Czech Forbes Interviews Martin Poš, Goodbaby International Deputy CEO
BABYBOY: Martin Poš is CEO of CYBEX, a visionary brand that designs, produces and sells child mobility products. CYBEX makes car seats, strollers and baby carriers that combine exceptional standards in safety with cutting-edge aesthetics. Martin’s philosophy is to rebel against the established thinking in child mobility by using pioneering technology to revolutionise style and safety standards.
INTERVIEW MARTIN POŠ – CYBEX
The son of Czech emigrants, Mr Poš is no stranger to fresh starts. He left his position at Concord GmbH to found his own company CYBEX, a visionary brand that designs, produces and sells child mobility products. Nowadays Mr Poš is the co-owner of Goodbaby International, an industry leader for child products. His turnover is over one billion dollars, his companies employ over 13,000 people yet he says the journey is just beginning.
Nowadays, Mr Poš works in ten time zones at once. From Shanghai, where he attends meetings at Goodbaby International, to Hong Kong, where the company is listed on the stock-exchange. Amsterdam and London, where his main designers are located, to Boston, New York and Los Angeles, where the children of celebrities ride around in the prams and car seats he produces. He might then make a Prague pit-stop, in the country of his birth and then back to Germany, where he lives and conducts business for his own company CYBEX.
In many ways it is impossible to think that Mr Poš founded CYBEX all on his own. But he never was short of confidence. When we met him three years ago he told us that he intended to make CYBEX the number one company in the industry and make the brand recognisable across the globe. It was a bold prediction, but since then CYBEX has had a 50 million dollar turnover with an efficient global distribution network with a solid sales platform in 17 European countries. Now it seems like we should take what he says more seriously.
Last spring, CYBEX merged with the Chinese juvenile giant Goodbaby International and the 44-year old Czech was made deputy CEO for the new holdings. Mr Poš currently owns 10% of the company and takes care of the global strategy and the development of Goodbaby’s extensive brand portfolio. In China, the most dynamic growing market in the world, the company currently has over 6,800 of its own stores.
Mr Poš was delighted with the new merger: “I have known President Song, the owner of Goodbaby International, for over ten years. He is a generation older and was my mentor while I was beginning in China. We always work very well together. Each of us always seemed to have something that the other one is missing. We realised that the best solution for this was to work together. So we did it.”
Mr Poš says he has never been happier. His approach to his success is humble, and he gives good reasons why he still gladly shake hands with everyone in the company. “I do not treat anyone in my company differently. You are just as valuable as the person sitting next to you. Even though I am the boss I am fully aware that everyone in the company makes a difference. This is something my childhood taught me, as I remember the horrible feeling of being treated differently as an immigrant from the east. Since then I have wanted to show, that if you really want something, and are willing to work hard for it, you can achieve it”, said Martin Poš, father of two teenagers. He still has great ambitions and plenty of energy.
“We are the number one now. Every other pram sold is made by us. This gives us a solid base, but the work has only just begun.”
It seems like you have had quite a wild year. Why did you decide to combine with Chinese company Goodbaby International?
The merge has allowed me to fulfil one of my dreams, to work with the greatest producer of children products in the world. The story is pretty simple. We always strive to fuse state of the art technology, with the perfect design, particularly design that appeals to parents, not just for children. Before combining with Goodbaby International we had 150 employees and 4 factories and it worked for some time. But as the company grew, it was clear that we needed to make a change. We needed to buy our own factories, so we could have more efficient production. With this in mind I began searching in Asia, USA and South America for the perfect solution.
And you came across the biggest factory in the industry at Goodbaby International?
It was not like that of course. In Chairman Zhenguan Song I have a mentor and a friend that I have known for more than ten years. Mr Song is a very successful and respected businessman in our industry. He has built some of the biggest factories for producing children products, they have unlimited access to production technology and a huge amount of investment in future developments. But they were missing the brand identity that CYBEX has come to represent – he produced for other brands, and was one of our suppliers, but now our partnership is more significant. At CYBEX we have built a reputation on great design and have a number of awards from world safety tests, but our main problems lay in distribution and limited production. So the collaboration is fantastic for us. We often talked about it and then one day he asked me, if we would like to join forces.
