Working at Tembo: Dan Zhang #WeAreTembo

Regional Sales Director
Working at Tembo: Dan Zhang #WeAreTembo

What does it mean for you to work in the Tembo company?

For me it means transformation.

21 years ago, I decided to leave China National Tobacco Co. (CNTC) and join the small family owned Dutch company - ITM.

CNTC is a huge state owned conglomerate with more than half a million employees in China, and there I was offered a job for life time. You can imagine what a change I had to go through in the beginning, when I joined a totally different organization.

So, moving to ITM and growing with ITM has been a fascinating journey. I feel fortunate to have had a chance working with two generations of family business leaders.

I like my job and the opportunities to travel the world, meeting people from different cultures, using my talent and connections to contribute to the growth of business, while learning and developing my own knowledge and expertise.

I am proud to see Tembo moving forward as a professional player, exploring different industry sectors, developing new technologies and taking social responsibility. Over the years, I’ve seen people come and go, lose and win customers, and our turnover tripled in the last decade. Still, the company is able to remain her charm as a family owned business.

What does the theme of sustainability do to you? Do you notice any change in your work?

Sustainability in Chinese has two meanings: continuance and development. These two meanings appear to contradict one another. On one hand stay the same, on the other hand move ahead. It’s quite challenging to achieve both at the same time. So to me, sustainability means balance by changing priorities and growing new habits.

With new technologies I believe it’s possible to improve and find balance in many situations. For example, at sales, I need to travel a lot meeting customers.

Now with tools like Star Leaf, Zoom, I can reduce the travel, sitting in my office or even home and still communicate with people on the other side of globe, almost face to face.

We can conduct business with a much smaller CO2 footprint. Of course, this is based on good support from IT and necessary training to help people, especially the customers to adopt and accept this new way of working.

What do you think of working in a men's world? Does this give you a head start?

When I finished university and started working in China, my first job application of working for the sales department was turned down by the factory director in CNTC. The explanation I received was that as a girl, I can’t drink much alcohol with customers like the guys can.

It took me a half year to convince the director that for the sales department, my knowledge and ability in handling market research and professional brand promotion can be more valuable than developing a drinking skill. I got the job as their first market information analyst.

In 1999, I joined ITM as the first female sales representative responsible for reopening the Chinese market that had been closed to ITM since 1989. Technology and engineering in the tobacco industry is a male dominated world, very often I find myself as the only female sitting in the meeting with 20-30 males.

At ITM/Tembo I never felt discriminated as a woman and always receive great support and cooperation from male colleagues. However, I have to face people with macho attitude in some business negotiations, which sometimes makes me emotional and over defensive.

Thanks to the special education and training opportunities offered by our company to me in the past years, I have become more resilient and skillful in handling such situations.

From my experiences and studies, I am also ready to help other female colleagues if they feel they are struggling in a similar situation.

You have completed another course. How can you apply it in your work?

I finished my second master program in Applied Psychology at Liverpool University 3 years ago, then the Leadership Development course at Harvard Business School last year. These studies have immediately helped me to gain deeper understanding about myself and other people, and also laid a solid foundation for me to manage behavioral and organizational change in any business setting.

One of the research projects I involved some colleagues for a survey about time management, is related to prioritizing two components: urgent vs important. The insight gained from this study is applicable daily at work, from decision making to sales negotiations and personal development to business strategy forming.

In some high stack, complex business negations, my trained business skills helped to get better result not only for our company but also for customers. Another example is applying Congruence Model in the current Star-X project we have with CNTC, together with our board members and project team, we have formed and started adopting a new work process that to help us manage short-term risks and build up long-term strength on the local market. A cross-functional and cross-cultural team is created with more team synergy to improve operation performance.

What is your ideal work of tomorrow? What change would you like to see for the future?

When I was 18, my dream was becoming an architect or a designer. I realized later that most young people have to work for living and make a career; only a few lucky ones have opportunities to choose an ideal work as occupation. My ideal work would be something to do with creativity, with learning, exploring and expanding boundaries, either in business or in personal development.

In Tembo group, we have launched several new products and technology platforms in different industry sectors. In the next steps what I would like to see is the development in organization structure and work process on the group level.

Such development is essential for Tembo companies to reach higher efficiency and stay competitive on the market. In the current Star-X project with CNTC, we are implementing some of these changes, but it is still a long way to go. I am also interested in growing our business in new industry sectors like the paper straw, which is a very exciting market now.