Dealerscope 2019 Hall of Fame: Michelle Mao, TCL
A decade ago, if you were to walk into your nearby big-box retail chain and head for the electronics department to gaze up at the expansive TV wall, you’d have seen all kinds of brand names—from Samsung, to Sony, to LG, to Vizio, and more. One name that you certainly wouldn’t have seen was TCL—a Shenzhen, China-based company that, until just a handful of years ago, didn’t have a presence here in the United States.
Today, though, TCL stands as one of the leading TV brands around the globe, having shipped more than 20 million TVs worldwide last year. And, here in the U.S., the brand stands as the fastest-growing TV manufacturer around.
That growth here in the ever-important U.S. market was made essentially entirely possible thanks to the work of Michelle Mao, President of TCL North America, and a 2019 inductee into Dealerscope’s Hall of Fame.
Mao, who joined the TCL team 15 years ago as the Vice President of Emerging Markets, helped early on to manage the TV sales and marketing in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, Hungary, and across the Middle East. But, when she was tasked with heading up TCL’s North American expansion efforts, she knew she was walking into a difficult spot. In 2004, TCL and Thomson Electronics reached an agreement to merge their TV units, a move that didn’t get off of the ground too easily.
“I was assigned to reorganize the business in 2009,” Mao said in an interview with Dealerscope. “From that point, I assembled a US team and prepared the company to launch our TVs in this new market in 2013. I’m proud to say that I was able to turn the business into a very successful company rather quickly and now TCL is one of the most popular and trusted TV brands in the US, offering award-winning TVs to the North American region.”
Today, the TCL brand name can be spotted at just about every major retail location you can think of, from Best Buy to Walmart, with Amazon, P.C. Richard & Son, and Newegg all in the mix as well—and all companies that sit inside the Dealerscope Top 101 CE Retailer list.
And when asked what about her leadership style helped TCL grow the way it has here in the U.S., Mao didn’t overcomplicate things. She said, simply, that her management style was just that—simple.
“I like to keep things simple. I deal with staff, issues, as well as day-to-day business tasks in a very direct manner and I encourage my team to do the same,” she said. “In my mind, this eliminates the possibility of misunderstandings and allows the company to work in a more efficient and effective way. This is a very fast-paced industry so we have to work swiftly to keep up, move quickly yet carefully and strategically.”
That type of mindset is something that was passed down to her through relationships in the industry and advice that she has received over her years working in the consumer tech space.
“With over two decades of experience in this dynamic industry, I’ve received countless tips, constructive suggestions and valuable business advice over the years. But, as a simple person, I try not to overthink things,” Mao said. “I tend to remember one piece of advice: Always try to do the right things, in the right direction. That simple phrase has helped me time and time again throughout my career. It’s easy to complicate things, especially when balancing the needs of headquarters in China and the business in North America, but if you can strip away the unnecessary stress and keep the business goals in sight it’s easier to make sound decisions that will benefit all parties in the end.”
What’s incredible about Mao, though, is the fact that her simple, easy-going, and pleasant personality shines over what’s otherwise a supremely gifted and intelligent individual with a background that’s among the most well-rounded that you’ll find in consumer tech. Mao got her start growing up in Beijing, China, ultimately graduating from the Beijing Union University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. From there she moved to Shenzhen where she began her career in the TV industry with Konka—another top TV brand in China. There, she also lead the overseas sales and marketing efforts for that brand, focusing on the Oceanic region. That work ultimately led her to TCL, where she quickly worked her way up through the company, ultimately being appointed to lead the North American expansion efforts.
And to Mao, becoming the fastest-growing TV brand in the U.S. isn’t the end of the story for TCL here in North America.
“While we are currently having great success in the television space, we are building a powerful brand umbrella to support all the other businesses that TCL produces today, and more importantly in the future,” she said. “Based on our scale and vertical integration, TCL can achieve tremendous advantages in the changing marketplace. We are an attractive partner for outside technology companies and we continue to innovate internally as well.”
Understanding TCL’s global product portfolio that could mean the introduction of appliances and so forth. But for now, Mao said, the brand is very much focused on perfecting the TV as the hub of the home.
“In the display business, we see screens getting larger and providing a more realistic and dynamic image while at the same time creating a more intuitive and enjoyable experience to consumers. As people own less televisions, their main display will become more and more important,” she said. “With content becoming ever-more fragmented and consumers demanding a customized experience, there are few brands that will be able to pivot with this new thinking as quickly and powerfully as TCL. With our efforts in cloud, content, and AI; we expect to offer product that is an experience, not simply a box at a price.”
And as for retail’s role in the process, Mao and TCL remain very committed to working with and evolving alongside the customer experience.
“Although retail will continue to evolve with the consumer, that role will always be needed to meet the consumer where he/she wants to be met on the terms that they accept,” she said. “The dichotomy of commoditization of smaller sizes will contrast sharply with the specialization and experiential demands of the advanced TV consumers. TCL’s responsibility is to make products the consumer will love and to ensure that our consumers can purchase those products how, when, and where they choose.”