How far would you go to be with your family for the holiday season? In 2020 Zou Zhou of PROTON returned to Wuhan to be with his family for Chinese New Year, despite all the potential risks.

Once a year, people everywhere celebrate the Spring Festival, the beginning of the Lunar New Year. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, PROTON’s Head of Product Marketing, Zou Zhou, headed back to China to celebrate with his family. Only he wasn’t heading to just any city, but to the heart of an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

You were still in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when news broke out that a deadly virus was gripping Wuhan. What made you still decide to go back?

Working abroad means we don’t’ get many opportunities to go home and be with our families, but I’ve made a commitment that no matter the circumstances, I’ll always return home for the Lunar New Year. I believe in the importance of celebrating it together as a family.

Last year was no different. In fact, it was even more important for me to return because I didn’t want my family to go through the pandemic by themselves. Of course, they would prefer that I stay away from Wuhan, but when I told them that I was still coming home I think they secretly jumped with joy.

2020 would also be the first year my mother would be celebrating the Spring Festival without my father, who’d passed away in 2019. I didn’t want her to be by herself.

Zou Zhou and his team

You knew that if you went back, it would be difficult to return to Malaysia and it may affect your work. Were there many challenges in getting your work done remotely?

Honestly, it wasn’t much of a challenge. COVID-19 has helped improve the conditions for working online. New software was developed, making it convenient for us to stay connected with our colleagues, even if some of us were thousands of miles away.

By working online, we can also save time from traveling to work and running from one meeting to another – just push a button, and you’re already in your meeting.

The only challenge was not being able to physically inspect the latest product, the Proton X50, which was scheduled for launch in October 2020. As Head of Product Marketing, I had to know every aspect of the car, which was impossible without having the car in front of me. So, the first thing I did upon my return was to physically inspect the car.

The Proton X50 launch

How did working offline affect the launch of the brand-new Proton X50?

I don’t think that it affected it much. With the support of Geely and our suppliers, everything was completed on time. The top management at PROTON didn’t give up either and were relentless in ensuring that the launch took place before the year’s end, despite the ongoing struggles created by the pandemic.

Most importantly, standards couldn’t be compromised; whenever we encountered a problem, we made sure to find a solution in fixing it. Communications is also essential in mitigating unforeseeable risk. A part can be supplied today but may not be available tomorrow, but if we monitor the situation closely while remaining nimble and vigilant, we can act accordingly.

What was living in Wuhan like during the initial lock-down?

It was so scary that I didn’t even dare to venture out. All our food supplies were bought online, usually a month’s stock at a time. We kept them all in the fridge and my wife and I took turns cooking.

The lock-down has allowed me to spend quality time with my family. I’ve always worked away from them, even prior to joining PROTON. This pandemic has been a blessing in disguise as I’m finally able to get much closer to them.

At other times, my work keeps my occupied. We have daily team meetings in the early morning, followed by individual meetings with each of my team members.

You’ve decided to return home for Spring Festival this year as well, despite the potential hardship. Why?

Going back this time feels different because I would now be traveling from a place with a high number of COVID-19 cases to a place with zero reported cases. But I will have to undergo a few weeks of quarantine at my port of entry in China and perhaps in Wuhan itself. My only worry is that I might spend the Lunar New Year at the hotel alone.

Back with the family

I am not that worried about getting back to Malaysia as I place complete trust in both the Chinese and Malaysian governments in containing the virus and allowing safe cross-border travel. Even if there are any travel delays, last year proved that we are able to work successfully online, so I doubt that my work will be impacted much.

What is more important for me is sticking to my commitment to my family and being by their side during this auspicious occasion. Sometimes, those of us working abroad lose track of things. I’d like to use this occasion each year to remind myself as to why I am doing it – for the sake of my family.

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