中国国企“走出去”面临挑战 / Challenges of China’s SOEs Going Global

中国国企“走出去”面临挑战

最近我又想到中国企业“走出去”的问题,其实这一直是近几年的热点问题。

当下,很多中国舆论都指责国有企业大而无当,大多是靠优惠待遇、低息贷款和保护政策才有如此的规模。

公平地说,这些说法有一定的真实性。但很多人都忘了,15、20年前的这些国企前身还都身处逆境,都是经历了漫漫征途才走到今天,而这期间所需要的更多是切切实实的领导力,而不是优惠政策。

从我个人见闻来看,很多大型国企的领导人都切实注重企业管理水平及受赞赏程度的提高,而不甘心于只作收入上的“老大”。

同时,现在很多大型国企雄踞一方,掌控某一市场,旁人尚无法涉足。这需要更高层面上的领导推行强有力的改革。

十几年来,入围“《财富》世界500强”一直是中国大型企业的梦想。但近几年,大型中国公司对入围《财富》“全球最受赞赏的公司排行榜”也表现出新的热情。

企业规模固然重要,但只有凭借出色的领导、企业治理和投资者服务,才能赢得尊重并实现长治久安。

大型中国国企一直是中国企业“走出去”的领头羊,大多通过并购形式走出国门,其中很多都来自自然资源领域。

外国企业染指自然资源储备在很多国家,哪怕不是所有国家,都极为敏感。在某些比较高调的案例中,由此产生的阻力甚至导致当地政府对中方提出的并购申请予以否决。这方面的纪录可谓喜忧参半,而且还将持续下去。

还有一个阻碍国企海外并购的壁垒不太为人所知,就是为获得中国国内相关政府部门的批准,国企收购的股份必须大于50%.

这一规定不分行业、不分时间、不分国家,将很多并购洽谈都扼杀在了摇篮中。虽然争取控股权的思路可以让人理解,但往往还没切入正题就把潜在目标早早地吓跑了。

国企在资金来源、规模和其他方面都具备优势。但在“走出去”的竞赛中,控股的要求却让国企在非国企面前甘拜下风。非国企在各种情况下反而更加灵活,更容易适应。

控股是理想之选,但在海外交易之初就执着于此,很可能最终竹篮打水一场空。

这其中还掺杂了一个国人常常忽视的因素,即:从海外角度看来,中国国企为国家所有,作为主要控股方将会服务于国家利益。

几个月前,我在北京参加了一群中国MBA和EMBA学生的问答活动,被问到中国国企与美国及西欧国企的区别。这个问题太简单了,因为除了法国以外,其他国家的国企少之又少。

与此相关的是哈佛商学院教授Joseph Bower于2012年11月15日在北京“财富CEO峰会”上的演讲,他对此作出了精辟的总结。

Bower教授列举了知名跨国企业的十大特点。他指出,中国国企在全球扩张及聘用当地人才的过程中,面临的困难之一就是如何确保所有员工能够结成国际同盟,同心同德。在很多地方,让各国员工团结一心,有效合作,为公司效力本身就极具挑战。如果再加入国家意志,工作难度可想而知。

Bower教授总结说,要实现这一目标,向伟大的全球化公司看齐,是对领导力的终极考验。

Challenges of China’s SOEs Going Global

I’ve been thinking again lately about the theme of Chinese companies going global, which has been a hot topic for some years now.

In the current environment, lots of commentary in China is critical of the big SOEs, saying they are big companies rather than great ones, and their size is largely due to preferential treatment: access to cheap credit, protective policies, etc.

In fairness, there is some truth to that argument, although many people forget what bad shape the predecessors of these SOEs were in 15 to 20 years ago. They’ve come a long way, which has required able leadership, quite apart from preferential policies.

In my experience many leaders of large SOEs are indeed focused on becoming better managed and more admired companies rather than simply looked up to based on the size of their revenues.

At the same time, many are now in positions of great power, controlling market fiefdoms which they will not readily share with other players. This will take strong leadership from the top to change.

Entering the elite Fortune Global 500 list has been a dream goal for aspiring larger Chinese companies for more than ten years. In recent years, however, there has been a surge of new interest among bigger Chinese companies in Fortune’s Global Most Admired Companies ranking.

Size matters, but in the long run it is only sustainable when accompanied by admiration earned through excellence in leadership, governance, and service to key stakeholders.

China’s bigger SOEs have been leaders among Chinese companies in efforts to go global, largely through acquisitions, many of which have been in the natural resource sector.

Foreign ownership of key natural resource reserves is a sensitive issue in many if not most countries. In some high-profile cases, the resulting push-back has lead to local government’s rejection of Chinese acquisition overtures. In this respect, the record is mixed and is likely to remain so.

One lesser-known obstacle to SOE overseas acquisition efforts is that, in order to obtain approval from the relevant departments of the Chinese government, their proposed equity stake must be greater than 50%.

This rule is effectively a deal-killer in the early stages of many merger and acquisition talks, in any industry, at any time, in any country. Although the logic of wanting majority control is understandable, it will often scare potential targets away from serious discussion even in the early stages.

SOEs have access to capital, they have scale and many other advantages. But in the race to go global, this majority stake requirement puts them at a relative disadvantage to non-SOE Chinese companies, who can be more flexible and adaptive to different circumstances.

Majority control is generally a desirable thing, but inflexible insistence on starting an overseas deal that way may lead to control of nothing at all.

This is compounded by another aspect of SOEs which people in China often underestimate, which is the perception overseas that they are, after all, owned by the State, and thus should be expected to serve the interests of the State as a key stakeholder.

In a question and answer session with a group of Chinese MBA and EMBA students in Beijing a few months back, I was asked to compare China’s SOEs with those in the U.S. and Western Europe. Easy question, because there are so very few, with the exception of France.

This relates to an astute series of observations recently made by Professor Joseph Bower of Harvard Business School in a presentation to the FORTUNE China CEO Summit on November 15, 2012, in Beijing.

Professor Bower outlined 10 characteristics of great global companies. One of the challenges he identified for China’s SOEs as they expand globally, and hire locally in the process, is ensuring that all employees work as one global cohort, working together for the company. It’s challenging enough to get a diverse global workforce in many locations working effectively as a team for the company. Adding a State or national agenda into the mix makes it much more difficult.

Professor Bower’s conclusion was that achieving this, and the other characteristics of great global companies, is ultimately a test of leadership.


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