GUANGZHOU -- Dong Mingzhu is a gambler. As chairwoman of Chinese air conditioner maker Gree Electric Appliances, Dong bet 1 billion yen ($165 million) that her company's sales would be higher than smartphone business Xiaomi's over the next five years.
She joined the company as a salesperson when she was 36 years old and worked her way through the ranks. Dong became president 10 years after joining Gree Electric. The key to her success is said to be her practicality and determination.
Known as a hard-working figure, stories of Dong abound. When she broke her leg, she refused to let go of her business, visiting clients while in plaster. In another instance, after a client refused to pay for delivered products, Dong hounded the customer for 40 straight days until all goods were returned to Gree Electric.
Her philosophy is simple and unique in China: People will pay for quality. One electrical goods store was selling Gree's products at discount without permission. When Dong heard of this, she immediately had her company's goods withdrawn from the store. These stories earned Dong the nickname "the Iron Lady."
Gree Electric posted nearly 100 billion yuan ($16.37 billion) in sales in 2012. It looks like it will achieve its goal of 120 billion yuan in sales this year. Next year the company wants to add another 20 billion yuan to its sales.
The key to its continued growth is exports. The company is considering building a factory in the U.S. to gain a foothold in developed countries. The majority of its sales are currently in emerging economies. As an initial move, it has set up sales companies in the U.S.
Dong generated a media buzz by appearing in the TV commercial of a refrigerator maker to which her company provides cooling technology. Whether Gree Electric, which has specialized in air conditioners for many years, plans to diversify is being watched closely. Whatever happens, Dong's staff must be sure to remember her mantra: "I am always right."