Interview on Chinese Consumers and Women Leadership – Alibaba

Today I am interviewing Cheer Zhang about commerce in China and women leadership. Cheer is the director of AliExpress.com. She is responsible for Alibaba’s global expansion projects and emerging market growth. Before Alibaba, she was a product management director at Amazon, and before that, a regional market director at Procter & Gamble. 

On Chinese Consumer and the Market Trends.

Cheer: Despite the slowdown in economic growth, China will continue to be one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world in the foreseeable future. Three emerging forces—upper-middle-class and affluent consumers, new-age consumers, and online shopping will lead China's new consumer economy.

With the rise of these three forces, consumer demand, consumer behavior, and lifestyle have also changed. With the trend of globalization and the widespread popularization of information such as media and brands, consumers' needs and preferences continue to become more individualized and refined. Therefore, new customer segments such as "single people" and "silver-haired people" continue to emerge in the Chinese consumer market. These new customer groups all have very different needs and desire customized and personalized products and services. New consumer trends such as the pursuit of green living and intelligence have also emerged.

On Leadership.

Cheer: Many people assume women leaders are more conservative and less risk-taking. Actually. I don’t think I’m conservative. As for my leadership style, I am very good at dealing with risks, and I am willing to give people the opportunity to try their own ideas. But once I made a decision, I hope the team can execute firmly and get tangible results. Because of this, my colleagues at Alibaba always say that it is difficult for me to engage in business meetings because I always want to find the crux of the problem and push everyone forward.

On Women in Tech.

Cheer: Nowadays everyone is discussing artificial intelligence, machine intelligence, and various new technologies. People assume that the technological age is an age dominated by men. But at Alibaba, we don’t think so. Women make up only 13% of technical staff, but 51% of our designers and nearly half of product testers are women. We have a product called Tmall Genie. The code of Tmall Genie is written by male engineers, but women are mainly responsible for the design and training.

Even in the world of robots, the standard that determines beauty is still set by women. Some people say that women are better at recognizing colors than men. Others say that women can distinguish a wider range of sounds than men. I personally think that the most important thing is that women are very concerned about user experience. Men pay a lot of attention to themselves, women pay a lot of attention to others, family, husband, children, and colleagues. Women's feelings and experiences of others are more attentive, more communicative, and have a deeper understanding of beauty. This is the key to women's success in designing future technologies.

On Motivation.

Cheer: Having fun is what motivates me to get out of bed every day. Experiencing new things is fun, and it also makes you feel young. Learning is also fun! I ask myself a key question every day: "Are you still curious about the world?" If you are curious about the world, then you can discover something different and find new opportunities.

On Living in Hangzhou. (Because I am from Hangzhou, so I had to ask!) 

Cheer: Before moving to Hangzhou, I worked in Shanghai for a while. To me, Shanghai was too international. The over-crowdedness and the lack of natural landscapes in the city further pushed me to move to Alibaba’s headquarter in Hangzhou. Even though I live in Hangzhou’s future sci-tech city, I feel closer to nature here. My apartment is next to Xixi National Wetland Park, providing a pristine environment to live, work, and innovate. I also enjoy going to dinners by the West Lake and the tea plantation. The pace here is slower compared to Shanghai, and that allows me to think better. I have to agree with Marco Polo, Hangzhou is “the most charming and splendid city in the world”.