Making tire sales sexy drives Koi

By Li Fangfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-09 14:52
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Executive uses Mohist principles to push business forward

BEIJING - He had no experience in the rubber industry before he set foot into it in 2007. However, he has become one of the most passionate and successful executives in China's tire industry and has built a unique image and company culture for the business.

Making tire sales sexy drives Koi
Vehicles driving through the Arxan area in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region during a "Going Places with Cooper" expedition program held by Cooper Tire China in July. Provided to China Daily

"It is all about building a team, a company culture and a retail system. Knowing people is much more important for me to sell tires than knowing the material to produce tires," said Alex Koi, general manager of Cooper Tire China.

During his three years at the helm in China, the Singaporean has adopted traditional Chinese Mohist moral thought to govern operations at the US company.

"The essence of Mohist logic and theory is all about people, which ties in very well with my concept on managing the company," said Koi.

Mohism is best known for the concept of "impartial care", "universal love" and meritocracy. "That means a good team and sound teamwork are vital to a company," added Koi.

Under Koi's innovative management, the world's ninth biggest tire maker has maintained high-speed growth since it entered China in 2006.

Cooper China Passenger Tire business grew by more than 45 percent every year, which is twice the market growth rate for replacement tires.

"I am confident in my whole team as well as the rapidly growing China market," he said.

A different player

When Koi was appointed the general manager of Cooper Tire China in 2007, other industry players doubted that such a greenhorn was up to the task in what is a fiercely competitive domestic tire market.

"From the very start, I treated what I operate not as a tire company, but a general retail company," said Koi. "Tires are not traditionally seen as sexy commodities appealing to consumers' emotions but are functional tools of a driver's daily life. My strategy is to make selling tires 'sexy'."

As other tire suppliers put heavy efforts into marketing activities and cooperated with players in the automobile industry, Cooper takes a different but bold and innovative approach.

Koi has been instrumental in spearheading the Cooper brand launch through the utilization of crossover promotional ideas with such industries as entertainment. He has instituted co-branding with online gaming programs, cooperation with cartoon makers, and sponsorship of truck driving events.

Making tire sales sexy drives Koi
Alex Koi, general manager of Cooper Tire China, said he was confident in his team as well as the rapidly growing China market. 

"Cooper Tire is unique in that we only target the high-end replacement tire market with our high quality preformed products," said Koi. "For a retail company, it's important to talk to the target group and talk well to them."

Since its establishment in 1914, Cooper Tire has covered a huge sector of the tire market, including ultra-high performance sports cars, family vehicles, sports utility vehicles, 4x4s, vans, trucks and scooters.

Entering China officially in 2006, Cooper debuted its brand though official support to the A1 Grand Prix, a series that brought a whole new dimension to the classic race.

"Unlike Formula One, A1 racing tires are much closer to the performance of road tires," said Koi. "Through cooperation with A1, Cooper successfully established a young, dynamic, innovative and international brand image from its very first appearance in the China market."

According to Koi, the majority of Cooper's customers in the US are aged between 40 and 55, while the average age of its Chinese purchasers is between 25 and 35.

High performance

"As our customers mainly come from the young generation to whom high performance sporty tires appeal, I think that the marketing should be aimed at younger people as Cooper's way of attracting the targeted market segment," said Koi.

"Young people don't want to be talked at and educated directly so we need to find ways to get close to them."

Under his bold ideas, Cooper has been the first in the tire industry to cooperate with rock 'n' roll stars. The tire brand financed the singers of the 13-Month Rock and Roll Recording Studio to hold a concert and release albums in 2008.

"The music industry in China is a struggling industry but Chinese musicians never give up, and that is just what the Cooper brand also claims," said Koi. "Moreover the 'green' concept and the recycled material the album disc is made from indicate Cooper's enthusiasm for life."

Recently, Cooper joined hands with cartoonist Zhou Zhou to launch the fatty rabbit cartoon series, uniting bunnies and black tires.

"This kind of marketing is much better than plunging money into advertisements to promote the Cooper brand and associated products," said Koi.

Koi regards his employees and dealers as a core resource of Cooper Tire China.

Making tire sales sexy drives Koi

"Training is of paramount importance inside our company. I am very proud that my staff said working for Cooper was their happiest decision ever," said Koi.

Drawing on his own experiences and what he learned from his many travels and enjoyment of life, Koi designs varied interesting and exciting training programs for staff and dealers.

By integrating Cooper worldwide human resource programs into China in 2008, Koi conducted the first Skill Camp training session for Cooper Tire China employees.