What did you tell him when he asked about teaming up?
I told him the same as I told all those who had shown an interest in CYBEX in the past. Thank you very much, I am honoured and I really appreciate it, but my goal is not to sell the company, move to the Caribbean and live off my pension. Finances are important, but they are not the priority. I need to keep up the creative flair that has got me so far. I can’t imagine not working. In many ways I am hyperactive, I think that’s why my parents did not send me to college. I need to be doing something all the time.
At last, you made a deal.
Twice or three times, we had conversations about it and once I told him for fun – you know what, we will do the opposite. I will buy your factory. Of course it wasn’t plausible, because it is not only one factory, but 13 huge factories. However he somehow liked that idea and I said to him again for fun – why don’t we make a partnership? A month later he came and said – you know what, it is not a bad idea at all. Why not combine our companies? I have what you need and you have what I need. We are good friends and I trust you. It meant something, when he said that, because in China there is no higher appreciation than between businessmen. So we started to talk about it , and jotting things down on paper. After 3 months, we finally outlined a plan together. In short, we made a new company, a start-up of sorts. We fused both companies and now run it together. It is a great partnership because, at 68, he is a generation older than me. His 24 years of experience and my fresh ambition work very well together I think.
What made you believe that this alliance would work in a long run?
It was three key elements that convinced me that we would succeed. Firstly it was the fact that Mr Song and I were on exactly the same wave length from the onset. That really surprised me – as two people from totally different cultures and generations, we share very similar values. Our view on business is similar and on a personal level we get on very well. It was certainly not a blind jump into water. We had worked together on a smaller scale in the past. Goodbaby International was one of our suppliers and they helped produce one of our products. I knew that it was a huge company with many different departments. But it wasn’t daunting because I knew that at the head was a smart, ambitious, humble man who was easy to communicate with. We also share a common ladder of values on how to lead a company so it all made perfect sense.
What kind of values are these?
Well, I hold the belief that everyone in a company is equal. We do not want a hierarchy in social terms. We are all important, it does not matter if you are a sewer in the factory, a service engineer or a manager. Everyone has their own function and we are all cogs in the machine. Maintaining this belief is especially important for our company. I respect every employee and support creativity, commitment and dreaming big. If anyone has a great idea they have a chance to show it. Keeping this in mind, that everyone is important, is great motivation. It works for me.
What were the other reasons for teaming up with Goodbaby International?
Well of course there were obvious practical reasons. We now have access to the greatest factories in the industry. This also means access to the latest in technology and production capacity. It’s a known fact that if you want a company to grow fast, you need a vertical supply chain and this is what we lacked at CYBEX. The third reason was the market. We are the industry number one in China now which has expanded our distribution massively. It is not only about production and approach, but also about distribution. Goodbaby has the biggest distribution web in China, over 6,800 of their own stores and now we can utilise this fantastic sales platform. The biggest and most dynamic market in the world opened up for us overnight. The Goodbaby brand is not so well known in Europe, but in China, 85% of people have heard of it, and we have 52% share of the market. Goodbaby International is actually a conglomerate with over 20 other brands each with their own identity and freedom. We are registered at the Hong Kong stock-exchange, so in a sense we play with open cards and I enjoy that.
What were the conditions of the fusion?
Currently, I control ten percent of the company. My partner, Mr Song, owns twenty five percent and the rest of the management team each has shares in the form of manager stocks. The rest is on the free market. What’s important is that we share responsibilities for the company and we have a mutual trust. As the founders of the two companies at the helm, we can keep progressing in the right direction.
Do you have a shared vision for the future?
Yes we do. We always knew that the best chance of our business surviving in the 21st century is to put our egos aside and connect our best attributes. We agreed, that the only option is to cooperate. Integration is the simple part. Our teams want to cooperate and are ready to go.
Is Shanghai the main location for the business?
