After toiling for 21 years to eventually work his way up to head of sales at Procter & Gamble, transferring to an assistant role didn’t seem the next logical step. But that’s precisely the route that Kevin Lin took.
Craving a move into the digital economy, Lin became a special assistant to Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant. He flexed his creative muscles by finding a peculiar opportunity with the online behemoth—to take sales offline. With 85% of China’s retail sales still taking place in brick-and-mortar stores, Lin’s idea was to drive sales in those physical stores using an Alibaba app.
That led Lin to heading up a seven-person skunkworks, which focused on this retail management project, entitled Lingshoutong. It would aim to bring Alibaba’s data technology to China’s 6 million mom-and-pop shops, many in rural areas, by helping owners decide what products to buy and where to physically place items. They’d also be able to place orders with the app.
And the creative plan seems to be working. Lin’s 2018 report noted that a million shops are now digitized with Alibaba. “Mom-and-pop stores will never disappear,” wrote Lin in that report. “But distribution must be changed.”