Whirlpool Corporation’s Asia President Sam Wu learned a great deal about leadership while working for General Electric (GE). A proponent of former GE CEO Jack Welch’s ‘4E’s of Leadership’ model, these days, “I take the opportunity to exercise the four E’s in everything I do, utilising the concepts of energy, edge, execution, and energising others to drive my effort,” Sam tells The CEO Magazine. “People look at you as a role model. Do you have the energy to take the business forward? Can you energise your team, and execute what you promise to deliver? Do you have the edge required to lead your employees through a non-perfect world?”
Aiming to always answer in the affirmative, Sam is committed to leading by example and pursuing opportunities, both market-driven and internal, that could contribute to Whirlpool Corporation’s growth in Asia. “On the market side,” he says, “many people view Asia as one region, but in reality, it’s made up of a few different markets, including Japan, Korea and China.”
These different markets have different needs, based on differences in standards of living and rates of development; as a result, “Asia requires more than one portfolio or mindset. You need a different portfolio to be competitive in different markets.”
This nuanced understanding of market variations is crucial to correctly identify opportunities for growth. Its operation is expanding in China as standards of living rise and consumers find themselves in the market for premium whitegoods. With the market developing, Sam sees an opportunity to take Whirlpool Corporation forward, with “a very different portfolio and a re-shaping of the sales strategy”.
On the internal side, Whirlpool Corporation has split Asia into two regions: Asia North, headquartered in Shanghai and comprising China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; and South Asia, headquartered in New Delhi and covering markets as vastly different as India, Australia, Nepal, Japan, and the Pacific Islands. The two regions are run separately, but Sam sees immense potential for growth arising from greater interaction between the two. “Many products from China could be used to supply the south. To me, there’s a great synergy that could be created by putting the two regions together, so we can leverage the portfolio.”
Hoping to realise this vision of future success, Sam notes that Whirlpool Corporation’s past successes have arisen due to the quality and endurance of the brand. “We are one of a few appliances companies that have existed for more than 100 years,” he says, “and we truly believe in brand leadership.” This inevitably comes back to the quality of the products that the brand is offering. “People believe in the brand because they have used the products. We have operational excellence, and we have always focused on quality and competitiveness. If Whirlpool Corporation is one of two or three brands in consumers’ minds before shopping, that’s a success.”
In addition to the quality of its product, Whirlpool Corporation derives strength from its immense reserves of talent. Seeking always to reinvest in and engage with the company’s many employees, Sam makes sure to first consider things from their perspective. “They want to work for a company they feel proud of, and we offer them opportunities. We start with a goal. If people believe it’s achievable, and that they can create something by working together, this will make them stay.” The company strives to foster a challenging environment, which provides many opportunities to learn new things, and Sam approaches “training and development as an investment that eventually will show a great return for the company”. He is personally mentoring a handful of individuals from
Asia, the US, and Europe, as part of a company-wide mentor/mentee initiative.
Whirlpool Corporation is a global market leader in major whitegoods, and Sam says the company has big plans for the future. “Our vision is to continue to be the global number one for the next 100 years: not only because of our history, but through our new products and new technologies. We work with Amazon, we work with Apple, and we will continue to work with many other companies in this space to develop the next generation of products.”
“If Whirlpool Corporation is one of two or three brands in consumers’ minds before shopping, that’s a success.”
Looking forward, Sam is committed to working towards Whirlpool Corporation’s global vision, but also hopes to achieve goals of a more local nature. He acknowledges that Asia is the smallest region within Whirlpool’s global family. “That’s why I’m here,” he says. “On a regional level, my goal is to grow the company. We currently account for roughly 8% of the corporation, and we want to pull our weight. Asia’s tough, and we have lots of competitors. On the other hand, there’s no reason for us to be below 10% or 15%. This is a goal we need to establish and we need to move forward. In India, we are going through a major market expansion and are clearly in the top three. In China, we are not there.” Sam would like to see the vision “trickle down from global, to regional, to country level, to get employees excited to take the business forward”.
Sam has been interviewed by The CEO Magazine on a previous occasion, when he was CEO of the lighting company OSRAM, Asia–Pacific. Contemplating his career transition, he concludes that, essentially, nothing changed. “Of course, in a different industry and at a different company, your priorities are different. Your strategies are different. However, at the end of the day, it is about how to create success for the customer and for the employee.”