The factories are there, but the company itself is spread over many places. We are in Shanghai, Berlin, Boston to name a few. We don’t have one specific place where we conduct business. We live in a virtual world nowadays and everything is so easily accessible. With this in mind, I realised that the merger of our two companies could work and that it has potential. The concept of not just an American, European or Chinese company, but the development of a completely virtual style of business appeals to me hugely. I love this connection between different cultures and individuals, it’s a wonderful inspiration for my ideas about business.
What is your day to day role within the company?
I am responsible for all the individual brands and for the strategy planning. We will continue to consolidate our position in each of the markets we are involved with. I recently came back from Shanghai, where our base of manufacturing and production is located. We are currently in the process of transforming into a brand-focused company – a brand driven enterprise. Each of our brands has its own story, character and personality. It’s my job to make sure each of these brands, and the company itself, is always moving forward.
It sounds like you have a lot of work.
I am someone who thrives on a heavy workload. I don’t ever complain because I’m incredibly fortunate. It is a fantastic job. My partner is beginning to realise that China’s identity is changing. Things are moving forward and a great consumer market with huge buying power is rapidly growing over there. However, we do not want to limit ourselves by being only a Chinese company. A third of our turnover comes from China and the rest comes from Europe and America. Turnover is only one aspect of our long term goal. We want to be the go-to brand for juvenile products and be recognised everywhere. That is why we continue to team up and merge with other market players. For example, we recently acquired Evenflo, the biggest child car seat company in USA with almost 100 years of history. So in three-quarters of a year, we consolidated the Chinese, European and American markets with a supply chain in China, USA and in Mexico as well as distribution channels on all continents. We planned to achieve this in ten years but instead we made it in two and a half.
But your original plans were different?
I am a relatively grounded person and so I am often surprised by how quickly things move. My strategy was to combine organic growth with everything else. Of course I was not able to predict the dynamic of this development, but I knew what direction I wanted it to go. It was this awareness and forward thinking that were the foundation for our company’s fusion with Goodbaby.
We are aware that the Prague-based Koncern studio helped create the CYBEX Sirona, a car seat which has a growing list of awards including Red Dot Design. Do you still collaborate with them?
Yes we still really enjoy cooperating with Koncern, and their Prague studio is growing. Our other designers are in Boston, Shanghai, Germany and Netherlands. It is fantastic to see the different cultures combining and working together on our products. It’s inspiring and their work-rate is unbelievable. Representatives of these design studios often fly with me to China to see all the options and new technologies.
You founded CYBEX in 2005 with a very small team. After three years you had 150 employees, how many are there now?
It is hard to say, because we are welcoming new employees every month. But at the moment we are close to 13 000 people.
Does a larger amount of people affect the way the company functions?
No I don’t think it changes anything at all. Of course, there are more responsibilities. But daily business is the same as ever. I currently work with a team of 20 people and the challenges are still same.
Your co-workers have told us that they hugely admire your energy. They say that you never switch off, and sometimes call with an idea at 4 am. Is this still the case?
It is sometimes even worse than that! But I have to be like that, I must not change. I bet Jirka Přibyl from Koncern told you that. When you have an idea, you have to follow it through immediately. A good idea is like a butterfly, when you let it go, it will fly away. Creative sparks are never planned, and they have to be put into action immediately.
Does working in a large company operating in many time zones change this? Do you still find yourself writing emails at 4 am?
I don’t think it ever changes. I frequently make calls at 4 am if I have an idea. People expect this behaviour from me because it’s how I am. We are developing a business and inspiration and ideas can arrive at any time. I wouldn’t necessarily call the accountant at 4 am, but I would call the designer. When the opportunity appears, we have to grab it. In fact I would say that working in many time zones is a real advantage as there are always some colleagues that have morning in their country, so I can call them immediately. It’s like the company is working 24 hours a day its fantastic.
What does your family think about it?
They should be used to it, as I have never been someone who switches off. It was my wife who encouraged me to do what I do nowadays, and strive to be my own master. I was very unsatisfied at Concord, and she could see that. I felt I couldn’t express myself properly. If I had an idea at 4 am, there was nobody to call.
