Howard Grindrod: ‘My job is to make other people look good’

Chinese giant Hisense is set to target the kitchen studio market with its new built-in appliance line-up. Chris Frankland talks to UK vice-president Howard Grindrod at the company’s new headquarters in Leeds.

Howard Grindrod, vice-president of Hisense UK

Howard Grindrod has 30 years’ experience in the appliances industry with Frigidaire, Fridgemaster, AEG, Toshiba and now Hisense, which as well as appliances makes TVs, soundbars, mobile phones, heating and air conditioning and medical equipment.

He joined Hisense UK in 2012 and in that time has seen turnover triple and brand awareness grow, thanks in part to some major sports sponsorship deals. The $30 billion (£23,857 bn) Chinese giant has around 100,000 employees worldwide and extensive manufacturing and R&D sites in Europe. It owns Gorenje in Slovenia and is now beginning a major push into the kitchen studio market with its new built-in products. He tells kbbreview about his role at Hisense, the brand’s progress in the UK and his plans for the future of the brand in the UK.

Q: How would you describe your role as vice-president of Hisense UK?

A: A facilitator. I always joke that my main job is to make other people look good. But it is very much to coordinate the team, across all the multiple facets of the business. 

I work in conjunction with my Chinese colleagues who have provided those links back to China, but we have had to link that to what we do at the front end of the business.

Number-one job is making sure that Hisense UK is as successful as possible and to use the resources of Hisense International and Hisense Group to make that happen.

This is very much a business that is the sum of its parts. We have the manufacturing side and since our takeover of Gorenje, that now includes Europe. Prior to that, most MDA production was in China. In the early days, the main objective was to make sure that we had product that was fit for purpose in the UK market.

Q: When you first took the helm, what were your goals and aspirations for Hisense? 

A: To be honest, in the early days it was very much survival. We were coming out of the recession and as the groundwork to set up the business was being done in 2011, there was no real appetite for new brands.

People had taken a bit of a battering during the recession and a lot of companies had not done very well, businesses had
gone bankrupt. Retailers wanted to stick with what they knew best and rebuild relationships with traditional partners. It was fairly tough. 

My function was to get around as many people as possible to explain who we were and our plans for the future. We had a range of products, but it wasn’t necessarily the range of products we needed to put ourselves firmly in that mid to premium bracket that was not only our aspiration, but also where we naturally fitted. 

Our products in the home market and in other markets were very much mid to premium. We started with refrigeration. Refrigeration paid our bills. That was my background, and it was a market where we had some traction in the UK through OEM supply. I was an OEM buyer with Frigidaire and Fridgemaster. 

Hisense Corporation is absolutely 100% a tech corporation and that is very important to us, but there was a huge amount of work to be done to fit our product into the white-goods ecosystem of the UK.

Q: You’ve had a long career in the appliances industry, what are the main lessons you have learnt that have guided your approach?

A: To take your job and your function incredibly seriously, but not yourself. The past 12 years have been a lot of fun as I could bring all of my experience into play. But essentially you are nobody. You are employing people and you’re having to convince those people that you’re a company they should be confident in perhaps risking their career on. Some of our early hires were moving from perfectly good jobs with established brands. So you have to supply the backstory to convince them this is a good place to work. 

Q: What mistakes have you made along the way that have shaped your management style?

A: In the early days, I suppose it was trying to do too much myself and not finding the people quickly enough to delegate to, which maybe inhibited some of the growth earlier on. That is not the case now. That lesson was very quickly learnt, because if you are developing a business of substance, you have to develop each part of your job, then let it go, move on and find something else to do to help the business grow. 

Q: The appliances market has taken a hit during 2023. How has business been for Hisense UK?

A: The markets we operate in during the time we have been in them have been either pretty flat or have declined. Where there have been increases, it has tended to be in value rather than volume. But we have managed to continually take market share during that period of time. Since pre-Covid, business has tripled for Hisense UK.

Q: How do you see the next 12 to 18 months panning out?

A: I’m very optimistic. The industry is very much focusing on added value. We have established a trajectory into that mid-to-premium sector. At the end of 2023, we were number one in refrig­eration. On all areas of MDA we are over-indexing on the higher-end products – multi-door cooling, high-capacity laundry and high-place-setting dishwashers.

