After a week stateside, it’s been hard spending the hours not surrounded by my forty-one closest new friends. I take solace in the late-night texts of “anyone awake?” and “I’m so jetlagged, looking through the pictures for the 50th time.” Yes, it is nice to be in control of my hourly schedule, but the packed days filled with company presentations and cultural immersions are missed. Transitioning back to the daily struggle of foraging for breakfast has me missing the second to none breakfast buffets. Beyond thinking about my new Seoulmates and breakfast dumplings, I’ve had time to reflect on the business lessons I learned.
We hear on certain news stations that Chinese companies have an unfair edge because the government subsidizes private enterprises. A firsthand experience is necessary to understand the extent of this intertwinement. As I referenced in previous posts, the opportunities the government bestowed on particular companies (e.g., free land or buildings and free capital) often defined their success. What was even more fascinating to witness was the lack of conversation around this dynamic. I actually attempted to broach the subject with an executive from Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holding Co. by saying: “Apologies that I cannot understand this business fact, maybe it is because I’m too American, but…” After a couple minutes discussing the influence of Chinese government in business, I walked away with no better understanding of my original question. Rather, I started to question myself. Who am I to say their methodology is “wrong”? The American government funds basic scientific research via the NIH and then transfers the technology to private enterprises. The Chinese government funds basic scientific research and then transfers the technology to enterprises in which it maintains significant ownership. Personally, I don’t think this system can succeed in a modern global environment; however, it clearly is working for the businesses we visited.
The other tangible business difference I observed was the Chinese executives’ lack of stage presence when they were speaking to a packed room. This could be credited to the fact that English is often their second or third language. Nevertheless, they didn’t have the same control of the room as the executives I’ve heard speak in Uris. For better or worse, the Chinese executives with whom we met were calmer, quieter, and humbler. Brilliant, yes, but not evidently able to arouse a crowd or motivate a workforce with a speech.
The Chinese healthcare companies we visited clearly are advancing technology, building business, and saving lives. Nonetheless, there was a consistent layer of the “Chinese way.” Maybe I’ve been too entrenched in American capitalism to recognize tangible examples of the “American way” beyond free market principles, but witnessing a government significantly influencing businesses was unique.
The friends I made and soup dumplings I slurped were unforgettable; however, I keep reminiscing about the inimitable experience of meeting with countless executives and touring their companies’ infrastructure. Executives took time from their busy days to present to us and answer our countless questions. As a business school student, there is no better way to understand a culture than to meet and question the companies growing within the benefits and limitations of that culture.