There are people to call now though?
Yes, it’s fantastic. I can call my colleagues in America as they are six hours behind us, so 4am for us is still a reasonable time for them. My colleague Song is the same fool as I am and, not long ago, we held a conference at 3 am in our pyjamas. This is essentially how businesses develop. You have to fit everything into the short life you have. It is not a job really, it’s committing to a way of life in which you never have time off.
You mentioned the consolidation of the whole holdings. What is next?
We will start by utilising new technologies which will guarantee that we keep moving forwards. Predominantly in child products but in other areas as well. As I said, we focus on making products for parents first. We will continue consolidating the business for child car seats and prams. But that is only one spot on our horizon. We often have visionary discussions, not strategic but visionary. The sky is the limit. It certainly won’t stop at these technologies. I’m not talking about 5 percent growth, I’m talking about a growth of double digit numbers. This is not an exaggerated expectation, we see a huge potential in India, South America, Russia. The world is huge and full of potential, and it would be naïve only to only focus on USA, Germany, EU or China. We want to keep our finger on the pulse at all times. We want to make ourselves available to every parent out there.
Are car seats still of interest to you?
Definitely. Car seats are unique because they combine all manner of new technologies and have almost unlimited options for development. For example, they combine technologies of plastics, functional textiles, and shock-resistant technologies and there are new materials being created constantly. There also has to be an ongoing cooperation with car manufacturers. That is our spine. As long as we maintain our position as the most innovative producer of child car seats, then the customers will be sure that they can trust us. Let’s be honest, what is more important, than a safety of your child? This has been our focus from the beginning and must continue to be so long into the future. The way to achieve this is firstly through keeping up to date with the technological options available to us. As I mentioned previously the technology and materials of prams and car seats are developing at such a fast rate and it’s important to keep up to date. Secondly we also need to expand in different directions, in areas we haven’t explored before. This means electronics, apps, services and much more.
Do you still manage to see your work objectively? Through the eyes of a parent?
Yes I certainly can. Although my son is now 20 and my daughter is 16, I can still remember exactly what I hated about their car seats. They were over-complicated, heavy and hard to operate. Even installing the seats in the car took me an hour. During these stressful moments with kids screaming in my ear I realised that simple and intuitive design was a key element. It must be easy to operate or else it is useless. This is a similar philosophy to Apple and other big names in product-led businesses. So you see parents are still at the centre of everything and these are the people we want to help. All parents across the world primarily care about the wellbeing of their children. Our company wants to make the safest and most desirable products available. This means easy to use but also visually appealing and fashionable. Then of course comfortable to use. So there you have it: design, safety and functionality finished with a cool look.
You said you like to make your products fashionable – last year, you collaborated with designer Jeremy Scott, one of the most progressive American designers at the moment. Thanks to this project, a lot of celebrity parents such as Giselle Bündchen and Gwen Stefani have started using CYBEX car seats and prams. Are you looking to continue working with Jeremy Scott?
Yes, I am very satisfied with the work he is doing for us. We met through a mutual friend, she worked for Adidas and Jeremy Scott has been designing for them for many years. She introduced us and I immediately liked his personality and pop artist approach. He is preparing a new collection for us right now in fact, and we have a great relationship. I love this connection between fashion and design and this is his area of expertise. We understand one another very well and I like his style of communication, with its irony and dark humour. It’s great that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. We intend to introduce the new collection during the New York fashion week – I want the collection to have the best release possible. Even a pram is a fashion accessory, of course it has to be 100% reliable in functionality and safety but it has to be stylish also.
You really are a cosmopolitan person. As you mentioned you spend time in four different cities. Do you still feel your Czech identity though?
Please! I am true Praguer and a huge patriot! My kids were not born in the Czech Republic, but they consider themselves Czechs. I insist that we speak to each other in Czech as well. We are “hrabalovci” (Bohumil Hrabal – a Czech popular writer), and love reading Werich’s poetry. I’m not sure which passport I am using right now, I am in transit 300 days of the year, but I know where I am from and I couldn’t be prouder.
