跨国公司在中国的挑战(一) / MNCs in China Face Big Challenges (Part One)

跨国公司在中国的挑战(一)

最近我出席了一个圆桌会,有几十位大型跨国企业高管与会,在此我愿与大家分享一些有趣的会议内幕。

会议的参加者多为亚太区CEO级的高层管理者,来自各行各业,包括快速消费品、工业制品、IT、制药、金融服务、律所等。有些公司声名显赫,也有些不太知名,但都属于大型企业。

这些企业进入中国或亚洲市场已非一两日,因此听他们揭秘在摸索中积累的经验和教训格外有趣。

大家广泛热议的一个难题就是企业总部,包括C字头老板(即首席XX官)和董事会成员都对中国缺乏了解,并且这种形势还在恶化(而非缓解)。自然,这会严重影响到中国及亚洲区领导与总部之间的沟通、战略决策以及相互合作。

其实在这次会议之外,我也听到过西方企业的中国区高管对类似的情况有过抱怨。他们所在的企业每年都与中国发生过亿美元的交易,但他们的总部就是对中国的情况怎么也“拎不清”。

应对这一挑战,跨国公司各显其能。

有些企业仍保留现有的组织架构,因此中国区管理层需要不断地向最高管理层说明中国瞬息万变的市场情况。而这些总部的最高管理层五年前就对中国一知半解,如今更是不明所以。

还有一些公司变通了一下,让中国区的CEO一半时间呆在总部,另一半时间驻扎在中国。这样做存在着严重弱化中国区CEO职能的风险,更不用说CEO的个人生活也会难以为继。

外籍人员长期驻外一直存在一个问题,就是可能会让总部认为他们已经“本地化”,与企业的最佳利益和核心价值脱节。也就是说,他们会被认为容易牺牲企业的最佳利益,向当地市场和现实妥协。我就认识好几位经验丰富、称职能干的“中国通”因为落入这种陷阱而被迫走人。

虽然这种风险已经困扰了多年,但在中国情况尤为严重,因为中国的市场规模庞大、复杂多样、变化迅速、监管及法律环境差异显著。

表面上看,赶走一位极富当地经验的高管似乎摆明是个愚蠢的错误(除非他确实做错了事),但考虑到(总部和当地)对中国熟悉程度的巨大差距,倒也情有可原。更何况,当地的管理者还总是喋喋不休地要求公司在中国事事都要有所不同,因为这里是如此与众不同、变化是如此之快等等,等等。

这种变数会催生紧张,压制信任。事实上,中国的确是个巨大、复杂而混乱的市场,其可预见性及透明度均低于跨国企业总部人员所熟知的市场。因此,风险也更巨大。

还有一种已经被某些大型跨国企业采取的明智做法是制定高管继任长期计划,让拥有中国和/或亚洲工作生活经历的骨干人员进入领导班子。这些人员可以由企业内部培养,也可以从外部招聘。

很多公司称这一做法已为其策划和执行中国及亚洲商务战略作出了积极的贡献。

在后续的博客中,我会继续和大家分享一些跨国公司面临的人力资源难题,中国和亚洲其他地区间的平衡问题,以及选择公司中国总部的挑战等等。 

MNCs in China Face Big Challenges (Part One)

I recently joined a roundtable discussion among several dozen senior executives of large international multinational companies. There were a number of interesting insights which I will share in this series of blogs.

Most participants were regional Asia-Pacific CEO level executives, representing a wide spectrum of industries and professions: fast-moving consumer goods, industrial products, IT, pharmaceuticals, financial services, law firms, etc. Some of their companies are household names, others less so, but all are very large companies.

These were not new-to-market companies as far as China or Asia is concerned, so it was especially interesting to hear them share insights into lessons learned through trial and error.

One major issue which was widely discussed was the growing (not shrinking) challenges arising from the fact that their companies’ head offices, including the C-suite as well as board of directors level, don’t understand China. This naturally has a major impact on communications and decision-making on strategy as well as operations between the China/Asia leadership and HQ.

Apart from discussions within this meeting, I’ve heard similar complaints from senior China management execs of Western companies which have been doing US$ billions of business with China annually for many years, regarding how head office just doesn’t “get it” with regard to China.

MNCs have responded to this challenge in a variety of ways.

Some have not changed structure, so China-based leadership continues to try to explain a fast-changing China to top management who didn’t really understand China five years ago and are even more confused by it today.

A variation on this theme is to have the China CEO spend half their time in head office, and half time in China. The risk here is serious dilution, not to mention an unsustainable lifestyle for the individual involved.

One long-standing problem for expats on longer-term postings to one particular international region is that they may eventually be perceived by head office as having “gone local”, and losing touch with the company’s best interests and core values. In other words, they are perceived as too quick to compromise the company’s best interests with local market needs and realities. I have known several very competent, experienced and capable “old China hands” who fell into this trap and were eventually forced to move on.

Although this risk has been around for many, many years, it is compounded in China’s case because of the market’s size, complexity, speed of change, and vastly different regulatory and legal environment.

Superficially it may seem an obvious and stupid error to get rid of a senior management hand with vast local experience (unless they’ve done something wrong), but it’s also understandable because the China knowledge gap (between local and HQ) is so great, and the managers in the field are constantly advocating that the company needs to do everything differently in China because it’s a unique market, changing so quickly, etc. etc. etc.

This dynamic creates tensions and strains trust. In reality, China is a large, complex and confusing market with less predictability and transparency than many execs at MNC head offices are comfortable with. And therefore, greater risk.

Another, smarter approach, which some large global companies have used, is to develop a long-term plan for top management (including board) succession which aims to include a certain number of key executives who have lived and worked in China and/or Asia. In some cases these are inside candidates, in some they are recruited from outside.

Most companies report that this approach has made a very positive contribution to their ability to plan and implement China and Asia business strategy.

In the coming posts I will talk about some of the HR challenges which MNCs face, balancing China and the rest of Asia, choosing a China HQ, etc.


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