Stevie Kim‘s task, in her role as Managing Director for Vinitaly International, is to be the ambassador of Italian wine in the world. Her oriental origins make her the most suitable and credible representative of Made in Italy in the difficult Chinese market. She explains why in this interview.
Stevie Kim, tell us what drives the Chinese consumer.
First of all, one must underline the attention devoted to the Chinese market. If the American market is already considered mature, the Chinese market is actually still intact. We’re talking about a context where people mainly drink fermented rice distillates, very different from wine. But we’re also talking about a Country where people are experiencing a cultural stage in which they’re particularly influenced by the Western lifestyle, they’re fascinated by it and they wish to experience it in its best form. The Chinese are born exporters, they have a mercantile culture dating back millennia. Nowadays, the middle class is ready to buy luxury goods and they’re getting to know wine as well. And it will take five to ten years of time.
What is the role Italy is playing in this game?
The French export ten times more wine than we do. There’s still a long way to go, because we’re still suffering because of that characteristic, that might sound like a stereotype, of the typical Italian, very creative but self-centred. I’m thinking of the fragmentary nature of so many groups, consortia, certification authorities that may engender the risk of creating confusion for the identification of the product. Let me explain: it’s hard for the Italian customer to be aware of the difference between DOC and DOCG [Cdo, controlled designation of origin; Gcdo, guaranteed and controlled designation of origin], let alone for a Chinese one.
What should we do then?
Identify, more and more, Made in Italy with the image of a high quality life-style. Made in Italy as a brand might no longer be enough to sell by itself. It needs more content. On the contrary, Italian style is still perceived as the best. This is the reason why I believe the winning strategy lies in bringing Chinese customers to Italy, making them experience first hand the beauty of landscape, art, culture and the food and wine culture as well. Also because in a market as difficult as the Chinese one, where people don’t trust Western testimonials and they’re not attracted by the giant brand leaders, there’s no better ambassador than an enthusiast fellow countryman. Those who know how negotiations work, the rules of engagement, are aware that it’s no longer enough to speak the language. To penetrate the Chinese market it’s a must to have credible, local spokesmen. As the saying goes, think global act local.
Which are the reasons for a market that is so close to foreign cultures?
Much is due to political factors. We’re talking of a Country where the government is pervasive, it features in the market control thus making it less free. In addition to this, custom duties change all the time, thus making foreign trade extremely difficult. In such a context, where control and censorship go together, those who emerge are mostly aggressive businessmen. It’s clear then that the rules of engagement become very complex, and in this case too the intermediation of local people is required. In this sense, a school like Bologna Business School, with its cosmopolitan community, becomes fundamental to train the students from the Far East to play this key role.
Talking about the students community, what would you suggest to tomorrow’s leaders?
Develop your creative side and do whatever you can to convey it to those who work with you. Leaders must be in touch with their teams, they need to be the drivers for changes and innovations. Act always having in mind the survival of your own vision versus your presence, as for your objective. A leader‘s biggest quality is turning a difficult thing into an easy one, translating complexity into simplicity. Making knowledge accessible. Talking a coded language, which was the bad habit of a large part of the Italian ruling class, not willing at all to share, isn’t certainly the future. It’s time to change the language.