Interview with Chinese furniture industry magnate and author Che Jianxin

Interview with Chinese furniture industry magnate and author Che Jianxin


Journalist: To begin, Mr Che, would you please share your intentions in writing and publishing this book? Did you want more people, including Westerners, to understand you and your company Red Star Macalline? Che: That was one of my intentions, but my primary aim was to use my entrepreneurial experience and understanding to help young entrepreneurs succeed. We have already sold nearly one million copies of The Wisdom of Experience, the three-volume Chinese-language version of this book. I condensed the essential features of my book into the shorter English translation in the hopes of communicating with overseas furniture industry colleagues and readers, and soliciting helpful feedback.
In your book, you often talk about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. The primary need is that of self-actualisation.How would you define that? Self-actualisation is a process of clarifying your life’s meaning and gradually turning possibility into reality. Its core value is the sense of achievement, which is not mentioned in Maslow’s theory. There is a chapter in my book called Achievement is the Engine, which is specifically about obtaining a sense of achievement. For me, people are born into the world with the oppor.tunity to demonstrate the value of their lives. They must actively develop and unleash their potential, create value and win the respect of society and their peers. Their sense of achievement in this process, coupled with their constantly emerging wisdom, is self-actualisation. There are four steps to achieving self-actualisation. The first is self-establishment, which is to clearly define the kind of person you want to become in the future and believe you are able to achieve that goal. The second is self-development, which is to change your mind, transform the established thinking patterns you have, and work at least 30% harder than everyone else. The third is self-improvement, constantly challenging your comfort zone and continuously raising your standards of living. The fourth is self-achievement, which is to accumulate small achievements through learning, then to create great achievements. 

Can you briefly talk about your journey to success? I am a living example of self-actualisation. I was born into a poor rural family. I remember one summer day, when I was 14 years old. I was barefoot, picking seedlings on a muddy road in the rain, when I noticed a 74-year-old man carrying more than 50 kilograms of seedlings. At the time, I thought, what if I’m still working as hard as he is 60 years from now? No, I must change my life! Perhaps I planted the seed of self-actualisation in that moment. I have worked extraordinarily hard since then. I started to learn woodworking and ran a small workshop until I opened my own furniture factory and furniture store. When I started my own business, I took the best entrepreneurs as models and determined that I would become one of the world’s outstanding entrepreneurs. It can be said that my entrepreneurial experience fully confirms the four steps of self-actualisation. 

Now, you are a successful businessman who has achieved much. How do you inspire your employees? Red Star Macalline has more than 360 retail stores, and 30,000 employees in China. The subject of my talk at the annual company conference last year was “Another 30,000 Che Jianxin”. I called on all the employees to start businesses and work for themselves, and I took specific steps to encourage them to become professional managers. I don’t like when people call me “boss”, because the company chairman is also a professional manager who serves the community, the shareholders and the employees. I devote my efforts to creating an employee entrepreneurship platform to train “Another 30,000 Che Jianxin”. I believe this  will also inspire and inform young people in the West. 

I notice that you are a person who likes, and is very good at, learning. What role does learning play in your success? Finally, what books are you currently reading? Learning gave me a new life. This was the subject of my speech at the 2005 International Learning Enterprise Forum in Vienna. I only have a junior high school education, but I’ve made a determined effort to study since starting a business. I have read more than a thousand books on philosophy, literature, sociology, psychology and marketing management, as well as law and finance. Becoming an outstanding entrepreneur requires a broad, multifaceted knowledge. It also requires the implementation and development of that knowledge in the practice of work. I have said that books and pens are my basic tools, but it’s more important to say that learning has been the most factor in my self-actualisation. I systematically read several of Maslow’s works last year. Recently, I’ve been reading books by Wang Yangming, a great thinker of China’s Ming Dynasty. It is especially worth studying his The Philosophy of Mind. His doctrine of the “unity of knowing and acting” is the core element of self.actualisation. I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend it to Western friends. I hope they pay it some attention. 

Readers at BookExpo America, the Moscow International Book Fair and Frankfurt Buchmesse were drawn to Work is Life, the story of Che Jianxin’s rise from rural carpenter to famous entrepreneur and Chinese furniture industry magnate. Work is Life will also appear at this year’s London Book Fair.