China: “It’s not pretty but it’s the bloody reality”

I was listening to the head of a large multinational that have significant investments in China speak about the challenges and opportunities that is China. The one line that caught my attention? “It’s not pretty but it is the bloody reality”. That about sums it up for western businesses trying to make their way in the China market. Most it would seem are learning the hard way and the smart ones understand the potential of ‘joint ventures’ as difficult as they may be.

The real ChinaManaging in China will entail significant ‘unlearning’ when the learning has been gathered in the west. In China it is not about the ‘what’ but rather about the ‘how’.  Emails don’t work in China; business connection is done via mobile. That way it is more personal. Managers in China are inherently ‘risk takers’ whilst the western managerial DNA is that of ‘risk manager’. When it comes to planning the Chinese manager would rather well, not do it. Their whole orientation is to be flexible and adaptable and how often can you recall a ‘good plan’ getting in the way of what really needed doing! Annual leave is 5 days and many manufacturing companies have set themselves up to operate 24/7 in how they synchronize information, feedback and production across the respective global time-zones. This week I visited TTI, a large manufacturer who bought Hoover, Milwaukee, AEG Powertools and RYOBI amongst others,  and heard a story that encapsulates much of what I have just outlined. It took TTI just three months from initiation to shipment to manufacture a power-tool hammer. The whole process was initiated by a customer call suggesting they develop something like this (there was no such thing on the market). Three months – to conceptualize, design, develop, test and produce! It is anyone’s guess how long that process would have taken in the west!

This is China. This is what western companies will have to realize as they collaborate and compete. Recently a well-known western fashion brand bought the Chinese company that were making rip-offs of their brand. The reason? The rip-offs were of a superior quality and being made cheaper than the real deal!
Stories of China are conflicting, paradoxical and varied. All of them are the ‘real China’. A western delegate on a recent leadership programme in China complained that he didn’t see the “real China”. He was situated in a five star hotel in the heart of Guangzhou. He went to impressive factories, ate out, walked the streets yet failed to comprehend that all of this is the ‘real China’. There would be other ‘pictures’ he could get of this vast country, one better understood as regions than a single whole, and these pictures would certainly have added to his overall picture…but he did see the real China! It is a place of immense contrasts as are most emerging economies.

If you haven’t yet started your ‘Chinese education’ I have only two words for you: ‘Why not?’ Your future will be somehow interlinked with China’s and the sooner you understand that and get to know and experience China the better prepared and equipped you will be.

“It’s not pretty but it’s the bloody reality”. Actually, I think it is rather ‘pretty’ but then that might depend on how you look at this amazing place with all its opportunity and challenges. Maybe ‘pretty’ should read, ‘easy’. Now that would make more sense!

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