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A Conversation with the Heiress of ZuLiJian: Navigating Legacy and Ambition

A Conversation with the Heiress of ZuLiJian: Navigating Legacy and Ambition

By 李狄Published 3 months ago 3 min read
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Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Zhang Jinkang, the founder of the elderly shoe brand ZuLiJian. At its peak, the brand achieved an astounding annual retail sales of 40 billion yuan across all channels. Interestingly, I found a unique connection during the interview - his daughter and I are of the same age; she was born in 1994, and I in 1993. Our conversation during the journey was more engaging than talking to her father.

Here's an excerpt from our dialogu

Me: Do you envy me or the freedom I have in what I do?

Her: I don't envy the freedom; I have that too. What I admire in you is a certain trait.

Me: Which trait?

Her: The simplicity yet complexity of your ideas. You think of something today and start doing it, whereas I have to consider the thoughts of senior leaders and subordinates.

Me: But if you start a business, you'll have more resources than the first generation of entrepreneurs. For instance, if your father approves of your idea, he could fund you with 50 million yuan.

Her: That's not in my character, nor would I do it here.

Me: Why?

Her: There's always a constraint.

Me: You've been trained in this system for a long time. Initially, you do what your father arranges, but eventually, you develop your ideas, and he starts to trust your capabilities. Then, your chances of success in entrepreneurship might be higher.

Her: Yes, but any project I want to do needs his approval. He won’t let me venture out; I have to work under his wing.

Me: Don't you ever feel rebellious?

Her (sincerely): I can't be rebellious! I’ve never felt that way. My father is so capable that I just need to follow him.

Me: Aren’t you afraid of being seen as weak?

Her: No, because I don't care much about others’ opinions, only my father's. I stay because of his competence. I’m not just spending money at home; I work longer hours than my employees, continuously learning and progressing, though my father advances much faster.

Me: We'll never truly understand each other. If I were his son, I’d probably rebel, prove myself to him. But that’s because I lack what you have and strive to attain it.

Her: I do have some decision-making power, but I envy the aura you have.

Me: Haha, but that comes from a very basic level.

Her: True. Success often comes through hardship, which I haven’t experienced. I can't fully grasp that suffering is an asset. And there's a daughter's mindset - feeling sorry for leaving my father alone.

Me: That's the difference between daughters and sons.

Her: My mom says the same. Whether I do well or not, just being here is a comfort for him.

During interviews, I often meet children of entrepreneurs, especially those born around 1993 and 1994. I wonder, if we were born in the same hospital, could we have switched roles? Play out a different script - one of starting from scratch, the other of taking over and reaching new heights. Which would be more challenging? Many see starting from scratch as more difficult, but taking over isn’t easy either. I visited her father’s life – his dedication, extreme learning capacity, and understanding of modern trends like Xiaohongshu and TikTok e-commerce.

His daughter now manages the new media department, with 120 people under her. She mentioned the immense pressure from her father, who treats her even more strictly than other employees. She recently started medication for depression, to which her father responded by showing that he too takes imported medication.

In our conversation, I asked Mr. Zhang if he was aware of his daughter's stress and depression. He pondered and replied, "What else can be done? It's what she must go through."

Her: I'm a second-generation wealthy, but I don't flaunt it.

Me: Exactly, I don't get that vibe from you. Many in your position would flaunt their wealth, go abroad for studies, drive sports cars, and live a carefree life, but your script is different.

Her (thoughtfully): ...That's not my script.

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