Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu 2013
I’ve participated in 10 of the 12 Fortune Global Forums held since the event was launched in Singapore in 1995. Each has been rewarding, memorable, and a valuable learning experience. I’ve also made some good friends and acquaintances at these events, and had a lot of fun.
The 2013 Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu from June 6-8 was the biggest and best to date. Some 800 delegates, including CEOs of many of China’s and the world’s biggest companies, as well as leading NGO heads, current and former government leaders, and academics gathered for a high-level dialogue on the road ahead for China and the world.
I was part of the advance team that visited a number of Chinese cities, including Chengdu, 2 ½ years ago to evaluate which would be the most attractive and effective venue for the next Global Forum. In hindsight I have no doubt we made the right recommendation.
One of the important criteria for selecting a host city is the level of enthusiasm among local government leaders towards making the event a success. In terms of enthusiasm, effort, and sparing no expense, Chengdu set a new gold standard. Other cities and regional development authorities should learn a lesson from their success.
Apart from embarking on an extensive global advertising campaign in airports, on television, and in print, the Chengdu government deployed some 15,000 staff in various support roles for the event.
This was the first major high-level global business meeting of its kind in Western China, and as such it required extensive and unusual preparations. Just one example was the requirement of handling the arrival of something like 50 business jets in one day at Chengdu’s Shuangliu Airport — a new record.
Security for an event of this sort is also challenging and was one area which required some fine tuning after teething problems on day one.
What I heard from many foreign company heads, including those who had previously been to Chengdu, was how impressed they were with the dramatic changes in the city: both in the hardware as well as the software of the place.
There was a time not that long ago when many if not most foreign business leaders’ reaction to hearing the name “Chengdu” would have been: “What’s that?” or “Where’s that?”
I think it’s fair to say that the efforts leading up to and during the Global Forum really put Chengdu on the map for a wide variety of influential decision-makers who now associate it as a key driver of the economic development of Western China.
For me personally, there was a dual element of nostalgia to my visit this time.
First, I was thinking back to my visit with the Time Inc. advance team 2 ½ years ago, and the deliberations and discussions we held at that time about the pros and cons of the various cities we visited. Even within that short time frame, Chengdu has undergone some significant changes, partly in preparation for the event.
Second, thinking back to my first visit to Chengdu, in 1983. I was there at the invitation of the then state-owned advertising agency, Sichuan Advertising, which was under the provincial foreign trade bureau. My task was to spend more than a week writing an introduction to Sichuan’s foreign trade, investment and tourism opportunities for the overseas business audience.
Apart from interviewing officials and company heads in Chengdu, we travelled around to many other cities, talking with company heads and local officials. We also visited the panda reserve base in Wolong.
Only one word comes to mind when I think about comparing Chengdu in 1983 and in 2013: unrecognizable. By that I mean not the great hospitality of the people, the fiery baijiu, or wonderful “ma-la” cuisine, but the physical appearance and condition of the city, its basic infrastructure, and the standard of living of its people.
In 1983 on the first day I arrived, my hosts kindly accommodated my request to visit a bookstore, and brought me to the Xinhua Bookstore not far from the towering statue of Chairman Mao which still stands in the downtown area today.
Due to an electrical power failure, I did my book shopping that first day by candle light. That was a first for me. Also memorable was the young sales lady’s facial expression when I asked if they had a map of Sichuan Province for sale. She looked at me as though 1) I was from another planet; 2) no one else had ever asked such a bizarre question; and 3) I must be a suspicious character.
In those days, the skyline of the city at night was dark. Tall buildings had yet to be built. The Jinjiang Hotel was as tall or taller than most other downtown buildings. Foreign investment was beginning, but mainly in low-end, labor-intensive processing trade type ventures. Roads and infrastructure were very basic.
To many younger Chinese, 30 years may seem like a long time, because they have grown up accustomed to a blistering pace of change in their society. In reality, very few cities in world history have undergone the pace of change and development which Chengdu has in this relatively short time frame.
It’s an extremely impressive achievement and one which bodes well for the further development of Western China.
I’m proud to have been involved in communicating Chengdu’s and Western China’s story to the international business community for the past 30 years. And the time has really flown by.
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