By STEVEN NALLEY
Alicia Hu isn’t surprised at the success her brother Stan has become.
When Stan was in high school at Starkville Academy, she said, he was a popular football player who always had a smile on his face. He was also caring and responsible to the point of walking her through her classes on the first day of school and checking up on her progress in those classes, she said.
“Everybody loved him,” Alicia said. “He had that drive to succeed. I just knew he was always going to be successful at whatever he did.”
The surprise, she said, was where he chose to do it. After growing up in Starkville, studying at the University of Alabama, and serving in the U.S. Army, Stan Hu chose to pursue a business career in China, the land he and his parents emigrated from more than two decades ago.
For nearly seven years, Stan has lived and worked in the city of Putian in China’s southern coastal province of Fujian. Formerly, he was director of production and operations for the Putian office of Brown Shoe, umbrella for such brands as Famous Footwear, Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl’s, Buster Brown, AND 1, Vera Wang and Libby Edelman. In early 2011, he became general manager of China operations for TOMS, known for giving away a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair a customer buys.
From one home to another, and back
It was another Chinese coastal town further north, Wenzhou in the Zheijiang province, that Stan and his parents left behind in 1985, he said. He still has family in the Wenzhou area, he said, but he also has family around the world, with his parents each having five siblings.
“The funny story here is that my parents left China to make a better life for us, but I circled back to my origins to launch my own career, which was very comical to my parents,” Stan said. “Basically, my parents moved us to Starkville in 1990, and it has since been home for all of us.”
It was the latest and last of a series of moves around the U.S., Stan said. After a brief business venture into Chinese cuisine with a friend, Stan said, his father made his first return visit to China since emigrating. Stan said his father soon followed that with another first: A Gold Star Chinese Restaurant, the first Chinese buffet in the city.
While Stan earned his bachelor’s and master’s in Human Environmental Sciences from the University of Alabama, he remained connected to Starkville as a sergeant combat medic in Starkville’s Army National Guard.
“I love the city of Starkville,” Stan said, “and it will always be home to me no matter what.”
That’s why it was a surprise, Alicia said, when Stan decided to return to China.
“We’re so Americanized, but it’s a great thing that he did, because he gets to be around our heritage more,” Alicia said. “He’s experiencing a lot more than I am right now because he’s over there, but we’re all very proud of him.”
Discovering differences, making a difference
Some differences between China and America are obvious, Stan said.
“Well, there’s no Saturday football games for sure,” he said.
Others are less obvious, he said, especially when it comes to business. He said those who are serious about business in China must learn its nuances on their own, and they must respect them.
“There are no books that any university or MBA program can teach you on how to conduct business in China,” Stan said. “Understanding the cultural differences is the key to business here, as well as business in any other country. Without practicing this and continuously learning, you’ll never make business work.”
In his 6 1/2 years with Brown Shoe, Stan was in charge of all regions of China north of Fujian, building relationships, leveraging sourcing capabilities and expanding businesses. Eventually, Stan said, he began looking for something more fulfilling and challenging than corporate success.
Through LinkedIn, Stan said, TOMS recruited him. Valentine’s Day 2011, he said, was his first day of work.
“From what I saw, learned, and believed through my research of TOMS, it made me think,” Stan said. “The work that I would be doing can impact the lives of many children who are less fortunate than many of us, and with future products such as TOMS Eyewear, we would be helping more people in need. If you wanted to compare it to a current company, I would say that they are like Google, meaning the culture between TOMS and the corporate scene is completely different.”
Stan said his primary duties now include reinforcing corporate social responsibility and establishing TOMS’ new China office. Bloggers have called TOMS a collection of tree huggers and hippies, he said, but one visit to TOMS’ L.A. headquarters made it clear to him those bloggers are wrong.
“TOMS is no longer a startup company, but a company who is recruiting business professionals to help improve and expand their business, to ensure that the philosophy of the company is upheld, to further help people in need,” Stan said. “This is a young company with many great ideas.”
Keeping in touch
Stan said his opportunities to see his Starkville family vary depending on business. Sometimes, he said, his parents come to visit, and sometimes, he comes home.
“Is it as often as I like to see them?” Stan asked, hypothetically. “No, but they fully understand and are happy with what I am doing.”
Alicia said she has not been to China since junior high school. With a job of her own and a continuing education at Mississippi State University, she said she does not have the opportunities to travel abroad her parents have.
“My parents actually went over there a couple of months ago,” Alicia said. “It’s hard because he only comes home maybe twice a year, so we connect to him when we can through Facebook, e-mail and by phone when we can.”
Stan said while he misses Starkville, he is not without family in China, and he has built new relationships that make the distance from home more bearable.
“Countries are like towns or cities,” Stan said. “With good friends, family and relations anywhere you go, you will be fine.”