When we pulled up to today’s company visit, I thought we had traveled a few thousand miles and found ourselves at a German University. As I would later find out, this corporate campus was designed to look like a Western college, with lots of wide red-brick buildings and a central clock tower overlooking a large green lawn. We walked into a large atrium that looked just like a lecture hall, and were introduced to the Sunshine Insurance Group. The company was founded only thirteen years ago, but had rapidly grown to a Chinese Fortune 500 company. We then watched a thirty minute video presentation on the founding of the company, complete with dramatic music and a heroic story arc starring the CEO of the company, Zhang Weigong. Our guide then led us through a small museum that was built for the company’s ten-year anniversary. It showcased the original couch that the seven founders of Sunshine Insurance spent hours working on a business plan, original charters for the company, and of course, a scale diorama of the corporate campus.
Moving outside, we were met by a pair of chauffeured golf carts. While the carts only moved at a walking pace behind the rest of the group, those lucky enough to get a seat on the carts were pampered with shade and a bottle of Fiji water. As we toured the rest of the campus, we saw large gardens, statues large and small, and an artificial creek that ran into a pond dotted with fountains. We found out that while the insurance company wasn’t directly relevant to the trip’s topic of smartphones, we had been invited by a Pitt alumnus who worked at Sunshine as a high-level manager. The extravagance and success of Sunshine Insurance continued to be apparent at lunch, where we were treated to sweet buns with purple filling and noodles of all kinds.
Before our next company visit to Xiaomi, we were given a half hour to wander a mall next door to the company headquarters. Now we had already been inside a Beijing mall before, but it always struck me how large they were, especially vertically. This particular mall was at least five floors and packed with people. The malls in China were much busier than I’ve seen any mall in south eastern PA, similar to how I imagine they must have looked like in America twenty years ago. Within the mall, we found a Xiaomi store and were able to get an insight into many of the products that they produced. While they were typically seen as a smartphone manufacturer, Xiaomi worked hard to build what they called the “Xiaomi ecosystem”. This included selling consumers not only smartphones and laptops, but TVs, robotic vacuums, lights, security systems, rice cookers, water purifiers, backpacks, and just about everything you could find in the home. A store employee even demonstrated a product similar to Amazon’s Alexa, where you could control all your smart devices with just your voice.
When it was time for the Xiaomi HQ visit, we arrived just as employees were taking their lunch break. Interestingly, I saw that some took this free time to take a nap at their desks. Our company representative gave a presentation on the supply chain of their smartphones and answered many of our questions regarding their company and China’s smartphone market in general. We were told that Xiaomi wanted to “empower everyone to enjoy technology”, which is one thing that really drives them to keep the prices of their products low. Xiaomi tends to differentiate their product by improving the performance of the phone’s camera and general aesthetics, as they believe that the phone’s current processing power is high enough for the average consumer. I learned that Xiaomi is much more global company than I expected, with a market presence in nearly every country except for the United States and Canada, where it is much harder to get the necessary certification to sell their smartphones. I was also impressed with how fast they were able to move from an idea to an actualized product; after a phone leaves the Product Development department, it can be completed and hitting store shelves in three to six months.
For dinner we enjoyed some dumplings near our hotel. I was a fan of the meat and mushroom dumplings as well as those made with pork and celery. Dumplings are especially difficult to pick up with chopsticks, but I was able to get by with a bit of stabbing and scooping when need be.
Following dinner, Jacob and I went to the Cat Cafe, where we paid to spend time in a room full of lounging cats; it was a blast. There were lots of different cats- from Siberian to Bengal- but there were also more flat-faced cats than I had seen in my life. The cats were all very friendly, eager to be pet and even climb into our laps when we sat down. The staff even gave us a small bag of cat food, something that made the cats swarm as soon as the bags were opened. While we spent nearly an hour in the cat room, we were definitely sad to leave our new feline friends. The Cat Cafe was easily the highlight of my day.