"What is your favorite gun?" is a question I never thought I'd ask during one of my careercation interviews. But that's exactly what I asked Paul Chu, Founder and CEO of RedWolf Airsoft "RedWolf." For those who don't know (including me at the time), airsoft guns are highly realistic replicas that run on batteries, compressed air, or manual springs, capable of shooting 15-40 pellets per minute. Some run on car batteries and can shoot upwards of 6,000 rounds per minute!
It's like paintball, but since you're shooting a plastic pellet instead of a ball of paint, it travels farther, strikes more accurately, and YES - hurts like hell when you get hit!
Paul started playing airsoft in 1996 as an escapist hobby. He quickly realized that there weren't any e-commerce sites selling airsoft-related merchandise in the United States, so he founded RedWolf in 1998. Today, RedWolf distributes and retails premium war game products/war game airsoft products globally.
Since Paul possessed an e-commerce background, he teamed up with Chris Pun, an airsoft expert. They've been partners for the past 15 years, and have each learned how to meld Paul's Western management philosophy with his partner's Chinese management philosophy.
They've managed to successfully grow the business, with more than 40 employees in London and Hong Kong. But like any businesses, it's seen its share of ups and downs. The following are lessons that Paul shared around leadership, culture, and people management, especially when balancing a Western / Eastern management approach.
*Align Business Partner to Align Company Culture - Paul readily admits that he's different from Chris. Paul describes his partner as more operations-based whereas he is more business-sales based. This difference rears its head when Paul is trying to reset the company culture. Paul compares it to finding a spouse who has similar ideas on how to raise a family so everyone can be consistent versus familial confusion.
He admits that a couple of years ago, the company culture was an "F." He now thinks it's a "C," and is determined to keep raising the bar. Of course, Paul realizes that if he and his partner are not in agreement as to how they want the culture to be, it's very hard to disseminate that consistent culture within the firm. That is his biggest challenge.
*Personal Bleeds into Professional - Paul thinks that Western management is focused on compartmentalizing emotions and separating personal life from professional life. But he doesn't think that's a viable approach in Hong Kong. To illustrate, a key employee is going through a divorce so he's not showing up at work a lot. Paul's learned to be more flexible with him and says, "Don't worry about it, I understand. Listen, you can just do stuff at night." The employee still cranks stuff out from home, and Paul supports an employee going through a rough patch.
*Motivation Beyond Money - Coming from a Western management background, Paul thought implementing an employee incentive bonus plan would motivate his local warehouse staff. They surprised him by telling him that they didn't want his "stinking money," and they were more concerned about 'Yee Hay,' which loosely translates into brotherhood. For example, Paul sparks more passion and loyalty by rolling up his sleeves to help his warehouse staff pick, pack, and ship until midnight. Nowadays, Paul is better able to motivate his team by understanding their intrinsic value compass.
*Anyone Can Get Hit by a Bus - Paul is a big fan of Cameron Herold's management tips. Cameron will ask a room full of entrepreneurs to raise their hands if there is someone within their company who they think they should let go. Inevitably, a sea of hands will go up. Cameron then exclaims, "You guys are all chicken shit!" They’re afraid to let them go because they don't think they can replace them. But what about the cultural damage they're inflicting daily? And no one is irreplaceable.What if they quit, or got hit by a bus out of the blue? Today, Paul Chu identifies employees who are toxic to his culture and eliminates them as quickly as possible.
*Including Spouses during 1-on-1's - Paul Chu regularly takes his employees out for dinner to catch up. To treat his employee as an equal, he also brings his wife and expects the employee to bring their spouse too. This creates more mutual respect and creates a more sympathetic spouse when the employee has to work longer hours.
*Hire HR Person at 35 Employee - There's no employee count or "magic number" of when to hire a full-time HR person. They hired one at RedWolf when they hit 35 employees. Paul feels that it was the right time for them and anything under 20 employees, he just handled himself.
*Banding Employee Performance - Paul bands his employee performance from a 1 to 5 scale. One is outstanding. Two is very good. But 80% of the employees should receive 3s. In fact, Paul thinks his partner is too generous in giving out 1s and 2s, and needs to sync with him.
*Publicly Displaying Performance - Paul maps out on a matrix every employee's performance rating and their on-time rate (employees are expected to start at 9:30). Each person is represented by a dot and their phone number, so they can quickly see where they stack up against their colleagues. He says many employees were shocked because they didn't realize how poorly they were performing relative to others. Paul calls the lowest performing person "Bob," and of course, no one wants to be Bob. He now incorporates this into his town hall meetings. Now people think, "Oh my god, I'm doing that bad. I didn't realize that everyone else was coming in on time."
*Conclusion - Paul Chu is definitely a straight-shooter with an abundance of energy and classical entrepreneurial impatience. I can appreciate how challenging it is to constantly balance a culture, and to slowly create an effective blend of East-meets-West management style that works for RedWolf. Of course it will be a constant work in process, and I think Paul understands and embraces. By the way, Paul's favorite gun is the P226 which John Travolta used in Face/Off, and RedWolf was one of my favorite offices to visit.
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