May 19, 2021|

JD Fresh Head: A Young Leader’s Track Record


by Ling Cao

“Fresh produce is different from many categories, because it is part of people’s lifestyle,” said Wei Ye, head of JD Fresh in an interview last week. China’s online fresh produce category has exploded in the past year, with JD Fresh playing a significant role in making it possible for customers to buy fresh produce online with swift delivery.

Ye, who has been working at JD for nearly 12 years, said the future of fresh produce consumption is multi-channel, either online or offline. Each business model will have its special advantages, he said. “If you buy a cellphone, we can allocate storage in our warehouses across China and deliver to you efficiently, and the fulfillment process is very standard. However, this won’t work for many fresh food products, especially those of which are from certain places of origin, and have short expiration date cycles. This has made it difficult to achieve the best cost and efficiency with any single business model. As a result, multi-channel will likely shape the future of fresh produce.”

Wei Ye, head of JD Fresh

Wei Ye


A bet with CEO Richard Liu

Since joining JD as a management trainee in 2009, Ye, who is in his 30s now, has made several breakthroughs. After a rotation through various departments at JD including operation, warehousing and logistics, he has held key roles in different business sectors, including cell phone sales and supply chain innovation. He is emblematic of the type of employee JD is celebrating during the month of its Employee Appreciation Day on May 19, bearing significant responsibility to get the job done and setting the expectation of “all in” for his team by leading as an example.

Over the course of his career, Ye has always held a strong faith in his ability to drive change. In 2011, when he was with JD’s cell phone business, he promised Chairman and CEO Richard Liu that he would generate annual sales of RMB 300 million yuan in his business in 2011. Liu said, “How about RMB 500 million yuan? If you make it, I’ll give you a bonus.”

Only two years into his career at JD and facing a KPI target 67% higher than expected, he didn’t push back, but collaborated with his team of less than four people to make it a reality. Recalling the experience, Ye said, “I think Richard wants to stimulate our potential. He always encourages us. I felt tons of pressure at that time, but I worked with my team to explore innovative methods and achieved the goal.”

During this period, Ye’s business was to work with operators to sell cellphone sets that included a cellphone and an attached phone number. The business was popular overseas, but was still developing in China at that time, so Ye pushed every step of innovation during the process, including a new system design, new fulfillment process, and settlement. For example, they needed to redesign the customer purchase page to add the selection options for phone numbers and monthly charges, and they needed couriers to receive customers’ agreement files. “We broke with convention every day internally, and we also needed to learn from operators on their rules. Luckily, I very much enjoyed and appreciated the hard-working teams across JD, who never complained, but were full of passion to make it happen.”


Nothing that can’t be solved

The experience has strengthened his faith in his belief that there is nothing that can’t be solved, and no rules that can’t be broken. Also equally important is team work, he said.

“I always remind my current team to follow up details of a program, and make full collaboration and support between departments,” said Ye.

On May 18th, Ye (middle, front row) is pictured with part of his team at JD Fresh, celebrating two colleagues who recently reached five-year mark at JD  (Lian Li, second from right, and Chunyan Chen, second from left; both in front row)

On May 18th, Ye (middle, front row) is pictured with part of his team at JD Fresh, celebrating two colleagues who recently reached five-year mark at JD  (Lian Li, second from right, and Chunyan Chen, second from left; both in front row)

The philosophy also works for business partnerships with external merchants. When imported food faced challenges during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, as well as international traffic limitations, JD Fresh was able to continue to provide high-quality products to Chinese customers. Part of the reason this was possible was due to long-term partnerships with overseas merchants.

“At JD Fresh, we have a special team of international buyers, who have continued to source products from their places of origin for years, which has created a good foundation of cooperation, and helped us continue the international product offerings during a hard time.”

He pointed to imported fruits as an example. JD has been sourcing fruits directly from many countries, such as Chile, US, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Thailand and Canada. During the pandemic, JD’s long-standing relationships with major export suppliers overseas combined with JD’s in-house logistics network ensured smooth service for customers despite rocky conditions.

