跨国公司在中国的挑战(三) / MNCs in China Face Big Challenges (Part Three)

跨国公司在中国的挑战(三)

自上世纪九十年代初起,在华外商直接投资(FDI)迅速增长,并且总体上呈连年上升趋势。

为了便于本文讨论,在此我们先抛开其中有多少实际上是中国企业利用香港或其他离岸机构以及英属维京群岛、开曼群岛……将“内资变外资”的问题不谈。

我们这一系列博客重点关注的是跨国企业和其他国际公司。现实情况是,过去20多年间,我们看到这些公司以独资(WOFE)、合资、采购交易、代表处等形式不断涌入中国。

如果有人以为这种势头可以持续下去,那就错了。除非中国政府能够考虑到本地和外资企业的需求,继续推进经济和金融改革。

与20年前相比,中国不再迫切需要跨国企业的资金,对技术的需求也不一而足:在某些领域依然胃口极大,但在另外一些领域却还是老样子。在成立合资企业或投资项目时,资金和技术这两项现在是相对容易评估和作价的部分。

而中国对跨国企业最迫切需求的部分要难以估值得多,通常都无法独立分割提供。简单来说,就是适用于打造全球化公司必需的管理体系和流程。

现在有关中国清退外国人和外国企业的猜测甚嚣尘上。想到多年来给予他们的优惠政策、税收奖励,以及中国企业对公平竞争环境的必然渴求,这在很大程度上也是可以理解的。

公平竞争环境当然是好事,但也需要为跨国企业和其他外国投资者铺就新的迎宾红毯。

对国际公司来说,中国市场固然充满吸引力、至关重要而且潜力巨大,但相较于十年前也充斥着更多的风险,更加复杂,与当地企业的竞争也更激烈。决策者如果自以为是,认为中国市场在外国投资者眼中魅力永存,那就犯了策略性错误。

未来几年我们会看到中国企业推出新一波深思熟虑的“走出去”战略。这些企业的领导从第一代走出国门但大多铩羽而归的企业身上学到了经验教训。

作为大型中国企业成功“走出去”的要素,雄厚的资金并不是大问题。最大的挑战在于找到、聘用并组建适当的人才队伍。

在与跨国企业的中国CEO对话中,我也听到不同的声音。有些人继续看好在中国的事业前景,但更多的人对企业在当前商业和政策气候下的生存状况表示担忧。

不要忘了,他们还有其他选择。

另外,正在发生的结构性巨变也对几乎所有跨国企业在资源、人才和知识方面形成了制约。这种巨变就是时下正在进行的史无前例的大规模城市移民,导致中国四、五十个城市不得不承载全国近半数的富裕消费者。

和2000年相比,这是个巨大的反差。当年,能让大型快消品企业看得上的中国主要城市市场屈指可数(只有上海、深圳、广州和北京)。

面对新的现实,大多数跨国企业需要从总部和地区层面调整战略和战术。如果政府在外商投资政策方面没有动作,就会进一步加剧企业面临的难题。

底线是:中国企业对国际公司的需求与15年前大不相同。但这并不是说他们完全不需要或不希望得到任何帮助。

现在应该确定新的优先度,并想办法发出明确的信号。

MNCs in China Face Big Challenges (Part Three)

Since the early 90s, foreign direct investment (FDI) in China has grown dramatically, and, in general, consistently, year on year.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s put aside the question of how much of this FDI was actually Chinese companies round-tripping and coming back home as foreign investors by using Hong Kong and other offshore subsidiaries or affiliated entities incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the Caymans, etc.

My focus in this series of posts is MNCs and other international companies. The reality is, for the past 20 years or so, we have seen a continuing influx of these companies, through wholly-owned foreign enterprises (WOFEs), joint ventures, sourcing deals, rep offices, etc.

It would be a mistake to assume that this trend will continue unless the Chinese government renews the process of economic and financial reform bearing in mind the needs of local as well as foreign-invested companies.

Compared to 20 years ago, China doesn’t really need the capital of MNCs. Its needs for technology are mixed: in some fields, the appetite remains big; in others, it’s old hat. Capital and technology are relatively easy to value and price into the equation when you’re doing a joint venture or investment project.

The new wave of what China most urgently needs from MNCs is much more difficult to value, and it’s not usually for sale as a separate and distinct offering. Simply put, that is management systems and processes applicable to, and needed by, global enterprises.

There is a widespread perception of push-back against foreigners and foreign enterprises in China of late. Much of it is understandable, given many years of preferential treatment, tax incentives, etc.; and the inevitable desire among Chinese enterprises for a more level playing field.

A balanced playing field is of course a good thing, but there needs to be an effort to re-engage MNCs and other foreign investors with a renewed red carpet welcome.

As appealing, important and promising as the China market is to international companies, it is also fraught with far more risk, complexity, and competition with local champions than it was ten years ago. Complacency among policy-makers regarding the evergreen appeal of the China market to foreign investors would be a big strategic mistake.

We will see a new wave of Chinese companies with more carefully considered “going global” strategies emerge within the next few years. Their leaders will have learned lessons from the first wave of Chinese companies, many of whom failed.

Among the keys to a successful “going global” strategy for larger Chinese companies, access to sufficient capital will generally not be a big problem. The biggest challenge will be in finding, hiring, and teaming up the right talent.

Among the MNC China CEOs that I talk to, the feedback is very mixed. Some continue to be upbeat about their business prospects in China. But many more than in years past express serious concerns about their company’s viability in the current business and policy climate.

Let’s not forget, they have options.

In addition, there is an enormous structural change taking place which will strain the resources, talent, and knowledge of almost all MNCs, which is the massive shift, already well underway, whereby 40-50 Chinese cities will house roughly half of China’s affluent consumers, as a result of unprecedented ongoing mass urban migration.

This is in sharp contrast to the year 2000, when all but the most advanced fast moving consumer goods companies counted the number of their key urban markets in China on one hand (Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing).

To tackle the new reality, most MNCs will need to change strategy as well as tactics at both the central and local level. If official foreign investment policies are not in alignment, this will further raise the level of the challenge they face.

Bottom line: what Chinese companies need from international companies is quite different from 15 years ago. But that’s very different from saying that they don’t need or want anything at all.

It’s time to decide what the new priorities are, and find ways to send a clear signal.


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