Com­ing full cir­cle back to where he was born

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ALYWIN CHEW in Shang­hai alywin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

He might have left China at a young age, but Paul Mak ap­pears to have come full cir­cle in life, hav­ing put down roots in Shang­hai where he has worked for the past 28 years.

Born in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, Mak, who is cur­rently the pres­i­dent at Mary Kay Greater China, re­lo­cated to Hong Kong when he just four years old be­fore mov­ing to the United States dur­ing his teenage years to fur­ther his stud­ies.

Born with a tal­ent for math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence, Mak grad­u­ated with hon­ors from the Illi­nois In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Chicago with a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing.

But he was not in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a sci­en­tist fo­cused on re­search mat­ters. In­stead, he as­pired to do work “that would be con­nected to the com­mer­cial world” and as such ended up at SC John­son, one of the world’s lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers of house­hold clean­ing sup­plies and con­sumer chem­i­cals.

His first en­counter with China af­ter leav­ing his home­town came in 1983 when he had to help SC John­son set up a fac­tory in Bei­jing. Seven years af­ter that fate­ful visit, Mak was as­signed to helm the man­u­fac­tur­ing and en­gi­neer­ing di­vi­sions of Shang­hai John­son Co Ltd, the first China joint ven­ture of SC John­son.

Look­ing back, Mak still mar­vels at the stark con­trast be­tween present day Shang­hai and the one from the past.

“When I was here in the 1980s, peo­ple were say­ing win­ner of this year’s Shang­hai Mag­no­lia Gold Award

that China needed 50 years to catch up with Hong Kong,” he said. “At that time, no one would have imag­ined that Shang­hai could change so much, so quickly. To­day, the land­scape in Shang­hai seems to change ev­ery few months with new build­ings pop­ping up all the time.

“But it’s not just the

ar­chi­tec­ture — peo­ple’s mind­sets have changed just as quickly. Back then, most peo­ple had a very sim­ple view of the world and life. Most of our work­ers didn’t plan for the long term. They just wanted to go to work, do their job and get their in­come. It was all about sur­vival. Nowa­days, peo­ple here have more dreams and goals. The out­look of life is just so dif­fer­ent now.

“And I feel spe­cial to be able to wit­ness all the changes that have taken place. I think it’s a once- in- a- life­time ex­pe­ri­ence to be here to wit­ness such a stun­ning de­vel­op­ment.”

In 1997, Mak joined the cos­metic gi­ant Mary Kay as the head of their man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions in China. Just one year later, he was pro­moted to the role of pres­i­dent.

Since tak­ing charge of the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions in China, Mak has em­phat­i­cally demon­strated that his busi­ness acu­men is as strong as his forte in math and sci­ence, help­ing boost Mary Kay’s sales in the coun­try by 100 times over the past 17 years.

Dol­lars and cents aside, Mak has also helped el­e­vate the com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion as an or­ga­ni­za­tion that em­pow­ers women.

In 2002, he spear­headed a mi­cro­cre­dit pro­gram called the Mary Kay Women’s Small Busi­ness Fund which has since helped more than 10,000 women in Yun­nan prov­ince be­come en­trepreneurs. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, which has been a sup­porter of this ini­tia­tive since 2012, the com­pany has con­trib­uted nearly $20 mil­lion to the cause.

“I be­lieve in help­ing oth­ers not by giv­ing them a fish, but by teach­ing them how to fish,” ex­plained Mak of the de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce such a pro­gram. “Also, this project is per­fectly aligned with Mary Kay’s goal of help­ing women.”

The 60- year- old to­day also wears nu­mer­ous hats that il­lus­trate how ac­tive he is within the lo­cal busi­ness ecosys­tem. Be­sides be­ing the vice chair­man of the Shang­hai As­so­ci­a­tion of En­ter­prises with For­eign In­vest­ment, Mak also helms the Jing’an District As­so­ci­a­tion of En­ter­prises with For­eign In­vest­ment and is a board mem­ber of the China chap­ter of the world’s largest non­profit ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion Ju­nior Achieve­ment.

He is also a keen sup­porter of ex­change be­tween China and the rest of the world. One of his most re­cent en­deav­ors was at the 2017 Global Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment In­no­va­tion Con­fer­ence in Ger­many where he spoke about how his com­pany is help­ing ad­dress is­sues on gen­der in­equal­ity and global sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Mak points out that such ex­changes are vi­tal to deep­en­ing the un­der­stand­ing of cul­tures.

“The av­er­age Amer­i­can doesn’t un­der­stand China. They have to be here to see and lis­ten to what’s go­ing on in order to know what’s truly hap­pen­ing.

“Most of the time, the things they read on the news are fil­tered and they don’t get the full pic­ture. Hav­ing ex­change pro­motes bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween two coun­tries,” he said, be­fore re­fer­ring to stereo­types on Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“Back in the 1980s, we were con­cerned about the qual­ity of man­u­fac­tur­ing equip­ment that were made in China so we mostly im­ported from the US or Europe. To­day, it no longer mat­ters where some­thing is made,” Mak con­tin­ued. “Of course, some im­ported ma­chines might be bet­ter, but cheaper lo­cal ma­chines are cer­tainly some­thing to con­sider these days. The stigma that things made in China are of low qual­ity has largely gone away in the in­dus­try.”

“The av­er­age Amer­i­can doesn’t un­der­stand China. They have to be here to see and lis­ten to what’s go­ing on in order to know what’s truly hap­pen­ing.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Paul Mak, who re­ceived the Shang­hai Mag­no­lia Gold Award, be­lieves com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ex­change help pro­mote bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween peo­ple in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

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