Merger of mindsets needed for success

Updated: 2014-07-18 08:26

By Oliver Shiell (China Daily Europe)

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Both east and west can struggle to develop the dual perspective and understanding they need

As chief representative for Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, China's world-class business school established by Li Ka-shing, I am fortunate to see the Sino-European relationship through the eyes of two client groups: Chinese and European senior executives.

Merger of mindsets needed for success

Each year we bring several hundred Chinese CEOs to Europe, in groups of 50-60 at a time, as part of our Global CEO program. The program is the most famous in China and its alumni now manage a portfolio of companies that generate 14 percent of China's GDP. As with many things to do with China, our organisation can be introduced by a series of mind-boggling statistics and headlines.

Sixty eight percent of our students are chairmen and CEOs. Collectively, our alumni group of companies generate $1 trillion (736 billion euros) of annual revenues. Jack Ma famously hired his CKGSB strategy professor to be his chief strategy officer at Alibaba.

We are all familiar with such attention-grabbing headlines, but the more we rely on numbers and pithy one-liners to understand one other, the more we confine ourselves to a corner of ignorance.

It is all too easy to mistake our consumption of such material for the development of understanding.

To make business work across cultures, we need to go much deeper. We need to take time to really understand each other's perspective as fellow human beings. How have we become who we are today, what shaped us, and where are we headed?

This is something CKGSB understands. Our Chinese clients are trying to make sense of the world and their place in it. They come with many questions. How can they become global brands, make acquisitions, form joint ventures and diversify investment portfolios? But they also have human questions. How can I find the right Western partners? What makes them tick? How can I build trust?

Our European clients are trying to make sense of the opportunities created by China's economic rise. They also come with questions. How can I access Chinese consumers? How is Chinese global investment changing the nature of competition? How can I secure Chinese clients in London? But they also have human questions. How should I balance ceremony versus substance? How do my counterparts make decisions? How am I being evaluated?

While it is clear that the two sides are keen to work together, our observation is that both can struggle to develop the dual perspective and understanding they need.

Merger of mindsets needed for success

Yet for those who do, the rewards are substantial.

Huawei's ability to integrate in the UK and Jaguar Land Rover's ability to access and serve Chinese consumers have been cornerstones of their global strategies. Cornerstones, which if absent, would have arguably led to serious global business challenges. Of course, no company is perfect, but importantly they have been better at developing dual perspectives than their competitors.

So what is the one big lesson we can learn from such examples of success when compared with those that have failed? At CKGSB, through our research and interaction with clients, we understand that both sides share the same challenge.

The key is avoiding the trap of being restricted by our own mental models of "how things work", and instead become conversant across a range of models, mindsets and behaviors.

It is a trap unintentionally laid by some of the best business schools in the world. In the West, we have acquired our mental models of leadership, strategy and management from academics who have studied Western businesses operating in Western contexts. Nearly 90 percent of case studies used in business school teaching worldwide are of Western firms operating in the West.

But using these models to understand the leadership, strategic intent or management activities of Chinese counterparts is like studying German in order to understand Arabic.

At CKGSB we believe that the future of management education isn't the amplification of dominant local thinking, but rather the exploration, adaption and integration of contradictory ideas. A merging of mindsets, if you will.

This is why CKGSB has partnered with IMD in Switzerland, which is the No 1 in the Financial Times global rankings. Together we are delivering a new dual executive MBA that offers the best learning from East and West. Only by understanding both sides of the coin can our executives deliver the promise that the Sino-European relationship holds.

This article is an adaptation of a speech given by the chief representative of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business to the All Parliamentary Group for East Asian Business on July 7 at the House of Lords in London. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 07/18/2014 page11)