Proactivity Exemplified: Ethan Xue, President - Middle East And Africa, OPPO
"A good leader should be humble, and have a generous heart to welcome team members with comprehensive backgrounds and believe in them."
“本分” (pronounced “benfen”) is a Chinese term that refers to one’s willingness to take responsibility, and this is one of the principles that Ethan Xue, President for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) at OPPO, shares with me when I ask him about the ideals that he’d recommend fellow business leaders to keep in mind as they go about leading their enterprises. Now, this is a rather small detail from the wide-ranging interview I had with Xue, but given the times we are living through right now, it was this sentiment he shared that particularly struck me, especially when he explained how one could go about exemplifying “本分” (which, by the way, is also one of OPPO’s core values) in our day-to-day lives and businesses: “When issues emerge, be the first to take responsibility, and act proactively.”
Xue, who is originally from China, has been leading OPPO’s MEA operations since August last year, but he’s been working with the company for the past eight years- he reveals that he joined the Dongguan-headquartered enterprise in 2012 right after his graduation, and he’s since worked his way up in a variety of different roles there. Prior to his current role, Xue previously led the marketing team in China for the 2018 launch of Reno, one of OPPO’s premium series of smartphones, and he is today tasked with leading all of the company’s sales and marketing teams based in the MEA region. When asked to describe his duties as OPPO’s President for the MEA region, Xue replies, “My main focus is to understand the local market needs (including culture and consumer behaviors), management of our well-selected talent for the MEA team, and relationships between OPPO and our local partners.”
As a brand, OPPO is perhaps primarily known for its smartphones- from the aforementioned Reno line, to the recently launched Find X series, its devices have found favor with an audience around the globe- Gartner had ranked it fifth in its list of top five smartphone brands in the world for the first quarter of 2020. But smartphones aren’t the only thing that OPPO has under its banner. “There is no doubt that smartphones are now contributing the biggest profits in this market; however, OPPO is expanding,” Xue says. “Our products range from smartphones to IoT (internet of things) products- we’ve launched our first wireless earphones and smartwatch earlier this year, and they will hit the local markets very soon. And that is not the end of the story- as the world’s leading smart device manufacturer and innovator, we’d like our users to see technology as an art form, and provide them with products that can truly affect the way they live.”
OPPO’s latest release in the region has been the Find X2 Pro, with reviews largely casting it as one of the best Android phones you can buy right now. Given his role at OPPO, it’s to be expected that Xue would echo this sentiment- however, there is still something rather human and relatable as he voices his excitement about the device. “I really fancy the black ceramic back of the Find X2 Pro,” Xue says. “The first time I touched it, I was very impressed by the unusual texture. And the journey of surprise only starts there. You will love it more when you find that you can take great photos of, say, running kids, even at night, or when you suddenly realize that taking notes is now never a problem- Find X2 Pro can transfer an image to text with a blink! This is the phone for people who care about work-life balance, who want an easier life, without compromising the quality of their communication and daily activities.”
OPPO Find X2 Pro. Source: OPPO
OPPO made its debut in the MEA region when it joined the Egyptian marketplace in 2015, and a hub for the region was set up in Cairo the next year. In 2019, the brand decided to make Dubai the center of its operations in the region- Xue says this was done because the UAE and Saudi Arabia were the key countries OPPO wanted to focus on in the region in 2020. “I’m pleased to see that the Canalys Q1 2020 report indicated that OPPO is now ranking fifth amongst smartphone vendors in Middle East,” Xue says. “Meanwhile, we also scored the highest year-on-year growth (214%) when comparing all the brands.” While OPPO’s success in the local market can be drawn back to a variety of reasons, Xue points out that the brand’s efforts in understanding the region and the multicultural people who live in it has been especially key. “The MENA region is a market full of opportunities for people who dare to try and always think about local users before they act,” Xue declares.
This is a philosophy that Xue has integrated into his leadership strategy for his team in the region as well. “A good leader should be humble, and have a generous heart to welcome team members with comprehensive backgrounds and believe in them,” Xue says. “As the leader of the MEA market, where we have both Chinese employees from our headquarters as well as from the region, respecting each other and respecting the local market, is the bottom line for us to operate here. I encourage all team members to get to know each other well, and get to know the market from a deeper perspective, which means that they need to be always willing to try new things, while also never stopping learning from the past.” And when it comes to making sure his team feels motivated and supported, Xue believes that a clearly defined goal is absolutely integral to achieving that. “Based on my personal experience of taking management roles, setting up the right goal at the very beginning can affect the whole team and their morale all the way to the end,” he says. “Rumors that lead to negative feelings will travel fast inside the team when they cannot see the finishing line, and as a consequence, that will see them achieve less than expected as well.”
