By Chen Aizhu
BOXING, China (Reuters) – For Ma Yunsheng, taking care of Mum and Dad is not just a part of doing business, but the key to its success.
Every month, the parents of workers at China’s Chambroad Holding, an $8 billion oil refining and petrochemical company, get 200 yuan ($30), if their child is an ordinary worker, or up to 10 percent of their managerial offspring’s salary.
The manager’s parents also receive free apartments and access to elder care facilities within walking distance of their homes in Boxing, a town of 500,000 people in eastern China’s Shandong province, where Chambroad is headquartered.
Chambroad’s Chairman Ma Yunsheng, 53, looked to the deeply-held traditional Chinese value of filial piety, or respect for one’s parents, in instituting these perks, he told Reuters in an interview. This corporate culture, rooted in the teachings of Chinese scholar Confucius, has driven Chambroad’s ten-fold growth in revenue over the past decade to 50 billion yuan ($7.51 billion) in 2015, he said.
“The priority of Chambroad’s management thinking goes to its staff first, then the local government, then its shareholders,” said Ma, who in 1995 took over the small lubricant oil plant that Chambroad started out as in 1990. He became chairman when the company was privatised in 2000.
Speaking from his office adorned with Chinese calligraphy, Ma, an avid calligrapher himself, said Chambroad aims to become a century-old brand by following the same golden rule used during the past two decades.
From that lubes plant, Chambroad has expanded to running a 70,000 barrels-per-day oil refinery, producing petrochemicals and managing property. Chambroad is among over 20 private refining firms that China’s government gave crude import licenses to starting in 2015, making them the stars of the global oil market as they snapped up Russia, North Sea and South American supply.
However, Ma plans to steer Chambroad away from its roots as an independent refiner, called “teapots” because of their relative smaller size. Investments will go toward fuel retailing, logistics, and the production of high-quality chemical precursor materials, setting its sights on profitability rather than turnover.
“Longer-term refining will be in surplus…instead of expanding capacity, we’ll be looking for the right partners to invest in,” he said.
Ma’s ambitions to turn Chambroad into a research and development center to train other Chinese private firms have materialised in the brick-and-wood Chambroad Institute next to his office. It houses a 500-strong research team studying subjects from basic chemicals to waste treatment.
Ma said he measures how well Chambroad is performing through a combination of profit and tax rate paid back to the government. At this point that target is about 30 percent of revenues for the group that employs about 12,000 people.
Other perks Ma has instituted to drive performance include granting Chambroad’s 109 top managers a 500,000 yuan car allowance, paid out monthly. Mid-level managers receive 250,000 yuan, a Chambroad spokeswoman said.
Chambroad staff said Ma likes to hire outside the company and bestows a lot of trust in new hires. This is unique for private Chinese businesses where most bosses tend to turn the companies into family operations.
“Chambroad won’t be a family business…it will be five or more groups. My mission will be complete if each of them can run independently or form an alliance,” said Ma, adding that he hones his management skills while deliberating during sleepless nights.
Ma also poses management questions to an internal social media group called “West Point of the 80s” for Chambroad employees born during that decade.
In an industry where alcohol is commonly imbibed at meetings, Chambroad tries to be a role model by banning drinking during weekdays for staff.
Following the Confucian value that a leader has obligations to his followers, Ma slapped himself with a penalty of 300,000 yuan for drinking spirits over a dinner with local government officials.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)