Michael Jemal is a librarian’s dream…and nightmare too. The avid reader gets so absorbed in books, mostly non-fiction business titles, that he’ll frequently highlight every idea that turns him on. When the material is really inspiring, he’s even more interactive. “I tear out the pages sometimes even though I shouldn’t, but mostly, I just highlight and fill up pages with lots of stickies,” he said with a grin. Reading, for this CEO, is about acquisition: gathering critical information that isn’t merely interesting, but directly applicable to his work as the head of Haier America, the steadily growing sales and marketing arm of one of China’s most successful corporations. In many respects, it’s Jemal’s gift at strategic acquisition that is turning the Qingdao powerhouse into a globally recognized brand.
These days, Jemal is acquiring content, announcing deal after deal in recent weeks to load up Haier’s newest product, a Wi-Fi portable media player called the ibiza Rhapsody, with subscription-based access to music, podcasts and video from news and entertainment companies. He said the ibiza will offer consumers “a hell of a lot more content” than the average iPod is packing, and hopes that this category will become the start of something huge for Haier, which is still most familiar to Americans as the company that makes wine coolers and those mini-fridges college kids buy for their freshman-year dorm rooms.
Not that he’s abandoning the “comfort category.” Jemal has a great respect for the many millions that can be made each year on evolving lines of refrigerators, wine coolers and air conditioners. Haier has high hopes for a new product called “Paragon” that it’s billing as a green AC unit with off-the-charts energy savings, “environmentally friendly coolant” and “zero ozone depletion potential.” Jemal is also enthusiastic about Haier’s 2008 offerings in white goods, saying, “If I were the competition, I’d be very concerned…every [product] we’re going to do is going to have a twist, something better than what’s out there on the market now,” he said. “We’re always innovating, reinventing. We don’t sit still here.”