This question has frequently been posed to me by two ethnic Chinese friends of mine who work/worked for massive “international” Chinese companies and one American friend who works/worked at a massive “international” Chinese company. All three of these friends have lived in the United States for around twenty years and three of them are eminently capable businesspeople who could easily get high level jobs at American companies or have already done so. All three are completely fluent in both Chinese and in English and all three of them have excellent understandings of the business cultures of both the United States and China. All three joined large Chinese companies to assist those companies in conquering the American market. The three companies for which these three worked are amazingly different in terms of their products/services. My conversations with these three people have been completely independent in that the other two were not present. To better hide identities, I am turning these three people into a composite.
Okay, so here are the comments and musings I have been hearing, with at least 100 expletives removed, and camouflaged a lot:
- When I joined the company, I really believed it wanted to become international. I still think that was what it actually wanted five years ago, but it has gotten so far removed from that I do not think it even understands what that means any more.
- In my early days, the company was committed to spending the money to become international, but now it is focused only on next month’s revenues. We are financially sound, but “like just about every other Chinese company, our services/products have become completely commoditized” and the focus is only on keeping up earnings from month to month. We have gone from talking about what sort of company we will be three years out to making sure we hit our numbers three months out.
- I am never going to work for a Chinese company again. “They just don’t get it.”
- We recently brought on a new American employee. When I asked what his qualifications were, I was told that he spoke fluent Chinese. After it became clear to me that was his only qualification, I commented that there are 1.5 billion people who speak Chinese and why don’t we start hiring Americans who actually can help us on the business side in the United States? The response was that we can’t afford those sorts of people. We can afford them. They are just not considered important.
- We have lost virtually all of the Westerners we initially hired because we refuse to compensate them accordingly. We are now in the process of losing all of our Chinese employees who truly understand the West as well. When I complain about our brain drain, I am told that I am “too concerned” about our employees and that anyone can be replaced. When I tell them how the American companies with whom we do business value continuity among the people with whom they work, they just shut me out.
- Our home office views our employees as rats that can easily be replaced on the treadmill. Our employees are viewed as commodities. They truly do not seem to care when someone leaves.
- We used to communicate among the international offices in English, now it is just in Chinese. I continue to write in English because that was part of our plan towards becoming an international company, but I now get criticized for that and I have become known as the Chinese person who speaks Chinese but insists on speaking English. There are still other Chinese in the company who want to speak and write in English, but I am sure most of those people will be leaving soon.
- The home office does not seem to value the knowledge of the United States that some of us bring to the table. They act as though we Chinese here in the United States can easily be replaced by a young graduate who has never been here, but speaks English. They seem not to appreciate that we are two very different countries and being able to speak English does not mean you know how to do things the American way.
- I am treated as suspect when I try to point out how things should be done in the United States, as though my believing there might be a better, non-Chinese way of doing something makes me anti-China. It’s ridiculous. They don’t even seem to want the opinions of those of us here in the United States any more.
- Look at the Chinese companies that have done well internationally. Almost all of them are in commodity businesses and almost all of them succeed on price. Our plan was to rise above that and we had the capabilities to achieve that, but not the willingness to stick it out and really try. Not the willingness to spend the money long term to achieve this.
- Look at the big American companies doing business in China. They have adjusted to succeed over there. Why are Chinese companies so unwilling to do that?
- Will a Chinese company ever be truly international?
Does the above jibe with what you are seeing out there? Are there Chinese companies that operate internationally in a way like Proctor & Gamble or Caterpillar or McDonalds or Mercedes Benz or Siemens or Samsung or Nestle operate internationally? Haier? Lenovo? What, if anything, needs to change? Will it change? What about Dalian Wanda’s purchase of AMC? How do you see that going?
You tell me…