William Zhao: ​​​​​​​I don’t think any other country in the world offers a similar kind of experience and opportunity right now

When asked about what the apogee of his time in Shanghai has been, William Zhao answers that “the whole experience has been a highlight, and it’s not ending just yet.”

William anchored himself in Shanghai after discovering the abundance of professional and personal opportunities available in the city. His current role at Metcash is to ensure the company remains financially viable, but also to create a coherent strategy so that the business in China is sustainable for the longer term.

Speaking to Advance about his position at Metcash, the secrets to success, and Australia’s relationship with China, William’s passion pertaining to his life in Shanghai is palpable.

Interview by Molly O'Brien

What does your current role involve, and what projects are you currently working on? 

I look after the operations of Metcash here in China, we have an online e-commerce B2C business and an online/offline B2B business. My day to day job is not only making sure that financially we are viable, but also to make sure there is a coherent strategy in place to execute so that the business here in China is sustainable for the longer term. I’m currently executing our ‘one-stop-shop’ strategy whereby Metcash will work towards being the pre-eminent platform for foreign products coming into the China market. The strategy will involve not only suppliers coming online/offline but also creating a one-stop solution for retailers to tap into. There are many moving parts to the project but we are working hard to make it all work together.

What opportunities have been presented to you in China that you otherwise may not have received in Australia? 

China is a market with 1.5 billion people, so it’s safe to say that the amount of opportunities here is much larger than in Australia. I work in the FMCG sector, an ultra-competitive industry in China with constant changes. It’s a sector full of new ideas and innovation, especially in the ideas of e-commerce and Artificial Intelligence. China is so far ahead of the curve on ‘new retail’ that I don’t think any other country in the world offers a similar kind of experience and opportunity right now. Australia is a great nation with plenty of potential, however, I believe we are very behind in terms of technology, innovation and retail.

Is Shanghai a city that’s particularly conducive to success for expats? If so, why? 

I think the formula for success is the same all around the world; hard work, willingness to learn, adaptability, and the ability to network. Shanghai is definitely a world city and very easy for an expat to live in. To succeed, however, there are more people fighting for the same piece of the pie, so if anything, you’ll have to work extra hard.

What’s your favourite aspect of living in Shanghai? 

Shanghai is a very international city, great food, easy to get around, plenty of art, culture and things to do. The Australian community is tight and it’s also close to travel to a lot of other cities in Asian and Europe. 

What has been a highlight of your time there? 

The whole experience has been a highlight, and it’s not ending just yet. I met my wife here, had my son here so that’s been awesome. The learning curve has been steep in business and culture but I’m fortunate to have been involved in this. This is a country full of opportunities and I hope to continue this journey.

How would you describe Australia’s relationship with China?  

I think we are going through a very tense period in Australian – China relations. There is a lack of dialogue to diffuse the situation and no one is backing down. I think we have to be very clear on our expectations and direction. You don’t need to pick sides you have to look at the future direction of the country and where Australia fits in, is it the Asian century or Australia-America alliance. It’s about mutual respect and no provocation.

What is your role with ACYD? Why do you think their work is important?

I’m a member of the ACYD, meaning I help facilitate business dialogues between Australia and China.  I also help mentor other ACYD members when needed, particularly surrounding issues on doing business in China and navigating through complex issues.