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The Right Profile for Leading In China

Running the show in China amounts to a delicate balancing act, whether the executive is a Chinese national or an expatriate.

March 16, 2007
Related Topics: Managing International Operations, Global Business Issues, Strategic Planning
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Managing in China is hard.

    Business moves at a breakneck pace. Politically, the authoritarian country is relatively stable, but still unpredictable. Personal connections are key and ethical minefields abound. What’s more, leaders of multinational firms find themselves in a culture clash between a society heavily influenced by the hierarchical tenets of Confucius and global corporations that increasingly favor flat, egalitarian management styles.

    Running the show in China amounts to a delicate balancing act, whether the executive is a Chinese national or an expatriate, says Janet Carmosky, chief executive of consulting firm China Prospects.

    "The Chinese leader has to translate the expectations of the foreign party into something that works in the Chinese setting," says Carmosky, who spent nearly 20 years working in China beginning in the mid-1980s. In choosing a Chinese national, U.S. companies should be wary of a bias for a "can do" attitude, Carmosky warns. By contrast, a savvy Chinese leader won’t promise what can’t be delivered.

    "A good Chinese leader knows how complex things are and is not going to sell out to American pressure to make things simple," she says.

    Expatriates, in her view, should be charismatic, good at networking, open-minded and realistic rather than idealistic. "You definitely don’t want a ‘missionary,’ " she says.

Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 18 -- Subscribe Now!

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