Utilizing JD’s supply chain capability, JD even worked with suppliers in Thailand to create its own coconut juice brands and sold them to Chinese consumers, which were popular in the Chinese markets.

“Some of the imported food has its unique value, such as beef from Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina. The whole supply chain is advanced. We are communicating with government institutions as well as embassies to bring more best-in-class imported fresh food to China. We still believe that JD is one of the most efficient platforms for bringing overseas fresh food to China,” shared Ye.

JD is also building an agricultural products circulation middle platform, helping narrow the middle process between upstream and downstream industries. Led by Ye, JD Fresh will make efforts in merchandise supply chain and sales channel distribution. For example, JD will analyze whether mangos in Yunnan could be standardized and be categorized in different quality classes.


A new journey

Ye is leading the team to recreate the success of past popular products during special campaigns including the upcoming 618 Grand Promotion for seafood, a category that has suffered during the pandemic, with plans to promote products may include Boston lobster, imported fish and more.

Ye’s team wants to rebuild confidence for customers purchasing imported food. “Food safety is the first priority. You can track every step of an imported product on JD, and we will also share the nucleic acid detection certificates on the product description page, as well as do regular disinfection at warehousing and logistics facilities.”

The team is also continuously innovating in order to put the customer’s experience first. In April, JD announced plans to bring ripened-on-the-tree durians to Chinese customers from Thailand, implementing its cold chain network and other capabilities to enable customers to enjoy durians at their ideal level of ripeness.

Ye’s team has also explored other new products, including ready-to-cook seafood products, which grew in popularity during the pandemic when people were stuck indoors and wanted to enjoy delicious meals at home without extra hassle.

Now a range of seafood-related ready-to-cook products are popular on JD, including scallop with vermicelli, fish with pickled Chinese cabbage and spicy crawfish. JD Fresh will continue to explore this category in anticipation of it becoming a greater trend, Ye said.

It is this ability to quickly adapt to new trends and customer demand that has propelled JD Fresh’s success. Another area in which the industry is evolving is the integration of online-offline channels.

Holding the view that multi-channel fresh produce consumption will play a significant role in the future, Ye led the team to embrace cooperation with offline supermarkets and stores. In May, JD announced plans to help nearly a hundred fresh produce markets in Shanghai go digital. Using JD’s omnichannel fulfillment service, local residents will be able to access fresh produce online via JD and have their orders delivered in as fast as within one hour. This is the first time that an entire produce market in a city has been put on an e-commerce platform.

Residents gathering at Shanghai’s Kangwu fresh produce market, which has cooperated with JD to go online

Residents gathering at Shanghai’s Kangwu fresh produce market, which has cooperated with JD to go online

“We also researched on how to help other small offline stores achieve digital transformation, as well as increase the online order ratio, and help them attract more new customers,” Ye said. “I think this makes these stores more valuable to residents— like I said, in order to be part of their lifestyle.”


Do what you love

As leader of a team of four to several hundred, Ye is passionate about his work—but is also committed to his own passions, including playing football bi-weekly to keep his energy up. He tries to approach every area of his life with integrity, a lesson that his time at JD has imparted upon him, he said.

Ye (third from left, front row) poses with his football teammates from CEIBS in Beijing in April

Ye (third from left, front row) poses with his football teammates from CEIBS in Beijing in April

“The management philosophy and values that I learned from Richard have really stuck with me, especially the philosophy of achieving success the right way, as well as integrity,” he said. “For me, the biggest lesson has been that you can achieve what you want by the right method and by working hard—with much higher success than by doing it the wrong or illegal way.”

He recalled that another boss once said, “Stay humble even when you are in a smooth situation, and always be calm and objective,” another motto that has stayed with him.

He is committed to achieving JD Fresh’s long-term goal of bringing more value to the whole supply chain, ensuring the multi-channel business model, and lowering transaction costs in the industry.

“It’s important to do what you love, and if you are willing to input more of your extra time, you will reach your Qomolangma,” Ye said.


(Banner photo: Ye spoke at the JD Foodie Festival held on May 17 at JD Headquarters)