June 14, 2010

Recently in Shanghai, I had the (mis)fortune of attending a lecture addressed to MDP batch of senior executives from India’s public sector companies who were here to “understand” China; a study trip arranged by a leading management association in India. My incentive to attend this was that the speaker was an Indian origin strategy professor from one of the best global business schools. However, I was completely unprepared for the kind of audience I ended up being seated with.

For starters, I was the only woman in the entire room and got some stares that made me hope the ground would just split open right there and I be swallowed in (a-la Sita in Ramayana). The purpose of their trip and of this session was to “understand” China – but seems none of these leaders of our PSUs had an open mind and attitude to do so. It ended up being a case of them laughing over any positive thing pointed out about China. And they thought the few other Indians and I who work in China are mad and we have become Chinese and lost our sense of Indianness (WTF). They just kept saying that this entire amazing infrastructure is just a façade; there is nothing good about China or nothing that they can learn from here. I am quite certain, that these guys were upset that they were sent to China in the name of “Videsh”; as for these guys, Videsh still largely means the UK and US.

Now contrast this with a conference I attended organized by a Chinese trade council and one of the provincial governments in South China – this conference aimed at the Chinese “learning” from one of India’s best IT companies about how to develop China’s IT sector! The attitude of the Chinese when it comes to learning/ emulating/ copying is brilliant – if they think you have something to offer, something they can learn; they will want to learn that and implement it in their own country! Everyone says China is known for its “fakes”; in other words for “copying” – but even that requires its own skills. While in India, copying is largely restricted to bollywood lifting stories/ getting inspired from Hollywood/ other world cinema or music; in China, they copy everything from the concept & design of magnetic levitation train to airport terminal designs to designer bags/ shoes – and they are damn good at it. At the end; it all leads to taking the best from everywhere and replicating it here – it’s a system which works, and works brilliantly at that. For all the painful history between Japan and China, today the fact is that the tallest building in China – Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC – 101 floors), located in the heart of Shanghai’s financial district is made by the Japanese group Mori. The Chinese have an open attitude about learning, from absolutely anyone.

Our home grown PSUs, on the other hand, are still living in their own “well” – like the frogs who live in a well oblivious to world outside! They still want to function in their age old bureaucratic ways, leading to nothing short of a disaster at times. A classic example is our national carrier. Hope the leading global consulting firm they are working with is able to save them. The general manager of one of the best private airlines in India once told me how he is feeling bad about the state of the national carrier – I asked him shouldn’t he be happy that they are less of a competition for his company – to which he made a very valid point saying he feels let down as an Indian as at the end of day, it’s the national carrier and it doesn’t understand the responsibility of being one!

I am not saying that the Chinese SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) are shining examples of successful corporations; however their management approach is becoming increasingly like that of an MNC! Of course, there are strong links to the government in case of Chinese SOEs and the ambition level (which often gets stimulus from the fact that the government always tries to go out of the way to protect the local companies and discourage outside competition) is not be missed. While I will write a separate post on ambitions of Chinese companies and how China is in a race to own the world’s natural resources today; point to be noted is that the attitude here is much more open than that of our babus back home!