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Jason Xie: Making Smart Choices

Volume 1, 2014

By Wendy Wang

As French writer and philosopher Albert Camus so eloquently put it, 'Life is the sum of all your choices'. Jason Xie chose to join China Europe International Business School in 1999, decided to work for eLong.com in 2008 and assumed the position of Chief Operating Officer at eLong in May 2011. These are just a few of the smart choices he has made so far.

Alumni Voice, Volume 1, 2014

After topping the list of Nantong students who took the National College Entrance Examination (Science) in 1993, Jason Xie went on to do a degree in economics at Nanjing University (NU). Once again graduating at the top of his class at NU, he got an offer from Procter & Gamble (P&G) to work as a member of its sales team, with responsibility for one segment of the South China market. Despite the company’s very attractive working environment and career development opportunities, Xie chose to leave in 1999 to do an MBA that would provide him with the theoretical knowledge needed to complement his practical skills. He just had to decide whether to study at an American or Chinese business school. He chose CEIBS.

It was 14 years ago, but Xie can still vividly recall the first time he saw CEIBS’ Shanghai Campus. He was impressed – and surprised. Lovely campus designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, well-designed courses introduced by the admissions office and high-calibre faculty with experience teaching at top-notch international business schools; all these were determining factors that convinced him to stay in China and enrol at CEIBS. His excellent performances in both the written test and the follow-up interview secured him a place.

It’s more important to decide what not to do

After graduating from CEIBS, Xie held jobs at Citibank and FedEx. Then in January 2008, he again made a choice that significantly changed his life. He and a number of former P&G colleagues joined eLong.com as senior executives. He served as Vice President of Web and Business Development. At that time, eLong had been listed on the NASDAQ for four years, but it was still not well-known. It attracted new clients by distributing leaflets in airports and train stations. About 85% of the reservations were made over the phone. Aware of the company’s lack of steady progress, the new management made a critical choice to put forward a different strategy. They decided to scrap everything else and focus only on offering an online hotel reservation service.

Choosing what not to do means giving up something; and that requires courage. The new management had no experience in the hotel industry. So giving up on travel and airline ticket booking services, the very areas in which they had experience, would put them under great internal and external pressure. However based on their rich experience in marketing and considerable business acumen, all the new executives reached the same conclusion: the company must push ahead with its plan to focus on online hotel reservations. Their new vision was to “become China’s leading hotel booking marketplace”. Recalling that crucial moment, Xie says, “We learned in management class that crafting a strategy involves making choices. The first thing is always to choose what not to do. It can help you focus. A wise retreat should be praised just as much as a great victory.”


Retreat and regroup

After carefully studying eLong’s past unsatisfactory performance in hotel reservation, the senior executives reached the conclusion that a feasible solution to the company’s problem was to collaborate with more hotels. Only 4,500 hotels were bookable on eLong back then. Now the number has increased to 36,000. Why were there so few bookable hotels in the early days? Xie and his colleagues soon discovered the reasons. One was the limitation of telephone booking and the other was cost control. Because salespeople could talk with potential clients on the phone for only three to five minutes, only three to five hotels could be recommended. Xie and his colleagues were very excited after they identified the specific challenges they had to overcome. They knew that the more cost effective method of online reservation had no time limit and therefore more hotel options could be provided. They were confident that eLong could attract more clients if reservations were made online.

Their next challenge was figuring out how to rapidly increase the number of bookable hotels on eLong.com. It was not an easy task. Xie and his colleagues decided to assign the task to those who had once managed the leaflet distributing teams. The senior executives believed that these were people with strong execution skills. They could identify new hotels and successfully negotiate to get them on board. The decision proved to be effective, and the team delivered an outstanding performance. The number of available hotels on eLong.com increased to about 10,000 within the 7-month period from May 2008 to December 2008.

Tangible support for employee ventures

The best way to manage people, in Xie’s opinion, is to respect and empower them. So at eLong, talented engineers and product managers are given a lot of freedom to make their own decisions. In addition to empowering employees, Xie and other senior executives adopted another very innovative people management policy. He explains, “If excellent employees wish to start their own businesses, eLong will provide investment support.” He believes that in today’s Internet era, it’s not very difficult for a person to access funding if he has a strong idea. He believes companies are badly in need of talented people, not the other way round. This is why he is convinced that if eLong invests in employees’ projects, it can help them reach their full potential and, in the long run, the company will benefit from employees’ success.

He has also made a personal effort to help employees at the grassroots level. As a successful business executive, Xie is eager to extend as much help to others as he can. Soon after joining eLong, he and other senior executives set aside 5-10% of their annual salary to cover the cost of providing professional training to outstanding employees from the company’s lower levels. Over the last 6 years, 500 employees have benefited from the programme. Xie promises, “We will keep sponsoring excellent employees, and let them grow together with the company.” It also helps that eLong’s largest shareholder, Expedia, recently decided to award 10% of its shares – worth tens of millions of US dollars – to eLong’s senior executives. Xie has high expectations for eLong employees and tremendous confidence in eLong.com.

His confidence appears warranted. In 2013, eLong announced the creation of a USD$100 million fund, which will provide financial support for innovations made – both from in and outside the company – in the services it provides on mobile devices. Xie explains the thinking behind such a large fund, “The marketing of eLong’s online reservation service mainly depends on the search engines of major portal websites. We achieved enormous success in online reservation service, but we cannot repeat it on mobile devices in the same way. To do marketing on mobile devices, innovation is very important. That is why we established the fund. We hope that it will encourage internal innovations from our employees and also attract valuable external innovations.”

Relaxing with CEIBS alumni

There is no doubt that Xie is dedicated to his professional life and making a contribution to eLong’s future development. But he also finds time to unwind. When he’s not on the job, he’s travelling with family and friends or exercising outdoors. “We are all like Sisyphus in Greek mythology. He rolls the same boulder up a hill every day. We also follow our daily routine most of the time. But travel can help us break the routine, put down the boulder, leave the hill and go elsewhere to enjoy different scenery,” he explains.

He is among the co-founders of CEIBS Parent Child Club. Others include CEO of Mangocity.com Huang Zhiwen (EMBA 2006) and COO of Qunar.com Denise Peng (EMBA 2011). The club’s slogan is “To Achieve Career and Family Balance, Travel with CEIBS Alumni”. The founders’ goal was to create a platform for CEIBS alumni to interact with each other during leisurely trips, enjoy time with family members and appreciate the beauty of nature. The club has rapidly gained popularity. In March 2013, only about 20 people went on a hike to the Ancient Hui Hang Caravan Trail. In July, almost 300 CEIBS alumni and family members went on a cruise together. During these trips, alumni have ample time to rest and rejuvenate while strengthening personal and professional relationships. Who knows what next big deal Xie will think up on their next outing…