INSIDE TRACK: Volvo CE’s top man in Sales Region China shares his guiding principles
by Cathy Smith
At 5.30 in the morning, when many of Shanghai’s 23 million residents are still asleep, Francis Sum is out on his daily run. The new president of Volvo Construction Equipment, Sales Region China says he covers up to 10 kilometers every day. “When you sweat you get vitalized. You get energized for the day. Running gives me time to think.”
And just a few months into the job, no doubt this 44-year-old Singaporean has plenty to think about.
Sum is no stranger to Volvo or to China. He has been with the company for 13 years, eight of those in China – but based in Beijing – as the head of Volvo Financial Services (VFS) China. He was the first employee of VFS in Asia in 2001, right after the Asian financial crisis.
His new position with Volvo CE means he is looking at construction sites with a fresh eye: “I do find myself being very conscious of what construction equipment is being used on a job site. It gives me a sense of pride when I identify a Volvo-branded machine and I tell my daughter: “That belongs to Volvo. That’s what Daddy is doing right now.”
He seems genuinely enthusiastic as he grabs a scale model of an excavator from the table and examines it: “I never knew that construction equipment could be so beautiful until I took this job. It’s amazing looking at this piece of equipment – it is actually the foundation of all the tall buildings, all the roads we build.”
Clearly, China is an important market for the whole Volvo Group, not just for Volvo CE, but the fact that Sum has moved into the job just as the Chinese economy has started to slow down does not seem to disturb him unduly.
“Economic cycles go up and down. Personally, I think it’s during a down market that we have more opportunities,” he points out. “A down cycle gives an opportunity to re-position, re-focus and re-look at all our strategies and be better prepared for when the business cycle upturns.”
In other words, it requires patience. And that is where Sum’s ‘guiding principle’ of “the three Ps” comes in. “We have to work with passion, stay positive and we have to be patient for results – that is what I want to share with my team,” he says.
“In terms of my management style, I’m a very hands-on person and am not a believer in a boss and subordinate relationship. I believe in teamwork. We all have a role to play and, as a team, we can all produce more than one individual can.”
There is certainly nothing showy or presidential about Sum’s glass-partitioned office where he prefers to stand, rather than sit, at a raised desk. Just as his morning run helps him to think, he says being on his feet keeps the energy flowing while answering emails or conducting a conference call.
As he gets to grips with the construction equipment market in China, which he sees not as one country but more of a continent with diverse languages and different economic cycles, he has the international trade fair Bauma 2014 taking place on his doorstep in Shanghai.
“This event is particularly important for Volvo China. It is an opportunity for Volvo CE to demonstrate to the world that we are committed to the Chinese market – especially in today’s challenging environment – and that we are continuing to invest in this market and bringing in many new products.”
While thinking about how to grow the business, Sum is also busy growing his family. As his wife and five-year-old daughter are still living in Singapore, he travels back there every three weeks or so and a new baby is due in October. “My second will be a girl as well so I will have two princesses – three princesses – at home,” he corrects himself. “The family will come over to settle here in Shanghai in 2015.”
Sum is a big fan of Shanghai, which he describes as one of the most beautiful cities in thtable with this kind of environment and more of them will take more ownership of the projects they work on.”
e world. His grandfather came from Guangzhou so China is in his blood and although he has been exposed to cosmopolitan culture from an early age he says his family observes traditional Chinese values at home. What interests him, though, are cultural traits which cut across geography and nationality. What he likes in Volvo’s Swedish roots, for example, is the importance of respect for the individual.
“Every culture has its strengths but the strength of the Swedish culture is the importance of a good work-life balance and belief in an individual’s contribution. I’d like to encourage our Chinese colleagues to always express their opinion, always speak their minds. I think more and more staff will get comfortable with this kind of environment and more of them will take more ownership of the projects they work on.”