Two women calling the shots
Elaina and Michelle Wu run a warehouse with 230 employees at Yinxi Road in Shanghai, China.
Even by car, it can take a while to get to Yinxi Road from downtown Shanghai. After emerging from the shadows of Shanghai's glistening skyscrapers and the labyrinth of highway access roads, the cityscape gives way to residential rows of low-lying apartment houses, while the smell of cooking from the many small stands along the way fills the air. Then comes the industrial area, where one giant warehouse is followed by the next. One of the buildings stands out, with its three giant red letters glowing against the yellow background. The Yinxi Road warehouse facility iswhere spare parts are stored for two key account customers before they are shipped to customers around the world. The staff here mainly suppliescar repair shops or retailers in eastern China.
At first glance, the Yinxi Road branch is no different from the countless others around the globe. But there is one difference. Here two women are running the show: Elaina and Michelle Wu. While still unusual for most Westerners, this won't turn any heads in China. Since the 1950's, when Mao ruled over the country, women in China have been pulling their weight right alongside men.
Elaina Wu and a member of her team checking inventory.
Neither Elaina nor Michelle Wu started at the Yinxi Road facility as managers. Both women, who share the same last name only by coincidence, got their start as part of the regular staff, doing exactly what their employees do today. Both women also made sure to pursue further education and training. Elaina has a degree in foreign trade and Michelle is a trained logistics engineer. "Here everyone is given the same opportunity to get ahead," explains Elaina.
Elaina and Michelle also make sure to create a positive and supportive working atmosphere at Yinxi Road - an approach that differs from many male counterparts. "Female bosses create a somewhat warmer atmosphere. I want my staff to feel like they are in good hands and well taken care of here," explains Elaina. "After all, we spend so much time at work. We really should feel comfortable and good about it."
Lights out at midnight
All orders are tracked and reviewed in the system. Michelle Wu shows how to keep tabs on every item.
Despite the good vibes, there is still never a dull moment for Elaina, Michelle or the staff. The warehouse is full, with roughly 15,000 spare car parts, plus another several thousand electronic parts for one of the two key customers. Every day about 2,000 new items are warehoused for each customer, while 3,500 to 4,000 items are packed and prepared for dispatch. The staff works in two shifts. The last order reaches DHL SUPPLY CHAIN at 3 PM.
Midnight is the daily deadline for shipments leaving the facility. Elaina and Michelle receive no advanced notice from their customers, so their daily challenge is to react quickly to the orders and get them processed and dispatched on time.
It’s a tight schedule and the staff of 230 has plenty to do. Many of them are busy taking orders from customers and then rushing through the tall rows of shelves with their long lists. Others are packing items and preparing them for shipment. Still, there is room for staff to take advantage of further education and training opportunities. “We make sure to give our employees the chance to develop themselves through additional training,” explains Michelle. “We have a blackboard where we list all the current to-do’s. If we need someone who is good at driving a forklift, for example, then anyone can sign up to do this, regardless of where he or she works.”
Challenge and support
In constant contact with the staff.
Both Elaina and Michelle believe it is important to keep the work as varied as possible for their staff. Part of this is making sure that they don't always assign the same tasks to the same people. Elaina explains the approach as follows: "Everyone needs to be both challenged and supported at the same time. It's important that people get the chance to try new things."
And at the Yinxi Road facility, good performance is rewarded. Salaries are calculated according to a points system and everyone has a fixed and a variable component of their salary. Roughly ten to fifteen percent of the salary varies based on performance. The staff also sets team goals and works together towards achieving them, a process facilitated by the 5-Star Program, which is born out of Deutsche Post DHL's "First Choice" process optimization program. A target is defined and every day a certain number of points are awarded for the work performed.
"When we perform well and achieve the goals we have defined for ourselves, we get a small financial reward. We use this to go out to dinner together, for example, and that motivates people" explains Michelle. Elaina and Michelle remind their staff every day that initiative and commitment can pay off in the long run. No one is born the boss, after all. "Many of our young managers got started as operations staff," they say. "The logistics industry is open to this." Elaina and Michelle Wu are proof. They demonstrate to their employees how it's done - and they demonstrate every day that Yinxi Road is not your average warehouse.
Author: Laura Lehnen