New China Hands: From Silos to Bridges

Multinationals run China business in a silo – isolated from the global operation.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a meeting of China Hands NYC,  organized by Avery Booker and Simon Cousins in Manhattan. I talked about the emergence of the “New China Hand” – the evolution of  international professionals who will forge real two-way dialogues between Western and Chinese multinational leaderships.  Michael Zakkour , head of Technomica Asia saw the video and posed a pretty blunt question. He said that he and everyone he knew had been doing this kind of work for the last 10 years. What’s so new about the job function?

Learn to negotiate successfully in China
Learn to Negotiate Successfully in China

What is so new about the New China Hand?

It is a good question with a simple answer.  Are there people who perform the New China Hand function of building communication channels between top managers and decision-makers in China and the US?  Yes, there are. The difference, however, is that people like Michael – and me, and much of the rest of the army of China experts around the world — are paid not only to show up to do our jobs — but then to go away.

The Old Normal is still to run China as though it were a branch of the US office.

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The global HQ may make concessions to the funny ways of the local population, but the more minor the deviation from standard operating procedure & the least amount of time spend diverging from the mean, the better.

The Old China Hand builds and maintains the Silo that China management works in
That is  the function of the  Old China Hands.  We are the construction crews, the plumbers — and often the maids of the existing international business mode.  We set up the operation, get it running more or less correctly — and when there is a problem we clean up the mess.

Other than that, China business is handled in silo style.  The China operation runs in isolation from the global organization — usually with its own management structure, product development & marketing arms and financial structure.   OCH are the lawyers, marketers, trainers, consultants and HR experts who can smooth the rough translation between decision-makers in NY and Shanghai.

Guys like Michael Zakkour (and the rest of us) get called in when a new silo needs to be built, repaired or even expanded — but not to dismantle the walls and integrate the China team with the Global team.

Next:  Advantages and Problems with The China Silo approach

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