But Xue also notes that once goals are set for the team, they should be allowed to realize them at their own paces- undue pressure from leaders in the beginning can have a negative impact rather than a positive one. “Passion can be stimulated when people get near to realizing a goal,” he says. “So, it’s important for leaders not to push too hard at an early stage- we’ll get there when we get there.” It should be clear here that Xue is not a fan of micromanaging when it comes to leading teams- he subscribes instead to the belief that leaders create leaders. “Good leaders should always trust their teams,” he declares. “I’m not talking about just believing in their skills; of course, that’s the bottom line. But the trust that I’m talking about is allowing team members to make decisions, so that they feel like they really belong to the team. They will also be bonded together via responsibilities of the decisions that they made. You may also see that as a trick to retain an excellent executive team, as each one of them can have a sense of personal achievement at the end of the day, but at the same time, they are also willing to share with each other.”
At this point, it’s worth noting that my conversation with Xue is happening as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, and much like everyone else, he too has been personally affected by the COVID-19 crisis. “The last time I hugged my parents or met with my friends back in China was half a year ago… I miss my hometown so much,” Xue admits. Of course, the business landscape in which Xue operates has been rattled too by the COVID-19 crisis- Gartner says that global sales of smartphones to end users have declined by 20.2% in the first quarter of 2020, with OPPO being one of the brands (alongside Samsung, Huawei, and Apple) that had registered these falls in demand. But there are opportunities to be found in crises as well, Xue notes.
“We’ve witnessed the massive potential of e-commerce because of the widespread COVID-19 situation, and it is quite impressive to me that so many brands and platforms are switching the way they do business with such remarkable speed,” Xue says. “OPPO is one of them- apart from the CSR campaigns we did with media and third party organizations, we’ve achieved satisfactory results in the past quarter, and I’m looking forward to the performance of e-commerce department. In addition, COVID-19 reshaped consumers’ purchase behavior- they’re now tending to spend more time browsing online content, while also starting to pay attention to physical and mental health. I think this is a sign for us to invest even more on social platforms, and also enhance offline experiences to attract consumers who will now evaluate shopping experiences with a higher standard.”
Xue is thus clearly optimistic about what the future holds for OPPO in the MEA region, with him believing that his company’s innovations are certain to find an audience here. “I come from a country where the internet has an impact on almost every aspect of life,” he says. “People browse online when they have to hunt for nice restaurant, call a cab, book a ticket, or get bored- the young generation there cannot live without technology. And after spending some time in the MEA region, I see similar great opportunities here- the demand for technologies that can switch lifestyles from offline to online is booming, and this applies to everything from software developments to smart devices. COVID-19 has perhaps even accelerated the trend, and as such, it is, for sure, a good time to make the maximum use of it.”
When asked about the kind of innovations one can expect from the OPPO brand in the future, Xue points toward the user-centric nature of his company to answer that. “Some people tend to define innovations as groundbreaking technologies or shocking functions that can change your life. From my point of view, innovation can also focus on minor changes, such as, say, slightly moving up the position of a button- the kind of changes where users will benefit, and OPPO always put the demand of users ahead of everything.” From a personal standpoint though, Xue is looking forward to enabling his team to think both daringly and differently to ensure OPPO’s prosperity on the road ahead. “A good leader should always push the boundaries and break rules- you can’t imagine the number of times I’ve upgraded meeting agendas with different discussions!” Xue says. “After all, an idea from a chat over lunch could spark the innovation for the next generation of products- who knows!”
Related: Hands On: OPPO Reno 10x Zoom
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Ethan Xue, President - MEA, OPPO, shares his advice for leaders
1. Don’t limit the definition of learning “Don’t define learning as just as going to a forum, a keynote, a workshop, an e-learning exercise, etc. Learning can sometimes be done by just paying attention to the latest television shows, toys that your kids like to play with, etc.- simple, everyday observations and thinking can provide fresh perspectives to look into the market and users.”
2. Build your network early on “In business, you cannot overstate the importance of support you can get from people you know from way back in your career. Remember to keep in touch with them- that can also help refresh your interpretation of the market sometimes.”
3. Use positivity as a tool “Fuel your team with compliments. It’s always good to show your appreciation and trust as a leader, because when morale is high and people are confident, you will be surprised to see that there is still so much space for them to climb higher up.”
4. Consider your past ambitions “Instead of comparing the kind of job or business you wanted to do when you were a kid and your current state, revisiting a childhood dream can remind you of the kind of person you wanted to become- understanding the reason behind it may call back a lost soul, and it’s a good way to review your practice of enterprise as well.”
5. 本分 “Pronounced ‘benfen,’ this is a Chinese term which is one of OPPO’s core values, and it means being willing to take responsibility. So, when issues emerge, be the first to take the responsibility, and act proactively.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.