August 23, 2011
An interview with Shunee Yee, President & CEO of CSOFT
“You know… that’s not how business works,” Yee said, illustrating a graph in the air with sharp ups and downs. “Rather than a static graph, business is more of a spiral. If it doesn’t climb up, it will slip down. And at every turning point there is a threshold.”
Yee is a lady of typical Southern Chinese build—delicate, graceful, restrained, and with an artistic temperament. Yet within a few minutes of conversation with her, you can’t help but acknowledge the strong incisiveness and acumen of a practical businesswoman.
Under Yee’s direction, the senior managers at CSOFT are fully aware of the fact that they cannot manage effectively from their comfortable office chairs. Their boss has led by example; having just recently personally traveled to Europe to secure a new major customer, and in spite of their flourishing business, they are frequently reminded of the potential challenges inherent in developing a false sense of security. “Bill Gates told his employees about the success of Microsoft. He also often reminded them that, in terms of bankruptcy, Microsoft could be as close as 90 days away,” Yee added. “I can say that, as far as bankruptcy is concerned, CSOFT could be as close as 30 days away. Everyone at CSOFT must maintain a sense of urgency, responsibility, and never let their guard down.”
Recently, Yee told The Week, she has been in frequent contact with top domestic and international investment funds. Revving up for the capital market is her next task— to help her company take the plunge from “good to great.”
Q: I’m surprised to see people of so many different nationalities working at CSOFT’s headquarters. How many foreign nationals are employed at your company? Have there been any conflicts at work as a result of cultural differences?
A: Well, in our Beijing office alone, we have employees representing more than 20 different nationalities, so you can imagine how difficult it can be to maintain a unified company culture. I was once joking with my team that – at our annual operations summit – we should make up our own version of Mambo Number 5, as in, ‘A little bit of Russia’s all I need. A little bit of France is all I see,’ etc. In our office, here and there, we always hear people say, ‘He is so French’ or ‘She is so German.’ Whenever I hear things like this, I always want to respond, ‘Can’t we all just be so CSOFT?!’ Once our team members learn to possess this kind of mindset, they naturally figure out how to balance things. They’re no longer shy about their unique culture, and they learn how to better collaborate with, compromise and appreciate each other.
‘One World, One Market’ is CSOFT’s tagline. Our business stands at the intersection of language and technology, touching upon many fields and industries. Some multinational companies are trying to sell their products in foreign markets, and they want to achieve that through simply changing the language interface of their products. But the fact of the matter is that there are many other areas that need to be changed, particularly areas with culturally relative elements. Take the Middle Eastern market for example. For advertisements in this market, it’s not appropriate for a woman to appear in a shirt without sleeves. Locally, these kinds of things will be viewed as indecent or disgraceful. Because of details like this, even for a seemingly simple product, there’s a wealth of targeted cultural data and regulatory information that needs to be taken into account before companies can successfully sell their products overseas.
Q: You have mentioned that your company is like your second child. We all know that parents like to plan for their children’s future. I presume that, during the start-up stage, it was very difficult to foresee how big CSOFT would eventually grow to become. In your view, what are the things that have led you to where you are today, and have helped you to stay committed?
A: Getting to where we are today is primarily a result of focusing on the details, and doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Starting up a business isn’t a grand and glamorous process. It’s very hands-on in that it’s those little, ordinary things that you have to pay attention to. For anything that I do, big or small, I’m the type of person who puts all of my attention into doing them precisely, doing them well. I’m not suggesting that I’m good in all areas. Just like everyone else, I have moments of disappointment. But like fine wine, people improve with age. When you grow older, you get a better idea of the things you’re good at. You become more tolerant, more able to accept disappointment.
People have a tendency to be embittered by disappointment, and complain about all sorts of unfairness. I use a different approach and try to take every aspect of a problem into consideration. I feel that Fate is fair. All men are created equal, but not all men are able to seize their moment or are willing to put in enough effort to materialize their luck. What I mean by that is that disappointment—or even failure—is part of the bigger picture, and it’s how you deal with disappointment that determines whether or not you can be a success.
