I recently stumbled upon a story on Shi Yuzhu, founder of Chinese game developer Giant Interactive and one of the richest people in China with an estimated worth of 3.15 billion US dollars in 2015.
Shi left his post as CEO of Giant Interactive back in 2013, and returned to restructure the company earlier this year. Shi downsized his upper management team from 160 to 28, laying off more than 80% of his leadership team. Shi cited the adoption of “wolf culture” for the unexpected management turn he took.
The world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei Technologies coined the term “wolf culture” in the '90s, and attributed much of their global success to their winning culture.
According to their corporate website, the wolf culture has three characteristics: bloodthirst, resistant to cold, and pack mentality. These characteristics were illustrated by the company’s core values in detecting market trends, enduring through hardships, and cooperation.
Huawei Technologies founder Ren Zhengfei, who served in the People's Liberation Army until his late-30s, encourages his employees to work overtime and sleep in the office. The corporate culture creates a harsh environment that promotes the law of the jungle. The bottom five percent of performers are removed, and only the strong survive. Nowadays, many of the technology giants, such as Baidu and Alibaba Group, adopt a similar corporate cultural blueprint.
During a town hall meeting, Shi brought up recent conversations he exchanged with Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group. The two debated whether a company would suffer worse consequences for hiring an evil employee or a rabbit.
A rabbit is the opposite of a wolf. Rabbits make friends, and breed more rabbits. However, rabbits are not aggressive, and they do not produce results. If you are not careful, they will even build a nest in your company.
Jack Ma convinced Shi that while an evil employee can deal significant damage by sabotaging your company, the harm is temporary. It will likely only happen once. Rabbits will stagnate growth and slowly kill your company over the years.
Shi took Jack Ma’s advice to heart. And Giant Interactive marched on under Shi’s renewed leadership.
The Hunter and the Gatherer
While there are often no right or wrong answers when it comes to management style, I would like to offer a slightly different analogy. A different angle to view our natural qualities. I took this analogy from a former colleague who shared similar sensitivity as me in characterizing people, who called them the hunter and the gatherer.
Hunters share many similar traits as the wolves, however, the gatherers are not exactly rabbits. The gatherers build nests not because they lack the strength to attack—they are the ones who make sure there is enough harvest, and they are the ones raising the next generation of hunters and gatherers.
The way I see it, our team composition should reflect the environment that we live in. From one consulting gig to another, I have seen businesses in various stages of their life cycles. Like seasons, there are summer times when opportunities and leads fall into your lap, and everything you touch blooms into profits. And then there are winter times when nothing grows and you are burning through cash to stay warm.
Anticipate what the nature has in store for us, and create a balanced team to counteract the market around us. Hire a team of hunters for when you need to seize the chance to scale up your business. Entice gatherers to strengthen your operations and prepare for the harsh winter ahead.
Perhaps the question is not whether you want to raise a pack of wolves or build a nest for rabbits, but what do you need to survive the next winter?