And Finally

“I love my staff”

Forget sweatshops, Shi wants happy employees

“I love my staff”

Outgoogling Google: Shi

Mention ‘Homeland’ these days, and many people will think of the US television show.

But for Shi Yuzhu it has a different meaning entirely: it’s the name of his new campus, ‘the Giant Homeland’, housed in huge parkland on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Business tycoon Shi thinks the pleasant environment he has created will foster innovation among the 1,000 or so employees that work there for his online gaming firm Giant Interactive.

The entrepreneur spent Rmb700 million of his own cash to build the campus, although his New York-listed company now uses it rent-free. It was designed by Thom Mayne, the Los Angeles-based architect, winner of the prestigious Pritzker prize in 2005. Among Giant Homeland’s facilities are a cinema, bar, sauna, gym and swimming pool – all set in a green environment near water. And within the park itself there are a series of huge, egg-shaped pillars that are supposed to convey the image of ‘incubating new ideas’.

As working environments go, this may strike some readers as somewhat ‘un-Chinese’. In earlier issues of WiC, we were more likely to be mentioning nondescript factory blocks where unhappy staff threw themselves off building rooftops. By contrast, Shi’s facility sounds far less like a sweatshop and more akin to a Google campus (see WiC144).

Staff are enthusiastic about their new surroundings, reports The Founder magazine. The environment has also stimulated some creative outpouring, and not just in the bar. Giant employees have just finished production of their own film called Play Big (it’s about loving computer games, predictably enough).

Another reason that staff are keen is the low rent, reports the magazine. In spite of the hospitable setting, employees pay just Rmb600 a month for a double room or Rmb400 for a single. Shi says he hopes that staff will not only develop their careers at Homeland, but also find marital partners there.

Shi has reputedly been looking to buy up more surrounding land and build homes – as a perk he plans to sell them to staff at cost.

To some this may sound altruistic but his general approach to nurturing talent may make business sense as well. Staff retention is becoming a tougher task in China, reports the Wall Street Journal, noting that there were roughly 1.4 million more job openings than applicants in 2011. The newspaper also describes China’s talent pool as a “fickle” one, prone to switching on the offer of small pay rises or other incentives.

Perhaps Shi’s feel-good campus may generate more loyalty. Paradoxically, the company’s new corporate culture is at odds with that fostered by Shi in his early business years. Then he was known to have a no-nonsense style, demanding hard work from his minions (for a profile of Shi, see WiC21).

Now he sounds like a man who has had something of an epiphany: “I am a ‘bad guy’ but I take good care of employees,” Shi told The Founder.

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