China’s home appliances queen Dong Mingzhu stays on as chairwoman of air-con maker Gree

  • Dong, who has not taken a single day off from work in nearly 30 years, promises shareholders 10pc annualised sales growth over next five years
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2019, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2019, 8:16pm

Dong Mingzhu, China’s “home appliances queen,” was re-elected chairwoman of Gree Electric Appliances on Wednesday, as the mainland’s most prominent female entrepreneur promised a minimum 10 per cent annualised sales growth over the next five years.

Dong, 64, who has not taken a day’s leave in nearly 30 years, told a shareholders’ meeting in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, that by staying at the helm of the country’s largest air-conditioner maker it would ensure the continuity of Gree’s long-term development and that she would step down when the time comes.

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“I would [like to] say I want to retire now, but a company’s growth cannot come without continuity,” Dong said, according to a live blog on the website of the financial and stock information provider East Money Information. “Eventually, the top bosses of the company will be those who treat the company like their family.”

Shenzhen-listed Gree is expected to confirm in an exchange filing that Dong would continue as chairwoman, a position she took in 2012.

The Zhuhai-based company reported sales of more than 150 billion yuan (US$22.2 billion) for the first three months of 2018, up 34 per cent from a year earlier.

The company said in an exchange filing that net profit for the last three quarters of 2018 was estimated to hit 21.57 billion yuan, 40 per cent higher than the same period in 2017.

Succeeding by degrees

Dong’s 10 per cent annual sales growth projection is rather bold and aggressive not least because of the slowing Chinese economy and lingering worries about the US-China trade war’s impact on purchases of consumer durables.

Gree also makes electric fans, water dispensers, heaters, rice cookers, air purifiers, water kettles, humidifiers and induction cookers, among others.

But the straight-talking Dong has long been a media darling as she does not hold back much.

In 2014, she labelled smartphone maker Xiaomi and rival appliance maker Midea “thieves” after a court case in which Midea was found guilty of using Gree’s patents for its air conditioners.

Dong started off as an administrative assistant at a government research institute in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, before coming to Guangdong in 1990 to look for new career development opportunities.

She became manager of Gree’s sales department in 1996 and was promoted to deputy general manager’s position the following year.

In 2001, Dong was named president.

Dong’s leadership skills have won her several awards. In 2015, Fortune magazine ranked her as the fourth most powerful woman in Asia-Pacific. But her insistence on continuing as chairwoman of Gree has become a talking point among the country’s business and investment community.

In China, the retirement age is set at 60, but those above that age can continue to work if they are kept on by their employers.

“There is no compulsory retirement age for executives at listed companies,” Dong said at the meeting. “You can work as long as you want to continue to work.”

On Wednesday, Gree’s A shares closed 1.4 per cent higher at 39.31 yuan.

Last year, they slumped 18.3 per cent, but have rebounded 10.1 per cent so far this year.