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CNBC Transcript: Steven Zhang, Vice President, Suning International


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Steven Zhang, Vice President, of Suning International. The interview was broadcast on CNBC on 16 May 2017.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Sophia Yan, Beijing Correspondent, CNBC.

Sophia Yan: What is Suning's overall international strategy and what challenges, opportunities do you see abroad?

Steven Zhang: It's the same with any companies, in any places when they are going globalization, cultural differences, communication differences, language differences, policy differences, legal perspective. You know, any of these kind of things can eventually change how we do business together.

And I think, as President Xi mentioned during the conference, one of the most important things in "One Belt, One Road" is trying to communicate and understand the culture and only people bound together, really feeling each other from heart to heart.

Sophia: Now the Chinese economy is facing a growth slowdown, and the retail sector in particular – there's also a lot of challenges with e-commerce coming. Where does Suning see itself? You've got tons of brick and mortar stores. I know you've also pushed big on e-commerce, but do you need all those stores out there to attract your customers?

Zhang: When younger generation grow up we are seeking things that are different, really associating with us mentally and have a better experience. We want things that eventually can connect with us, from heart, from mind, and we want to be unique. So nobody can say it in five years, what kind of way people want to shop.

What's important is that you're always providing the best experience, best products, and making people's lives easier and convenient. That's the core value or core thinking.

Sophia: Last year, Suning invested in Italian football club Inter Milan. The team has seen better days. Are you disappointed by how the team has performed in your first season in charge?

Zhang: Football in Europe is like a religion. People [are] crazy about it. So Suning as a consumer company, invest into football club, eventually will want to have this football club become a gate that open cultures, open trades, open experience.

Of course, football is football. It always have ups and downs.

You cannot really change a company or a club in a really short period of time.

Sophia: So what's the plan then for the next season after this disappointing season, the one that's going on now? What are you going to do if Antonio Conte doesn't join the team, if you can't lure him over? Who else are you considering?

Zhang: Any choice is possible. Of course, coach is very important for a team, but finding a right player – [it's] just like a company finding right employees – it's the same thing. So we need people, players, management who really stay in the company and play for the club with their heart and spirit. I think when we talk about plan for next season, it's not really the mentality or the things I'm thinking about. I'm more thinking about where the club is going in three years, five years, 10 years.

Sophia: So then, how much are you willing to invest to do all of this, the long term plan? How much are you willing to pay coaches and to lure players, stronger players?

Zhang: This is a very difficult question.

It always depends on, you know, how much revenue we're getting for this club. It's not only about exact how much money we put in, it's more about the strategy that how we should invest in a club.

Sophia: What is the strategy?

Zhang: Most important thing is invest into facilities, invest into youth academy and trainings, because in order to have a long term growth of the club, or in order to have a healthy club, you have to make sure that the younger generation, or the younger players, eventually can try their best and play in a club in the first team.

Sophia: What do you have to say about your disappointed fans? You mentioned before the commitment that you have to making sure that they're happy and that they have something to look forward to, but in the last home defeat some fans walked out to have lunch 20 minutes into the game. What do you have to say to them?

Zhang: Have patience and trust in the club. And I know fans love the club from their heart. So as a club as a management, as a company. For sure we will try our best. And we will do it step by step.

Sophia: You moved to Italy late last year partly to manage this Inter Milan acquisition. Tell me about the transition, what that's been like, and the challenges that you've encountered.

Zhang: It's an experience or also a lesson that for anyone to go out abroad, step by step, embrace the cultures, understand the cultures, learn the culture and introduce them your culture.

Globalization is not something you can change anymore. Really understanding people and learn from people from you heart and accepting them from your heart, was most important for me, for everybody.