When making a choice or decision, you’re inevitably influenced by various considerations. What’s most important in my view is how you look at any given opportunity. If you truly believe that it’s your opportunity—or your ‘moment,’ so to speak—you need to seize it, and work hard to materialize it. Then, in a way, that opportunity—including the difficulties that may arise from it—becomes your luck. Regardless of the choices you make, success does not come by itself. Dreaming without hard work will never amount to anything.
At CSOFT, I have come to realize how amazing individual potential can be. This is the proudest moment for me as a manager. When our employees are given more responsibility, it translates into tremendous productivity. When we stimulate, mobilize, and utilize the personal initiative of every employee, the positive impact is much greater than that of any procedure or system.
Witnessing this type of personal growth among my colleagues is what has helped me stay committed to CSOFT over the years. I strongly believe every individual equipped with determination and perseverance has the potential to succeed on their own. If you can’t be number one or number two in your chosen sector, you might want to consider doing something else. Striving to become the best—that’s the much-needed pride of an entrepreneur.
Q: CSOFT recently entered into its eighth year of operation. The company is doing extremely well in terms of profitability. Have you ever attracted the attention of investors? What’s your plan for the future? Any plans of financing or going IPO?
A: I’ve been working in the industry for some eighteen years now. Eight of those years have been with my own company, where the growth has been 100% organic. Naturally, at different stages of business or life, people have different thoughts and ideas. Frankly, I would have rejected the thought of merger and acquisition when I first started this company eight years ago, because M&A’s often tend to focus solely on the ROI of investors, and not necessarily on the interests of customers, management or regular employees. But truly great companies, Microsoft for example, have been able to bring benefits to all three parties—in addition to investors—during the process.
Some great companies are capable of keeping their market value steady and beating the market for fifteen years in a row. These companies are the ones that are hardheaded, down-to-earth, and focus on executing business details well, instead of relishing in the glamour or spotlight. My hope for CSOFT is that it will join these ranks as a solid company that lasts.
Recently, I have been in frequent contact with investors. This, I feel, has been a great period of introspection and reflection. I often joke that we’re like fish in a tank, but feeling good about ourselves is simply not enough. Whether we look good or not, we have to be judged by viewers outside the tank. Or – in other words – we need to truly understand how others perceive us in order to better realize our value.
CSOFT has been growing well. A key reason is that, financially speaking, we are very principled and disciplined. Because of our sound financial health, we are in the perfect position to pick and choose the investors with whom we’d like to cooperate.
Many public companies, Microsoft or Google for example, went public not because they were short on money; they chose to go public so that they would be able to expand more aggressively and so that their employees would be better rewarded. To me, as a company founder, the relentless pursuit of greatness and a sense of achievement are far greater than what making money alone entails. I relish in the achievement and satisfaction of seeing those who have worked and fought alongside of me being well rewarded. We have greatly matured and are ready for the next, bigger step.
My goal is that, in the next four or five years, we will be able to rise and enter into a new phase, and that our new generation of leaders will be able to excel. And then, the even newer generation will be able to further excel, et cetera. This is extremely important to us.
In the next few years, many of our staff will continue to grow with us. There will also be new faces and new management. This company was born in the same year as my son. In a certain sense, as you mentioned, CSOFT is my second child. My love for and faith in the company will last forever. This, however, does not suggest that I will always be the all-powerful frontrunner to spearhead our future growth. My personal management philosophy is to distill the wisdom of my management team and prepare it for future generations. I’m very fortunate to work with a team that shares the same dream, ambitions, and goals as I do.
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About CSOFT International
CSOFT International Ltd. is a world leader in localization and globalization consulting services, providing turnkey solutions for companies facing the challenges of engaging customers and markets across linguistic and cultural barriers. Recognized as one of the Top Innovative Companies in 2011 by IDC we have an award-winning international team. In 2012, the company’s CEO was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and a Tech Disruptor by CNN Money.