I knew I was in trouble. There was no domestic air service from the Chinese city of Shaoyang to Zhengzhou. I would have to travel four hours on an area transport bus to a city called Changsha. There I could catch a train to Zhengzhou for my next hospital assessment.

Traveling in northern China wasn’t easy. In the early 2000s, as the Chinese people began to work their way out from under the restrictive and oppressive restraints of the government and once again exercise their natural talents for business and enterprise, the nation as a whole awakened like an aroused giant. Such things as transportation systems were still trying to catch up with the new demands.

I successfully boarded a rickety, old bus headed for Changsha. But mechanical problems had us stopping periodically to refill the leaky radiator. My translator and I were losing precious time, and I could see that getting to the train depot before my train left for Zhengzhou was going to be a close call. As our driver approached the outskirts of Changsha, we encountered a stand-still traffic jam.

I explained to my young translator just how important it was that I not miss the train to Zhengzhou. When we realized that the bus would never get us to the station on time, we agreed upon a risky and creative alternative. We asked the bus driver to open the door and let us out. We then scrambled out with my luggage and ran across the road to the lane of traffic traveling away from the city. That lane wasn’t deadlocked. Within two minutes, I was able to hail a local taxi. My translator explained to the driver our urgency to get to the train depot immediately. The driver was a young, aggressive man who couldn’t take his eyes off the US dollars I was holding in my hand. After we had piled into the car, he took the next side road, and we were off like thistledown in a wind storm.

In minutes, the little taxi came sliding to a stop at a side entrance to the train depot, with dust billowing around us. I graciously paid the aggressive driver, and my translator and I went running down the platform to coach number fifteen in spite of all the train attendants waving their arms at us. The door on our coach was still open, and I tossed my luggage into the coach as the conductor began blowing his whistle to start the train rolling. Our goofy gamble had paid off, and we had made it!

The train coaches were completely packed, but eventually we were able to find a place where we could hunker down for the balance of the fourteen-hour trip to Zhengzhou. Upon our arrival, we located a small, clean hotel room, where I was able to sleep a couple of hours and take a refreshing shower. Then I was ready to visit the next two hospitals.

Zhengzhou was located in the province of Henan, which claimed a population of more than one hundred million people. The first hospital I was slated to assess was the Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou, a onethousand-bed hospital that was involved in some very extensive remodeling. The second hospital I was to assess became the delight of my entire trip.

As we walked through the front doors of the Zhengzhou Fifth People’s Hospital, we were met by three young, attractive Chinese ladies in white, crisply starched nurse’s uniforms and caps. Across the front of each uniform was neatly draped a bright-red satin sash with gold writing. One of the nurses approached us with a beautiful smile and kindly asked us how she could assist us? My translator told her that we were there for an appointment with the hospital director Dr. Rang Da Zhong.

The young lady informed us that the director was anticipating our arrival and asked us to follow her. The other two ladies stayed near the door in the front lobby. As we followed our hostess, I couldn’t help but notice that the hallways and lobbies, and even the elevators, were bright and shining clean. As we passed through the ophthalmology department, I mumbled that we just as well could have been walking down the halls of an eye clinic anywhere in Chicago or Los Angeles. The new equipment was state of the art, and the facilities were attractive in every way. I later found out that their eye surgeons had been trained abroad and were already using their laser- and microscopic-surgery machines to their fullest.

Dr. Zhong was a personable fellow and seemed genuinely glad that we had come. He was not only the director of the hospital but was also one of the chief surgeons. He was an interesting combination of a pleasing personality, high energy, and dignity. Following a few minutes of introduction, we got into the assessment questions. In addition to walking the halls of the facility and visiting every department, I asked if I could dress in scrubs and observe the procedures going on in the operating theaters. The director was gracious in every respect.

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When finished, I was welcomed back into the conference room, where I met the president and vice president of the hospital. They shared with me briefly about their plans for new construction and then frankly asked me for my input and observations about their hospital and how they could make it better.

I told them that I had walked the halls of thousands of hospitals in developing countries around the world, but their hospital was different from any other. From the greeting I had received in the lobby to the observations in the surgery theaters, I had a sense that everything was under control, that everyone was happy to be there doing what they were doing, and that they were all headed in the same direction philosophically and administratively. I told them, “No organization will rise above its leadership. What I’ve observed today is that the success of your institution has started with you, the leaders. In my opinion, you are the greatest example of entrepreneurial, capital-intensive marketing that I’ve seen in a developing country. You’re leading very effectively. Keep at it!”

They sat there stunned for a minute and then replied, “How could you see so much by just briefly walking through our hospital? We want to take you to lunch and continue our discussion.” At lunch, we discussed China, economics, and the health-care industry. At one point I asked them to tell me what had happened at their hospital that made them so different.

They looked at each other and then began telling me the story. A man by the name of Sam Walton had come to China to open up some supermarkets. The people from Zhengzhou Fifth People’s Hospital had all gone to the Sam M. Walton College.

This is what they had learned:
Rule 1: Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anything else. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do the best you can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you—like a fever.

Rule 2: Share your profits with all your associates and treat them as partners. 

Rule 3: Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting ways to motivate and challenge your partners. Set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score.

Rule 4: Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. . . . Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors.

Rule 5: Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. All of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them.

Rule 6: Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself so seriously. . . . Have fun and always show enthusiasm.

Rule 7: Listen to everyone in your company, and figure out ways to get them talking.

Rule 8: Exceed your customer’s expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want—and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don’t make excuses—apologize.

Rule 9: Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage.

Rule 10: Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.

The hospital administrators then said to me, “Dr. Jackson, the government in China has stopped giving free medical service. We think that’s good for us. Now we need to figure how to finance the system, because everyone still needs medical help at some time. We’ve decided that there will be enough money available to support our hospital, and if we’re in competition with other hospitals for the money that is available, then we’ll make the people want to come to our facility and buy medical service from us.

Sam Walton says that people want a good shopping experience. We’ll give the people the best medical experience. If they want good parking, we’ll make good parking available. We’ll give the people friendly service from happy and helpful employees and staff. We’ll give them clean and attractive facilities and the best and most modern equipment. But Sam Walton says most of all, we must train our people to have teamwork and always attain excellence in everything. We must have goals and become the best.

Dr. Jackson, if there is money in Zhengzhou for medical services, then we’re going to capture that money for our hospital. We think people will find the money if we’ll give them good and happy results. When we receive the money, we can continue to buy the best equipment and give even more excellent service.”

“We don’t want to be just the best; we want to be legendary.”