Is your wife German?
Don’t be crazy! Bohuna is a real Czech girl. She is the daughter of an innkeeper from the village of Starý Kolín! When I moved to Germany my mum told me she was worried that I would marry a foreigner and she wouldn’t be able to understand to her. She has been worrying about this for many years actually. So I told her, that she didn’t need to worry, because I would find a Czech girl and marry her. And I kept my word. I met Bohuna when I was almost 20, when I was visiting my grandma in Czech Republic. She was 19 at the time and it really was love at first sight. She gave up her medical studies and moved to Germany with me. It’s a fairy-tale marriage and, after 25 years, we are still happily together.
Do you remember your childhood often?
Childhood was very difficult at times, but my family gave me a lot. We lived without a father for a few years because he emigrated sooner than us. My mum, brother and I followed him at the beginning of the eighties thanks to Red Cross’s program of connecting families, I was ten. Until then, we had lived pretty well. Suddenly, I was in a new country and people looked at me with a horrible scorn because I was an immigrant. I was once spat on. Some people looked at me and saw: an immigrant from the East, sponging off the state, no money. A big help for me later was sport. I did a decathlon and was a successful runner, which gave me some self-confidence. Sport is like a business. You need to have a strategy, an end goal and you must be willing to work hard to achieve it. I think that sport and business are the same in that respect. The bitterness of being the child that everybody poked fun at remained with me though. That is one reason for my company philosophy of everybody having the same value. Why should I feel better than anyone else because I had a lucky break?
Is this philosophy that everyone is on a level playing field really work?
Absolutely and you can see how people’s loyalty grows when you behave decently to them. Treat people with respect and reward good work and you can create a great working atmosphere. People respect and follow you and it is then easier to motivate 20, 50, 100 thousand people. People often ask me, what my secret is. I simply say – behave decently to the people around you. I know many business managers who behave like pigs to their employees and then they are surprised when there is no personality in their company. If this bad attitude comes from the top, it will always come back and bite you.
Do you teach this to your children?
Yes I do, decency to others is fundamental. I constantly remind my children of their origin and roots. Our kids are great and they know it takes hard work and commitment to achieve their dreams. Of course, my wife and I help as much as we can by providing advice and support. When my son wanted higher pocket money I told him he would have to work for it. So I sent him to the warehouses to clean boxes. My daughter said that she wanted to get into the design world. So I gave her a scrubbing brush and told her to go to the design lab. You want to work in design? I said. There you have what you wanted. I want them to know the values of things and also the value of work and effort. I try to set a good example. I wish them to be happy and proud of their achievements in life. Life is a great thing and we have only this one.
CYBEX and Goodbaby
This spring CYBEX, founded by Martin Poš in 2005, became a part of Goodbaby International Holdings Limited based in China. Goodbaby has been involved in the Chinese market since 1989, and after 1993 it became the leading company for children’s products on the Chinese market. They have 6,800 of their own stores. Founder of the company, Zhenguan Song, is still its president. The company now owns 13 factories and a number of global brands selling children products. These include American Evenflo and Urbini. Strategic partners that Goodbaby produce include Mothercare, Bébéconfort and Maxi Cosi. CYBEX has become a part of this holding at the cost of 70.7 million EUR, equal to 1.9 billion CZK. Martin Poš is now the executive director, responsible for strategy and global development for the company and all its brands. He also owns ten percent share of the whole company. He has been Deputy CEO since September this year.
In 2013, Goodbaby International holdings had turnover 1.1 billion USD, thanks to the fusion and couple of other solicitations, this year’s turnover will grow and make Goodbaby International the world leader in children products. The market quotation of the company, listed on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, is 3.2 billion HKD, which is approx. 9,2 billion CZK. Overall it has 1.1 billion stocks on the market, with a value of 289 – 2,95 HKD.
Please note that this is a translated text written by ‘Forbes’, and does not reflect Goodbaby International’s agreement or disagreement with the opinions expressed by the publishing house.