Model by the Harvard Business School.
Harvard Business School has developed a case study detailing Haier's innovative management practices in the Internet age. Entitled Haier: Zero Distance to the Customer, the paper written by Prof. Dennis Campbell who teaches several executive programs at Harvard, represents the seventeenth case study developed on Haier to be included in the prestigious university's case study collection since the first was published in 1998. These seventeen case studies over the last seventeen years reflect the five strategic transformations Haier has undertaken to evolve from an ailing refrigerator company into the world's largest home appliance manufacturer and are testament to the Chinese company's pioneering approach to management innovation.
The Harvard Business School case study takes Haier's fifth and most recent strategic transformation phase as a paradigm of an organizational re-structure to adapt and succeed in the radically changing business environment of the Internet era. Since the adoption of this development phase, coined the Networking Strategy phase, Haier has set about eliminating internal and external borders. The company has started to invert its management structure and eliminate middle management to instead use the Internet to structure self-managing teams around customers. The aim is to create zero distance' with customers and to become a flatter, more agile company that responds more rapidly to consumer demand. The case study is split into three series, with each investigating how the company achieved the goal of connecting with its end customers. It used two practical product examples: an Internet-connected water purifying box and two air conditioner models.
Zhang Ruimin, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Haier Group, believes that a big challenge of the Internet age is to establish zero distance between customers and companies. He said, "Only when you transform from a traditional company to an Internet-based platform company and provide the opportunities for entrepreneurship, can you fully satisfy the personalized needs of users."
Prof. Campbell and his team worked on the case study over a period of two years and visited Haier's headquarters in Qingdao for field research. It is now already being taught at Harvard and receiving positive feedback. To date, the world's top 100 business schools have developed 45 separate case studies on Haier. This shows that, while already well-known and inspirational within China, Haier's innovative approaches to management are now receiving recognition and becoming influential amongst international companies and executives abroad.