Q: Raising brand awareness has been one of your major objectives for Hisense in the UK. What was your plan for achieving that?

A: We decided initially to go down the online route, which among the people I knew in the industry wasn’t generally regarded as a wise move. But on studying the market, we could see the advantage of having our product available online to all consumers. We worked hard to develop that platform so we could get reviews, tell the brand story and put our products in a space that made them available to sell. 

We had certain key independent retailers and regional retailers, but we established strong relationships with pure-players online. It was that pureplay online presence that gave us the brand awareness. Most consumers now start their research online when buying. Omnichannel is the buzz phrase now.

Independent retailers are incredibly important in telling the brand story.

They are passionate and they are incredibly engaged with their consumers.

Q: Multiple sports spon­sor­­­ships have played a large part in raising brand awareness for Hisense…

A: In 2016, we sponsored the Australia Open tennis. That was successful in building the brand in Australia. On the back of that, other sports sponsorship was looked at. There was a lot of interest in motor racing and four or five subsidiaries across the globe were very enthusiastic. So we sponsored Red Bull. That was very good for us in the UK. Then we moved on to football with the World Cup and the Euros in the UK, then the Euros in Germany and beyond that. We have also sponsored Nascar and the NFL in the USA. 

We sponsor Leeds United football club and that was very much our decision in the UK. We are also sponsors of Paris St Germain. 

Q: The kitchen studio market is now a focus for Hisense. What is your plan for that?

A: The kitchen market in parti­cular is very discerning. They have seen brands come and go. They need to feel confident. Historically, on the white goods side, we have been very much a freestanding business, but to be a company of substance and reputation you have to have a strong built-in offering. Buying Gorenje has been a major stepping stone and we have developed products that are very much fit for the UK market. In cooking, our ovens are now winning awards (the Black Line oven won a Good Housekeeping award for best cooker).

Q: Are independent retailers now a key route to market for Hisense?

A: Independent retailers are incredibly important in telling the brand story. They are passionate about brand and products and they are incredibly engaged with their consumers. But we don’t always tell as robust a story as the independents would like. That puts us in a weak position with some of them. We have to prove ourselves. We have to prove that the product is fit for purpose, that we can repair it and distribute it in a way that satisfies their business model. We have to build that confidence up.

We now have some great working relationships with independent retailers and we have been developing our infrastructure to support them.

Q: Are consumers now asking for sustainable products?

A: It has been difficult to sell sustainability. People are looking for pricing. But the positive thing is that through legislation and the efforts of all the major brands, we are talking about water usage and energy consumption. There is a big story to tell and a lot of that is done without an awful lot of shouting. The danger is that if we shout too much, we are accused of greenwashing, but we will probably up that messaging to get that over to the consumer.

My career


Vice-president, Hisense UK
2012 – Present

Managing director, Frigidaire Consolidated Ltd and Fridgemaster Corporation

Director of new business development, AEG

Numerous roles at AEG: head of microwave oven division; head of marketing for white goods and SDAs; board member on joint venture in France with Toshiba, AEG and Brandt

In his earlier career, he worked for companies including Black & Decker.

Q: Hisense is well advanced with smart appliances, but again, are consumers asking for that?

A: It’s a minefield. Because of our consumer electronics platform, we have a base for interconnectivity of appliances using our screen technology. The next generation of cooking, laundry and cooling products will include that screen technology. That puts us in a strong position and we are one of about only three companies that goes across all of these areas – consumer electronics and white goods.

But we have to give retailers the story and I don’t think that we are doing that well enough as an industry. Let’s be honest, in some instances it’s no more than a fancy remote control. The benefits come when they see how products talk to each other.

Q: Can Hisense promise a strong supply chain going forward?

A: There always tends to be lots of supply chain stories, but you work through them. We are a very large $30 billion corporation. We are well connected. We have a strong base to make sure we are fit for purpose.

Q: What are you aims and goals for Hisense going forward?

A: We want to be a 100-year brand. It’s as simple as that. We are over 50 years old as Hisense and the Gorenje part of the business is over 70 years old. We are here for the long term. 

My role is to facilitate everything for the next generation of manage­ment. This business is not mine. It is here for the next generations of managers. We’ve got to make sure we have the best sustainable base. Having a business that is fit for purpose for the remainder of the 21st century is a major task. Building our brand and its values is incredibly important to us.

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