Opinion

Is CEO's paid trip for 6,400 employees the best perk ever or attempt to increase sales?

6 min read

13 May 2015

On-site yoga, free meals and child day care pale in comparison to the massive four-day corporate trip to France and Monaco awarded by Tiens Group, a direct sales company based in China.

According to the Tiens website, Li Jinyuan founded the company in 1995 and has expanded it into an international businesses, which specialises in biotechnology, health management, ecommerce, hotel and tourism, among others. That probably means it does everything, and could be one of the reasons why Jinyuan was listed on the Forbes 2011 list of the world’s billionaires.

To celebrate the firm’s 20-year anniversary, the tycoon organised an all-expenses paid four-day vacation to France, covering the costs for over half of his 12,000 employees.

What is now being talked about as the biggest tour group to ever visit France started with Jinyuan booking 84 airplanes to transport workers overseas. 

The expensive gesture by Jinyuan is an example of the growing economic power of China –  and the attraction of France as it becomes the most visited country in the world. This was further echoed by government statistics, which suggested 85m foreigners a year support a €150bn industry that delivers seven per cent of the nation’s GDP.

According to The Economist, Chinese travellers account for one in ten tourists around the world, spending more than any other nation.

The “industrial-size event” planned by Jinyuan is also an “economic booster” for the French tourism industry, said Thomas Deschamps, the head of research at the Paris Tourism Office. According to his estimations, $13.5m had been spent on hotel rooms, transportation, meals and shopping for luxury items. 

Read more about staff perks:

Jinyuan reserved 140 hotels in Paris, according to Reuters, as well as 4,760 rooms in 79 four- and five-star hotels in Cannes and Monaco

At least 146 buses were also rented for transportation. The group was also treated to a private tour of the Louvre and a performance of the Moulin Rouge cabaret.  

While there, the company met with France’s foreign affairs minister Laurent Fabius in Nice. Jinyuan claimed the company reached consumers in 190 countries and dealt mostly in health food, health care appliances, skin care and household products. Company executives suggested, however, that they were interested in expanding into French wine and restaurants.

The trip ended with a parade on France’s Cote d’Azur, where employees wearing matching blue or white t-shirts and hats, spelled out “Tiens’ Dream is nice in the Cote d’Azur”. They broke a world record for the longest human-formed sentence visible from the sky. 

However, while this may seem like a tale of a CEO doing something good for his employees, it has been hailed as “an embarrassment” by some in China. 

Commentator Tao Duanfang, who goes under the pen name of Tao Yong, described it as “military tourism”.  

“This definitely wasn’t just a rest or a holiday, but a ‘work trip’ or a ‘struggle’,” he wrote in a Beijing News piece entitled “The World’s Largest Tour Group Wasn’t Just for the Amusement of the French”.

He added: “The tactics of direct sales companies are no secret. Above all, they want to create a footprint, because without a footprint they have no endlessly growing source of employees.”

This doesn’t bode well for Tien, as reporters highlighted that only its best sales people were invited on the trip. Reporters also started dredging up how exactly Jinyuan afforded the holiday.

James Wan, reporting from Kampala for Think Africa Press, accused Tiens of promoting dubious remedies for serious illnesses in Uganda.

The Times also unearthed a recruitment video from a Tiens branch in India that shows how the company promotes the “anti-cancerisation” of women by handing out special sanitary napkins. Another video in Russian makes the claim that machines used to clean and chop fruits and vegetables can also be used on meat.

According to an employee, who obviously didn’t get invited on the trip as she had to man the phones, suggested that the sales team didn’t get a base salary. Instead, the employee said: “The more we sell, the higher the commission.” 

In this light, maybe the trip was a way to motivate the troops into increasing their sales efforts.