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“Always keep in mind- you’re highly replaceable” With Michael Fisher, President of GPI

This life lesson quote has actually served as a pretty good roadmap for me in shaping what type of person I should always strive to be.


“Always keep in mind- you’re highly replaceable.” My father’s attempt at humor (I think) shortly after I got out of college. Not quite sure if he was referring to my role as his son or an employee with whatever organization I worked for… But this life lesson quote has actually served as a pretty good roadmap for me in shaping what type of person I should always strive to be. In other words, never considering yourself to be so important that you can’t be replaced, staying humble, and focusing on constant improvement are all good personality traits to stick to. Focusing on the opposite has the potential to result in you someday not really liking what you see when you look in the mirror…


I had the pleasure to interview Michael Fisher, the President of GPI, Grand Prix International, Inc.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My career has been in sales and marketing since I’ve been out of college. I pursued my Master’s Degree in Finance over nights and weekends.

During this time, my father established his importing business, Grand Prix. I approached him a few times over about fifteen years, interested in joining him. He didn’t share that same interest… each time he refused. He wanted me to gain business experience, take a few hard knocks, learn from others, and then be better qualified to work in his business. Fair enough.

After a later overture, he agreed and I joined the firm in late 1998. Within a couple months, he retired and left me to fend for myself. A bit of a “sink or swim” scenario. It was then that Grand Prix International was established. Now, we have fifteen people on staff, a very diverse customer base, and a broad set of services that we bring to our industry.

Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?

One that comes to mind actually happens to me with some frequency. Because I don’t speak Chinese (and you don’t really need to speak the language to successfully do business in China), I’m usually with a few English speaking Chinese coworkers.

In working through project issues at a factory in Mainland China, I’ll pose an open-ended question on a complex issue that generates a long discussion in Chinese with a group of factory engineers, managers, and production planners. I’m waiting patiently for the translated explanation, expecting an equally long and detailed answer to my question. Invariably, the group finally turns to me and one of them simply answers “yes”, and they then stare back in silence. OK…

The moral of the story here is that the trick to properly communicating (and believe me, it’s a learned skill), is about getting your points heard, understanding the issues, getting the correct answers back, and making progress. So:

1) Simplify the question as much as you can. It sounds like you’re “dumbing it down” and may feel like you’re being a bit insulting, but that isn’t the case. It’s about stripping away the extraneous words, repeat explanations, and complexity in what you’re saying.

2) Keep your questions to just one single point and ask additional questions. It helps you stay flexible in your follow up questions or points that you want to make.

3) Slow your communications down. By this I mean that you should be patient, deliberate, focused on simply points, and then move on. When you leave that office or factory, you become very dependent on your communication “sticking”, and that your points are understood.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? 

Most of the projects that we work on are related to games (think board games, card games, etc.) and every year there are a number of really cool projects- the latest hot movie property, some really creative graphic design and storylines, even hilariously creative party games that haven’t hit the market yet.


What advice would you give to other business owners to help their employees to thrive?

 Any time someone is able to actually travel to China to see the how products are manufactured in the factories, understand how the product design process works, learn how goods get from the point of production to the shipping ports, learn the in’s and out’s of exporting, quality assurance testing, etc. is invaluable experience. In the end, seeing it all happen is tremendously educational for people and makes them better able to be successful in their work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

 This is an easy one for me- it would be my wife. She is a voice of reason and logic. She is objective. She helps me to at times to get closer to an issue or take a step back to see things more clearly, and last but not least she is perhaps the most selfless, caring, and giving person I have ever known. I’m thrilled that I convinced her to share her life with me. End of story.

We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot? 

I think fighting a trade war with Tariffs is a terrible idea. Yes, examples of unfair trade practices abound, and need to be addressed but we are greatly underestimating China’s ability to beat us at our own game in using tariffs as a retaliatory practice. The trade war that has been launched against China is a war that we will most certainly not win. So- what is our organization doing to pivot? We’re looking at more creative ways to manage production costs to offset what we see as inevitable tariffs. Larger production runs across a schedule of multiple shipments, cost savings in materials, consolidating products to produce with fewer factories (therefore gaining more negotiating power), etc.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business In China.” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Before doing business with any organization in China (regardless of type), vet them thoroughly. Either find a trustworthy intermediary who knows all there is to know to successfully work on your behalf (the typically low additional expense associated with this option is worth every penny), or if you want to deal directly with a company in China find some other companies who have worked with them before and get referrals. Make sure they do what they say they can do. I’ve talked to countless people who have had nightmare experiences in China because they just took the company at their word and didn’t qualify them.
  2. Understand the nuances of manufacturing in China. By this I mean you need to understand where the factory is getting their materials from (and how stable that source of supply is), is the factory able to export goods out of China or do they need to use some intermediary, are the products you are producing subject to specific product safety standards and can the factory substantiate compliance? This is a huge issue that demands heightened scrutiny.
  3. Product quality is key! I can’t stress this enough. Switching materials (to lesser quality) in final manufacturing is one of the easiest ways for China factories to pad their profits. Before any final payments are made, make sure you have the ability to ensure that the product quality is as you have directed it. In the right situations using a third party inspection company to conduct a quality assurance audit is a good option.
  4. Make sure there is complete understanding around the financial agreement. This needs to be agreed upon before any manufacturing commences- you absolutely do not want to have to negotiate payment terms after the goods are produced and ready to be delivered to the shipping port- you have no leverage at this point!
  5. Whenever possible, get your feet on the ground in China and see the company you are working with. Of course there is a time investment and hard expense associated with this, but I can think of no better way to learn how business is conducted, the quality and complexities of manufacturing and sourcing, how goods get from factory to shipping port, etc. than to travel there and have your people see for themselves. And of course, its hugely beneficial to be working with someone or some agency who knows the landscape.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

 Always keep in mind- you’re highly replaceable.” My father’s attempt at humor (I think) shortly after I got out of college. Not quite sure if he was referring to my role as his son or an employee with whatever organization I worked for… But this life lesson quote has actually served as a pretty good roadmap for me in shaping what type of person I should always strive to be. In other words, never considering yourself to be so important that you can’t be replaced, staying humble, and focusing on constant improvement are all good personality traits to stick to. Focusing on the opposite has the potential to result in you someday not really liking what you see when you look in the mirror…

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

 It’s way outside the business world I’m most focused on, but the movement I would inspire would be to focus our culture more on adoption and foster care for children. It’s an issue very close to me, and I think we as a nation can do far more to encourage adoptions and support children in foster care. I can think of no better investment in our world than to improve the lives of children in need.

Originally published at medium.com

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