Biz Sch News 09 April 2014

Faculty Interview: Andrew Delios and Zhijian Wu

An integral part of our School community, our faculty members run on such a tight schedule that it’s rare to have one slow down long enough to speak with us. So we were pleased as punch when we got a chance to speak to Professor Andrew Delios, a renowned name not only within the School but outside as well.

A veteran of the School, Prof Andrew is a thought leader and expert in global business strategies and competition issues in emerging economies. He has not only authored six books, but also co-authored more than 80 published journal articles, case studies and book chapters.

For his latest book, Prof Delios had teamed up with NUS MBA alumnus Zhijian Wu and journalist Phillip Day. Here are excerpts from our interview with Andrew and Zhijian on ‘China 88: The Real China and How to Deal With It’ :

Q1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your association with NUS Business School.

AD: I’m a Canadian citizen and have been living in Singapore for 13 years. I joined NUS Business School as an Associate Professor when I first came to Singapore, and am now a full Professor. I teach international business and corporate strategy to PhD, EMBA and MBA students of the School.

ZW: I’m currently the CEO of Woodsford Capital Management Pte Ltd, a quantitative macro fund management company based in Singapore, which I co-founded in 2010. I’m originally from China and have been living in Singapore for more than 10 years. I graduated with a Masters degree from NUS Business School.

china88

Q2. Andrew, you’ve lived in Asia for 17 years and have taught globally, including in countries like Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada and Finland. How would you describe your teaching experience at NUS Business School? What defines the School community, according to you?

AD: During my teaching at NUS Business School, I’ve come across a tremendous diversity of students, in terms of nationalities, ages, backgrounds, experience, outlooks and perspectives in the business world and the world in general. The community has changed a lot since I first arrived in 2001. The School has made many brave and bold steps to implement its strategy of becoming a global leader in management education, while maintaining its core strength in the context and unique challenges of business in Asia. As it continues to expand, I hope to see in its students a sense of NUS identity and an appreciation for values that encompass education, continuous learning, engaged discussion, and a growing fearlessness of informed discourse that challenges leaders, norms and conventions. Only by becoming intellectually bold and courageous can the School and its constituents truly take a regional and global leadership position in management education.

Q3. Congratulations on the launch of your new book ‘China 88: The Real China and How to Deal with It’ Please tell us about the book and share with us your motivation for it.

ZW and AD: We’d been thinking about writing a handy guide on China specifically for non-Chinese English speaking community for some time.  Zhijian initiated the project in 2009 through his independent research and collection of anecdotes and statistical materials. He developed a unique database that enabled us to gain rare insights into the ownership and motivation of listed companies in China. The launch of Zhijian’s website, www.chinatells.com, was our first foray into communicating to the world our deep knowledge of contemporary issues in China.

Indeed, the challenge of understanding China is substantial as it has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Despite its growing prominence, there is still a certain level of bias or outdated misunderstandings about China in the non-Chinese English speaking community. Such misunderstandings can be a shame as Western audiences might be blinded from true sets of opportunities or challenges in China. The book not only offers a basic understanding of the fundamentals of Chinese society and business culture, but also insights into the modern nuances and paradoxes that abound in China.

Authors of China 88: Andrew Delios (L) and Zhijian Wu (R)

Authors of China 88: Andrew Delios (L) and Zhijian Wu (R)

Q4. The book serves as a quick, handy guide on China, including business culture and travel. Do you have any personal anecdotes or examples to share, about experiencing different nuances of Chinese culture, or your own experience of doing business in China?

ZW: This is a true story from one of my friends who is a fund manager in China. He told me that one day a Swedish millionaire came to his office with two bodyguards, telling the Chinese fund manager that he has US$50 million to invest. The Swedish millionaire expected to receive VIP treatment from my friend’s investment service and a handsome return. But this is not how business and finance work in China. The Swedish client must have thought that China was a financial anachronism, as an old-style Soviet or Zimbabwe-type of sovereign regime, where anything can be done for the right amount of money. The reality is that China has been trying to develop a proper financial services infrastructure and legal framework, but has not yet reached there. It’s neither a paragon of financial institutions, nor a pariah for financial institutional regulators.

AD: The power of the government to implement change is substantial, and it occurs in all facets of life. We hear much of how the government has forced through tremendous infrastructure projects: hydroelectric dams, high-speed railways, and glistening new highways. Such projects would take considerable time to approve and implement in other countries, but the peculiarities of the political process in China permit such enabling institutions to be developed quickly. This is also reflected in small changes. For example, when I first visited Shanghai in the mid-1990s, trike taxis were still in use. Then one day they disappeared from the streets – not a single one remained! The change that policy makers want is the change that policy makers get in China.

Interestingly, the mirror image of great creations of enabling institutions – roads, infrastructure, financing, special economic zones and so forth – is the failure to create constraining institutions, that guard against abuses of power by political and business elite. My own experience shows that the weight placed on the value of enabling institutions outweighs the caution that needs to arise from constraining institutions. I saw this when doing executive education in the early 2000s. I ran a session in which I focused on the hazards of China, based on the lack of creation of constraining institutions. I admittedly took a strong stance, but the audience would have none of it. The allure of China in the early 2000s was so great, that many smart people were not willing to cast a critical eye to the business environment in a somewhat mad rush to be in the world’s fastest growing market. I hope that this book helps to create a more balanced appreciation of the opportunities and challenges in China, without promoting an overly critical nor an overtly Pollyannish view of the country.

Q5. What advice would you offer to newcomers who are not familiar with the business environment in China, to succeed in the country?

ZW and AD: First, China is a vast country like the USA or Brazil and so the regional disparities are huge. You can feel like you’re in Europe when you’re in Shanghai and Beijing, but the country becomes increasingly Asian and rural as one moves West. Styles and cultures are also vastly different – north to south and east to west.

Second, China is going through huge transitions at a very rapid pace. For example, almost 20 metro lines have been constructed in Shanghai in the last 10 years. Such vast scale transitions are taking place not only in physical structures, such as infrastructure, buildings, residential areas, shopping malls, and so forth, but importantly, progress is also made in social and business structures, such as the legal framework and business etiquette.

Third, China is an ancient country that carries a proud and prominent history, which is the groundwork for numerous habits and customs. One needs to understand the long historical background – from events during the tumultuous 50 years of the last millennium, to the truly amazing changes that have occurred in the past 15 years – to better understand the business environment.

Fourth, buy the book. Read it. Enjoy it. Talk to your friends about it. Talk to us about it. Tell us what you liked and what you did not like about the book and help us write an even better book the next time around.

Interested to learn more about the book and buy it? Head over to MPH or Popular bookstores in Singapore, or visit Kinokuniya, Times Bookstore, Borders and Times NewsLink stores where the book will be available from April 16th. You can also visit China 88 website. To learn more about Prof Andrew Delios, click here or drop him a note at andrew@nus.edu.sg