Skill Camp is a proprietary talent screening system developed by Koi and can be employed in various industries ranging from service firms and IT to the software industry and manufacturing companies.

He also personally designed incentive travel packages with a difference for dealers. They involved visits not to the popular and traditional travel destinations but to places such as private islands and five-star resorts.

For the launch of Cooper's new ATS off-road tire series tailored for Chinese customers this month, Koi said that he planned a self-drive experience for dealers and the media in the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.

"They can get a feel for the performance of our tires from their own experience. Isn't it the best way to promote our products?" asked Koi rhetorically.

Currently, Cooper has more than 570 dealers across China, covering all the provinces and regions. Koi said that Cooper attaches more importance to the development and upgrade of existing dealers rather than to aggressive expansion of outlets.

"Our vision is to make clear that every dealer is profitable. We hope that our existing dealers can increase their revenue by 25 to 30 percent year-on-year," said Koi.

China has been an undeniably attractive opportunity for tire manufacturers and the world's top 10 have all responded by establishing operations in the country.

Cooper Tire has also acquired a majority share in Shandong Chengshan Tire Co, China's third largest domestic producer, to provide domestic and overseas markets with more than 10 million tires per year.

Cooper Tire also established a joint venture with Taiwan's Kenda Rubber Industrial Co Ltd, in Kunshan, a city near Shanghai, with annual production capacity of 3 million tires for the North America market.

"For Cooper, we will focus on being China's tire replacement specialist and maintain our leadership in the high-performance tire segment in the future," said Koi.


When Koi studied at Drake University in the US at the age of 24, he formed the view that communications and human relationships were at the core of his subject - business administration.

"I immediately applied to do another major in the human sciences field for myself and finally got a dual bachelor degree in business administration and journalism and mass communications," said Koi.

"It has proved to be the right decision when I look back at my career path."

Straight after he graduated from his masters in marketing research with the AC Nielsen Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, he received an opportunity to help Kodak research the West China market.

"I never sat in the office. Instead I went to the different film develop stores every day and spent all day talking to dealers as well as customers to learn local consumption habits and trends," said Koi.

Communications helped Koi to win his first job on the Chinese mainland, where he became responsible for trade and consumer marketing programs for Kodak's digital services.

Koi created the e-Studio, a new digital imaging retail concept. The technology was initially installed in 30 stores with complete training, service and after-sales support and then expanded to 1,500 digital studios around China a year, which helped Kodak massively dominate China's digital imaging market.

Celebrating success after such a short period with Kodak, and with promising promotion opportunities, many people would have been tempted to stay put. However, Koi quit his job, saying he "didn't -want to advance too fast".

Koi, along with his wife, traveled to a dozen countries across Asia, Europe and America as backpackers after he left Kodak.

"The trip enlarged my vision and opened my mind, which is important for a professional executive," said Koi.

Refreshed, Koi restarted his career with China's homegrown marketing communication agency HighTeam Communications in 2004.

In the role of president for just one year, Koi pushed HighTeam to become the first local marketing service company to break through the 100 million yuan revenue mark.

Koi also played a vital role in helping to increase the turnover of HighTeam from $8 million to $15 million in three years.

He masterminded a sales incentive system and a corporate integration program for the company's 220 staff that led to an annual human resource turnover rate of a healthy 10 percent against the industry average of 30 to 35 percent level.

"If you have enough passion to do what you think is the right thing and never give up, you will win," said Koi.


Koi joins Cooper Tire in October 2007 as general manager for its China operations. He oversees sales, human resources, marketing, logistics, purchasing, administration and IT operations.

Koi was instrumental in spearheading the Cooper brand launch through the utilization of crossover promotional ideas: entertainment marketing, co-branding with online gaming programs and truck driving events.

Prior to Cooper Tire, Koi was president of HighTeam Communications, one of the top five marketing communication firms in China.

Koi played a vital role in helping to increase the turnover of HighTeam from $8 million to $15 million in three years. In 2004, HighTeam became the first Chinese marketing service firm to break through the 100 million yuan revenue mark.

Before HighTeam, Koi worked for Kodak China as the national digital products senior manager and e-Studio program manager. He was responsible for trade and consumer marketing programs for Kodak's digital services.

Koi earned his master of science degree in marketing research from the AC Nielsen Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, United States. He was also awarded the Bob Drane Award, an honor conferred upon the most outstanding Nielsen graduate every year.

Koi also holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration and a bachelor of arts degree in journalism and mass communications from Drake University in the United States. He graduated with the distinction Summa Cum Laude title (reserved for the top 1 percent) from his class for both degrees.

China Daily