Amway executive to share her experiences in China

April 22, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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One of the world’s most influential women in business will speak on “Growing in China’s Cultural Cross-Currents,” at the World Affairs Council luncheon Wednesday in Grand Rapids at the Watermark Country Club.

Eva Cheng, an executive vice president of Amway Corp. and chairman of Amway (China) Co. Ltd., has been listed in Forbes Magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in The World” the past two years. According to an announcement from the World Affairs Council, she has built the powerful Amway China business from the ground up, and has great insight into the Asian market and the issues currently facing businesses in China.

Cheng said she is “really a very ordinary person” who has just had the good fortune to have an extraordinary career path.

Doug DeVos, the head of Amway, said at the Asian Gala 2010 in Grand Rapids in March that “China is our biggest market and we do whatever Eva tells us.”

Cheng, who lives and works in Hong Kong, has been with Amway since 1977, when she started as an administrative secretary in the Amway Hong Kong office. She said she graduated from a university there, having studied the arts and history — but not business. After graduation, she worked for a government office in Hong Kong for about two years with the hope of moving on to something better.

“I was looking for something outside of government,” she said. She said the Amway Hong Kong operation had placed a help-wanted ad in the newspaper — “the one and only ad I responded to.” She said she was interested but had some second thoughts because the opening was only for an administrative secretary. However, she said she realized it would be “an interesting position” and a good way to learn all about “a big American company that just started in Asia.”

“So I thought, I’ll take my chances,” she said.

“I think I’ve done my fair share of hard work, but I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve enjoyed growing together with Amway. It’s a lot of fun,” said Cheng.

As far as being noticed by Forbes Magazine, Cheng said she is “very honored by the mention” but she feels it is more of a reflection “on the company I represent.”

She obviously has been in the right place through the best of times. Compared to the rest of the world’s nations that are wading out of the global recession, “China is still an economic powerhouse,” she said.

She cited economists who have said China’s gross domestic production will continue to grow at about 8 percent a year for the next 10 years, although that is less than the 10 percent a year China grew for the last 10 years.

The day after she made that comment to the Business Journal, U.S. research analysts based in Beijing reported that China's economic growth surged to 11.9 percent in the first quarter.

Cheng said Amway (China) Co. Ltd. recorded $3 billion in sales in China last year. Forbes estimates that Amway China sales are about 40 percent of Amway’s total revenue.

In her role as corporate executive vice president, Cheng is part of the leadership team responsible for Amway’s global business development. She also has direct responsibility for all markets in Greater China and South East Regions (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei).

It may be “fun,” in Cheng’s words, but doing business in China is no cake walk. She said that Amway launched its operations in mainland China in 1995. In 1998, the Chinese government placed an outright ban on direct sales within the country.

“We were able to explain things and negotiate with the government,” she said, which gave Amway some alternatives that enabled it to continue doing business there. The following several years also brought “multiple regulatory changes” to which Amway had to adapt. Finally, in September 2005, said Cheng, the Chinese government allowed direct selling, “but with lots of Chinese characteristics, quite different from a lot of international norms and standards.”

Cheng said her talk will focus on how Amway persevered in the face of adversity and maneuvered through the cultural cross currents one encounters in China.

China has a population of 1.3 billion, but Cheng said a more meaningful number is “the speed of urbanization.” In China, about 46 percent of the population are urban dwellers. By way of comparison, in the U.S., urban dwellers were reported in the U.S. Census in 2000 as slightly more than 79 percent of the population.

The urbanization rate in China is growing by 1 percent per year, noted Cheng, “a huge market that is mushrooming all over the country.”

“They’re talking about the appearance of a middle class,” she said, “people who have more spending power” each year.

“That’s naturally attractive to a lot of businesses,” she said.

Tickets to the luncheon are $45 for World Affairs Council members or $55 for non-members. Seats may still be available but advance registration is required.  Contact Kathy Kikkert at (616) 776-1721 or email her at kk@worldmichigan.org

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