CHINA> Interview
Electronics giant determined in ongoing battle abroad
By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-11 11:30

It took five years, but TV and mobile phone maker TCL's chairman Li Dongsheng finally saw the company recover its overseas business.

Last year, TCL's sales of liquid crystal display (LCD) products in Europe and US began to surge.

The company's worldwide ranking in the industry rose to 8th from 13th, with its global sale of units rising 233 percent year-on-year.

But the ongoing global financial crisis has disrupted continued growth.

TCL's overseas LCD sales plunged nearly 26.44 percent in the first half of this year to 6.36 billion yuan, but downturn has not dampened the company's ambitious goal to become the global leader in electronic appliances, especially after it stood its ground against international heavyweights.

"We are very determined to catch up with the world's top electronic enterprises through the development of advanced technology and branding services," Li told China Daily in an interview.

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He is confident of making a firm presence in the European and US markets, despite the sharp decline amid the global financial crisis.

"We are adjusting our overseas strategy to resume our growth in the market which was visible in first half of 2008," Li said.

At present, 46 percent of his company's sales revenue comes from overseas markets.

Li admitted it might take less for Chinese companies today to go abroad, but it was impossible not to make mistakes in the process.

"I'd love to share my experiences and lessons, particularly lessons, with my peers," said Li, who allegedly lost about 10 kg during the tough times after TCL merged with French consumer products giant Thomson in 2003.

He was ambitious and moved aggressively into overseas buyouts, but things changed after larger-than-expected losses hit in the first half of 2005.

The pressure mounted and by the second half of the same year, a series of unexpected crises threatened to plunge the company into even more trouble.

High salary costs and an unsuitable market strategy hit the company's sales in the European countries with a loss of 220 million euros by 2006.

"We were not prepared well. We did not identify the problems," Li conceded in an interview later.

What he meant was the invisible rules behind the mergers.

"We hired the best agency to evaluate the market but we learned the invisible rules by practice (in merger and acquistion)," he said.

"You are learning by doing," he said.

"Going international is not just a show," the chairman said. "It is a 'growing-up' experience."

"It's like running a marathon. Once the race has started, there is no turning back," he said.

But even in the most difficult of times, Li did not think of quitting.

After all, he had fed fish and farmed rice during the country's "cultural revolution" (1966-76) before he built his electronic appliances empire near a paddy field in Huizhou in south China's Guangdong province.

A long-term vision and ample resources are the best weapons to fight wars on a foreign land, Li said.

"You need a feasible and long-term strategy. Start small. And revise while you are implementing it," he said.

The first three to five years will also consume large amounts of a company's resources - capital, technology and management experiences.

"For a home appliances company, it is very hard to gain profit in the first few years in a foreign market," Li said.

"To fight the war, you have to be prepared with enough resources."