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10 lessons U.S. tech managers can learn from their counterparts in China

Bill Marcus | Jan. 6, 2015
China’s tech star is rising rapidly. Global companies -- and their savvy IT leaders -- would do well to keep a close eye on the country’s technological transformation.

Lesson 2: Focus on business strategy from Day 1
Because companies in China tend to be young, they don't have a lot of legacy systems and processes for IT managers to wrestle with. That frees up tech execs to step outside the traditional constraints of an IT job and concentrate on understanding their business from the ground up.

For example, Jerry Xing, VP of IT at WuXi PharmaTech, a pharmaceutical research company, devotes a majority of his time not to keeping the lights on, but in understanding his company's research projects.

"Eighty percent of my time I spend with the scientists. I go and work together with them in the lab," he says. "Now I understand what they are doing." As a result, Xing has improved his ability to tailor data processing for WuXi scientists' specific needs, he says.

Lesson 3: Eat together
In China, it's common for an office to eat lunch together daily. Peter Weis, VP and CIO at Matson Navigation, a public shipping company headquartered in Honolulu, has spent more than 25 years doing business with China. Two years ago, he initiated periodic team meals — without senior management — in four U.S. cities after being inspired by how he saw the practice build camaraderie in China. The company now picks up the tab for a restaurant dinner or lunch each quarter, he says.

"We have gone to extra lengths to have fun together because IT is so project-driven and so deadline-driven," says Weis. His IT organization also pays for other regular office activities.

Outings are an important element of company culture in China, says BearingPoint's Bernstorf. "Usually the whole department takes a two- to three-day trip together," he says. "This can be shopping in Hong Kong or hiking in Sichuan. Firstly, it is a great incentive for employees as they usually wouldn't spend the money for these types of trips by themselves. Secondly, it is a great way of team-building; it increases the collaboration and innovation of the team."

Lesson 4: Take a chance on smaller vendors
Chinese businesses and their CIOs are less inclined than their U.S. counterparts to use big-name Western vendors, says Noel Law, a technology consultant and former director of Asia IT at Celenese, an Irving, Texas-based chemical manufacturer. Part of the reason is that Western vendors do not easily adapt to change or to the China market, says Law.

(Indeed, both Microsoft and Apple have tussled in recent months with the Chinese government over issues of antitrust, privacy and encryption.)

"Chinese companies and their business models are less locked in to any certain technology vendor, so they don't have to pay premium for IT solutions," says Law, who has worked in China for other multinational companies as well.


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