Having recently spent 8 days in China on an Executive MBA elective, these are my eight takeaways:
1. To be successful you need multiple China strategies
With 34 provinces covering 9.3m square kilometers, China is the size and as diverse as the European Union. You would not have the same market strategy for the UK as you would, for example for Poland, so why do Western companies think that they can treat China as a homogenous whole? To be successful, you need multiple China strategies.
2. Apple should be jealous of Lenovo’s innovation
Lenovo, the £123bn Chinese electronics giant, is moving from following to innovating. Their new coffee table sized, multi-user tablets are based on the premise that families have had enough of autonomous individual screens and want to sit round the same table whilst working and playing together.
3. The Chinese Dream might become the Western Nightmare
Western companies will increasingly be changing their attention from accessing the Chinese market to protecting themselves from Chinese firms breaking into Western markets. A number of expats told me that their colleagues have been returning home to work for their parent companies for this very reason.
4. Chinese food for breakfast eight days running
I love dim sum and noodles but I could not eat them for breakfast for eight days running. Fortunately, Chinese hotels – chasing my tourist RMB - get this and catered to my Western tastes. So why do hotels in London not get it that Chinese tourists will not tolerate egg and bacon for eight days running? Cater to Chinese tastes with dim sum and noodles and the tourists’ pounds will flow into London hotels.
5. Colonisation by the backdoor?
China’s investment in Africa has multiplied 30 times to over $15bn in the last ten years as they invest across the continent in oil, land and agriculture. Infrastructure investments have also been made to export these new sources of commodities to China. Numerous African governments are increasingly becoming beholden to China. This begs the question of how different China’s approach is to previous European colonisation?
6. Chengdu “village”
Chengdu, a tier two city in southwestern China with a population of 14 million, is nicknamed a “village” because it is small by the scale of its ambition. This is a city, that none of my London-based friends had ever heard of, unless they happen to like pandas. And yet it is a place that will soon become – like Dubai in the early 2000’s – a place everyone will of heard of by 2020 as one of the powerhouses fuelling China’s continued growth.
7. China creating jobs in the West
Western perspectives need to increasingly recognise how China is creating rather than stealing jobs in our economies. This is a nation who recently sent 7,000 Chinese in one tour group to California and spent £41m in one week. As their hunger for tourism expands, so should our capability and willingness to welcome them.
8. Five year plans
Hearing a senior Chinese Communist Party leader describe how their five-year plans act as strategic frameworks for decision making sounded remarkably similar to how the UK’s coalition agreement has been structured since 2010. Whilst obviously vastly differing in their philosophical approaches to government, the longer-term focus seems to be working out well for both countries.
Simon Cooper is a second year Executive MBA candidate at Cass Business School, City University, London and has eight years of experience in various strategy and operational delivery roles in the UK’s Civil Service. The views in this article are entirely his own.