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The History of Metrohm China

Metrohm China started in 2001. Many actors involved in the company founding are still around, most importantly Managing Director Joseph Tse. While I was visiting the Hong Kong office, where Joseph is based, he told me the story of Metrohm China and talked about his contribution to the company and its success.

Seventeen people work at Metrohm China’s Hong Kong office. Among them are many who have been with Metrohm China for many years. For example, Logistics Manager Jenny who joined as a service engineer 17 years ago. Or Sales and Service Supervisor Albert who started as an application specialist in 2010. Or Managing Director Joseph, who was behind the founding of Metrohm China.

First Contact With Metrohm

In April of 1995, Joseph took a job as a product manager at a distributor of chemical analysis instrumentation. The company, Schmidt Group, represented Metrohm exclusively in China at the time. «I looked after more or less 10 different product lines, and one of them was Metrohm,» Joseph tells me. At the time, the contribution of Metrohm sales was small compared to the other product lines that he was responsible for. «It made me focus less on Metrohm. But after a few months I realized that Metrohm was the best of them all. Firstly, it matched my background perfectly as I majored in analytical chemistry. Secondly, the support I got from Metrohm International Headquarters was better than that of all the other product lines. The people at headquarters were all very friendly and very positive, and they were able to provide support for whatever I wanted. They made me love Metrohm.»

So Joseph, together with his team, started to put more effort into Metrohm sales and managed to reach what were record sales back then. After a visit in Herisau, still in his function as Product Manager, Joseph started to understand the Metrohm culture a bit better: «That was the time I started thinking whether we could make Metrohm an independent company in China.» He started discussing the idea with some of his colleagues, most of whom are still working with him today, and he got in touch with then-Metrohm CEO Adrian Déteindre in the summer of 1998.

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Metrohm China’s Hong Kong staff, including managing director Joseph (3rd from left) and Grace from the Guangzhou office (right)

Building a New Company

Joseph and his colleagues who were joining him at Metrohm China worked closely  together to prepare the launch of the new company during two and a half years. On March 1st, 2001 the new Metrohm branch took up operation with only 15 people, spread across five small, rented offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Chengdu.

«Our timing was very good,» says Joseph, «as the Chinese economy was booming at the time and, on the basis of the customer base we’d built over the past five years, we were able to grow the business very fast.» Metrohm China has been growing ever since, not only in sales revenue, but also in staff: the company that once counted only 15 employees now employs almost 300 across China.

How Joseph Shaped Metrohm

«It makes me very happy that most of the people we’ve brought in have been very loyal to the company. It is thanks to our special company culture.» Joseph brought the Metrohm culture he saw at the Metrohm headquarters in Herisau back to China: a cutlure of flat hierarchies that encourages everyone to speak openly and share their ideas and opinions about the business. «We had to adapt it to Chinese culture, of course. Chinese people have a strong hierarchical thinking, so many are hesitant to share real opinions with higher-ranking colleagues. So we have to encourage free speaking much more than it is necessary in Europe.»

«People approach me», Joseph tells me, «and they ask me: ‹Joseph, how can you keep your staff so stable?›» In China’s booming economy, it’s easy for good employees to find another well-paying job, which makes it difficult for many companies to hold their staff.  «To run a business successfully, you cannot just push the staff and put pressure on them. You have to train them, give them opportunities, allow them to grow with the company. We give our people the opportunity of internal promotions to give them the opportunity to prove their worth to the company. Most of them are very successful when you give them a chance.»

Joseph sees his role at Metrohm China in choosing the best people and managing them as well as optimizing the organization. For the daily operation, he relies on his staff: «Metrohm China is successful not because of me but because of all our people. We have to appreciate each one of them and they know they are very valuable for the company. This creates a very good working environment.»

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Hong Kong by night

How Metrohm Shaped Joseph

As much as Joseph has shaped Metrohm China, he thinks that Metrohm shaped him. «When I was young, I think I was quite abrasive and not good in personal relationships. I liked to make decisions by myself and had no patience to listen to other people. And I was a complete workaholic. I didn’t even stop working when I was at home,» Joseph recalls. It was former Metrohm CEO Adrian Déteindre who reminded Joseph to take care of his private life as well: «He said: Both lives are very important, business and family. If you don’t spend time with your family, you will never get it back. And a good family will help you to do good business.»

This valuable advice from Mr. Déteindre, whom Joseph regards as a mentor, made Joseph change his working style: «I’ve optimized my work-life balance. And the changes I’ve made have also made me softer and more sociable—both in my family life and in my work life.»

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