– What on earth might this possible mean? Because Once upon a time in China…
Somalilandsun – A very old and very dear Chinese friend and colleague of mine, George, decided in January 2015 to visit his country of origin for once to see, as he proclaimed at the time, what all the fuss is about. George and I spent several years working together in London as private sector consultants with particular emphases on local authorities and their incessant longing for downsizing, economizing, firing – as opposed to hiring – and restructuring organisations in ways that the fewest possible employees were being utilized to carry out the duties and obligations that would, in the pre-recession world, be doled out to the many – and more. George, upon his return, was, one might suggest, enlightened – but his experienced luminosity came not from some obscure Buddhist influence, nor was it Confucian, and neither had my friend George ventured so far as to study his unpacked copy of the I-Ching, prior to his departure or his return. George had witnessed – or so he claimed – the more tempered side of capitalism – an economic system George had, unwittingly, come to loathe in this era of interminable financial stagnation and decline. However, George said that the Chinese manufacturers he had come across upon his visit to several factories in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, were, quite literally, throwing their money into their collective furnaces when it came to expanding their client base and building relationships with newer international stakeholders. Why might they be behaving this way, George? – I genuinely and lugubriously enquired of my rather star struck and ever so slightly jetlagged friend. Perhaps, I thought, the Chinese have money to burn so, quite rightly, they’d not be too fussed what happens to it. But this, according to George, was far, far distant from the truth.
Chinese manufacturers, businessmen and financiers are, according to George, seeking to make new connections in Europe, Africa, and the US – of course, it’s through their stakeholder engagement that they’ll be able to penetrate previously unreachable markets further afield from their Asian homeland. Aren’t they already doing so, George? No, Hamid, they are most certainly not; well, definitely not at the scale or pace that they should be, my ancient friend; and with that retort George calmly took a small dram of his Bai Jiguan tea. What’s stopping them, George, why isn’t this behemoth of an economy targeting and engaging new and more far-flung clients in the West – certainly they’d like to make an extra bob or two as well as get their manufactured goods into newer markets? Yes, Hamid, they would indeed like to, but there’s a fatal handicap where once there wasn’t, says George, and for a moment I think he’s secretly been studying his Confucian classics and is being wilfully obscure in a vain attempt to impress me. But no, George was being George – it was my perception that had become temporarily clouded. The newly minted Chinese manufacturing and business fraternity is now – indirectly – acknowledging that it lacks the requisite business etiquette to engage with new stakeholders so, many manufacturers are sticking to their client base instead of, well, making fools of themselves, Hamid. It is thereby potentially losing out on not just millions of pounds – but billions. That’s not a very nice thing to say, George, and certainly not very politically correct. No, Hamid, it most certainly is not, but, nonetheless, it’s true; my Chinese brethren, George continued, is now taking refuge in learning the art of Western manners – indeed, it’s fast becoming a status symbol of the nouveau riche.
I shall leave my plausible reaction to George’s above claims to the collective imagination of my readers, and I shall follow promptly upon the course of what we did next. Over the next few months George and I formulated a programme for business leaders who might be responsible for international stakeholder engagement. We considered most key skills it takes for executives from corporations in the East to engage with their contemporaries in the West – but we focused on ‘effective’ skills, skills that not only enhance existing – or inherent – qualities in an Eastern businessman but skills that also enable an acquisition of newer skills – on the fly. We know and understand that, in the business world that – as in other spheres of life – the first impression is the absolute last impression, and if we’re disliked at first sight, we’re seldom likely to be given a second chance – regardless of the quality of our wares. It’s like being in any terrestrial market place: we’re lured oftentimes by the most polite, intelligent, articulate, personable or presentable salesman: then towards such individuals we tend to gravitate. It’s much the same in the corporate boardroom; but here qualities such as articulation, personality, intelligence, and, more importantly, manner…play parts so significant it might just beggar belief. In the boardroom, a lapse in any one of the foregoing areas might mean the loss of a multimillion pound investment. So having finalised our draft programme George and I tried out our first programme with a bunch of budding Chinese executives in Sichuan Province, then Shanghai, and, more recently, in Beijing.
Due to the sheer scale of engagement in China we’re now booked for the foreseeable future, but, because INTELIPAK intends to extend its programmes to the African continent, we would like to offer the manufacturing and business communities within the Horn of Africa a chance to join our programme, for the first time ever on the African continent, in Hargeisa, the capital of the lovely Republic of Somaliland. Our Chinese delegates are currently charged 3000 (GBP) for a three day course, a cost that’s likely to increase in time. But we would like to offer participants in the Horn of Africa the very same programme – as that run in China – at a cut-price 900 (GBP) per delegate. If we consider Ancient Confucian, Greek, even Roman philosophies – we will begin to discern a common theme: the unrelenting focus on manners: domestic, social, professional. We would all like to be more successful than we are, we would all like to be wealthier; but if we neglect what it takes to attain such dizzy heights, then what good is our pursuit? It might be time that we, like the Chinese, get back to basics, and begin refining the manner in which we do business to get ahead in our respective economies – and those we seek to target.
Copyright: Somalilandsun, 2016. www.somalilandsun.com
The author Hamid Shahid Khan MA (King’s College, University of London) is Managing Director of
INTELIPAK Institute of Leadership, Training & Development