives feedback for both the company and the individuals who interact with the customer. Then he aggregates and passes the feedback to the proper parties to gain customer-centric insights.
*Let Go and Empower to Grow - Jason used to dread holidays and vacations. He would get stressed that things wouldn't get done when he was gone. Upon reflection, he realized that he created this situation by not empowering the team around him. In fact, even as a child, he was acknowledged as a talented individual performer who struggled as a leader because he didn't delegate enough. Today at Origin Direct Asia, Jason realizes that there are too few people in the company with all the knowledge of the operation, so there are too many points of failure, which limits their growth and jeopardizes them if they lose key staff members.
As a result, Jason has started training and empowering more of his junior staff. For example, his internal accountant and head of logistics were all internal promotions. And the company's retention is sky high, having only lost one person in its entire existence. With more empowerment, hopefully Jason will be able to take a more relaxing vacation versus working on his laptop while cruising on a boat during his honeymoon.
*Conclusion - I learned that the Chinese buy fruit with their eyes because so many fruit purchases are meant as impressionable gifts. Large, perfect-looking (usually non-organic) fruits are highly valued. I also learned that Jason Bosch’s favorite fruits are seedless grapes and cherries, and how challenging it can be for a foreigner to thrive in another country, especially from a cultural and people management perspective. Yet through it all, Jason's tips above serve as a good reminder that even though management styles need to be localized, there are still some best practices, such as customer-centric feedback and employee empowerment, that are valuable regardless of culture.
*Follow @TINYhr on Twitter to get the latest insights and best practices from entrepreneurs as David continues his travels and interviews around-the-world.