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Top execs weigh in on post-pandemic business prospects

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-05-22 06:40

James Chiu, Vice President and Managing Director for General Mills China. [Provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

James Chiu, Vice President and Managing Director for General Mills China

A1: Like our peers, our business in China was inevitably and heavily hit by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, we view it as a natural consequence of the lockdown and stay-at-home policies the government took to control the outbreak, and has nothing to do with whether we are a foreign-invested enterprise.

Unlike some foreign-invested enterprises who treat China as a manufacturing base, we are very focused on local market and consumer needs and committed to the long-term growth opportunity the Chinese market offers. We don't think there are any other emerging markets that can provide the great business opportunities China does now.

At this year's two sessions, we are eager to see what kind of economic stimulation plans will be discussed and approved to resume growth momentum in the overall economy, create more jobs, increase people's incomes and encourage people to spend. As a foreign-funded enterprise, we also want to see China reassure the world the open-door policy will remain and be further enhanced to help the world fight a potential recession. We are also interested to learn the directions and actions China will take to stabilize and improve the China-US relationship, including the trade relationship, which is the most important one directing the business and political environment for the long term.

A2: Thanks to the local government's strong supports, Wanchai Ferry plant resumed its production as early as Jan 28 serving as one of the first re-opened companies in the area. Our Haagen-Dazs shops also reopened to the public gradually. We are seeing business come back step by step, and have the confidence for a full recovery in summer.

As one of our core markets, China plays a critical role in General Mills' global strategy. We witnessed what China has achieved in the past 30 years and have a long-term commitment for China and will continue it. We view the pandemic as a short-term market volatility and are amazed by the effective and swift response the Chinese government took to control the situation. We have strong confidence in the Chinese government, and General Mills' long-term strategy and commitment to China will not change. With the latest developments of the pandemic, we also foresee China will play a much bigger role and grow opportunities for us in General Mill's overall strategy. 

A3: The epidemic has had an impact on the short-term production and operation of foreign-funded enterprises, such as the risk of restricting construction, falling orders, overburdening labor costs, supply chain disruption and insufficient personnel. Since the outbreak, governments at all levels have been actively helping foreign-funded enterprises meet the challenges of the epidemic, coordinated and solved some practical problems in terms of investment, production and operation, and introduced a series of policy measures to help enterprises revitalize businesses.

Take the resumption of work as an example. We have been given a great deal of care, such as matchmaking mask resources, providing disinfectant and officials visits. On top of that, the government has repeatedly inquired about our business operations, guided us to resume work and production in response to the challenges we face, and supported our work on epidemic prevention and control. In addition, the policy of periodic reduction and exemption of tax and rent, and government assistance in procurement have helped us withstand the epidemic, ensuring orderly progress in the resumption of production and providing a buffer period for our recovery in the next quarter.

A4: If there is only one opportunity we can pick, it would be to transfer the business model by "digitalization". We talked about digitalization transformation for years, but the sense of urgency was not so strong. What the pandemic changed dramatically is the sense of urgency and determination, as such transformation requires huge investments, not only in technical areas but also talent, and reshaping of our organization.

We are taking a holistic approach to accelerate the transformation process to act more swiftly and responsively to the changing needs of Chinese consumers.

A5: General Mills is proud of its "people-oriented" culture. Hence, it was very natural for us to put employee safety as our first priority at the very beginning of the outbreak. We mobilized global resources to ensure we had enough PPE for our employees. Although we had to close the majority of our Haagen Dazs shops, which resulted in the significant decline of our business, we made the decision to keep our employees with us. We knew we needed to go through this together.   We are very proud all our employees in China are safe.

We believe during such a difficult time nothing is more important than an employee keeping their job and having the sense of being needed and the ability to support their family. As an employer, the best thing we can do is to provide such work opportunities by growing our business in China.

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