Quality Growth - Insights & Perspectives from the WEF, Dalian 2011


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Johan Bjorksten, Founder & Chairman of Eastwei MSL, part of MSLGROUP, shares his insights from attending this year's WEF New Champions meeting in Dalian, China, 2011

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Quality Growth - Insights & Perspectives from the WEF, Dalian 2011

  1. 1. “Quality Growth”– My Insights andPerspectives fromthe World EconomicForum, Dalian, 2011Johan BjörksténChairman, Eastwei MSL, Beijing Executive Report September 2011
  2. 2. I attended the WEF Annual Meeting of the » Offered networking opportunities:New Champions 2011 in Dalian for the first Getting to know other people is astime this year, representing MSLGROUP. important as taking part in scheduledIt was an interesting and rewarding activities; in any case, even with a back-experience, and since several clients have to-back agenda, it is only possible toasked me if it would be worthwhile for their attend perhaps a fifth of the availableChina executives to attend future sessions, formal sessions. For the open, curiousI have summarized some immediate business person, the Forum is a greatimpressions. To me, this meeting was opportunity to make new businessworthwhile because it: connections, and also to interact with» Focused my thinking: The Forum leading scientists, senior politicians, is content-rich, with many parallel seasoned journalists and up-and- presentations, seminars and workshops. coming young entrepreneurs. I don’t necessarily feel I learned many “new” things, but I felt the news flow of Don’t come here expecting new insights the last year or so crystallize into a few about China; the forum is about global key themes. It gave clarity amidst the issues. But because it is held in China, daily clutter. there are of course quite a few interesting» Provided perspective: I have never Chinese participants. Similarly, if you attended a conference of such diversity take an overly transactional approach to – disciplines, nationalities and age networking, you could be disappointed. I groups mixed freely through formal and found listening to a Chinese 20-something informal activities. It’s been a long time ask a Fortune-100 CEO questions about since I had so many truly stimulating management to be equally rewarding. and interesting conversations in such a short time.
  3. 3. “Mastering Quality Growth” – a timely theme3 Photo credit: © World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org)/Adam Dean The Forum discussed growth, because this is the becoming, and how close local companies are only thing that can save us from current economic competing on the world scene. Dozens of young challenges and help new generations find entrepreneurs from China and India plied visiting employment, but also quality – because this is what CEO’s with questions on how to succeed in more will help us deal with environmental challenges, developed markets, and how one could go about resource constraints, and rising inequality. In this disrupting inefficient established industries and context, entrepreneurship was frequently discussed, cozy market reserves. Venture capitalists gave and sometimes from a fresh perspective: how big organizations short shrift: “they are useful entrepreneurship in sustainability and social causes as a source of financing and access to markets, can spur both quality and growth, and thus help but not for much else”. Given the composition of us meet the challenges ahead. There seems to be the audience, one somehow had the unnerving an emerging consensus, among business leaders impression that the same thing would soon be said as well as politicians, that there is a renewed role of developed countries. for the state to play in setting the framework and Everyone, from Premier Wen Jiabao, who opened conditions for entrepreneurship in every sphere, the Forum, to economists and business leaders, rather than the old libertarian mantra of “getting out debunked the concept of “decoupling”: China, of the way” of business. India and other developing economies are still dependent on the world economy; indeed, this For global leaders, one obvious takeaway from the dependence is growing as globalization continues. forum must have been how dynamic, aggressive and sophisticated developing market players are
  4. 4. Wen Jiabao’s opening speech Photo credit: © World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org)/Adam Dean4 My impression of Wen Jiabao’s opening address China to educate truly innovative people – going was somewhat different from what I read in the from a “large country in education” to a “strong subsequent media reports. Of course, he more or country in education”. Sustainable development less had to say that China would come to the rescue and more inclusive social security systems were of European countries in trouble – but he used the other themes. expression of “extending a helping hand”, which sounded if not condescending then at least quite Perhaps the most impressive part was the Q&A self-assured, and also emphasized that in return, session. Wen answered every question in a he would hope to see Europe recognizing China’s structured, logical and eloquent way. When asked market economy status ahead of the planned how China could more specifically “support 2015/6 date, suggesting that this would be a fine developed countries” in times of financial crisis, gesture: “This is how a good friend would treat he put local problems in context by differentiating another good friend”. between the US, which needs to “control debt, reduce deficits and foster economic development Political reform was mentioned once, but as usual, and growth”; Europe, which has to “control without any specific references to what this might sovereign debt and prevent contagion”; and entail. More interestingly, Wen mentioned the developing countries, who are suffering from need for dealing with “monopolies”, something “inflation and currency fluctuations due to the most Chinese listeners would interpret as “state dollar”. He expressed confidence in the US being monopolies”, in order to create a more “orderly and able to overcome its problems, and suggested that transparent” investment climate. Chinese investment in the real economy, in factories and companies rather than just treasury bonds, In his comments on China itself, he reiterated his could be a strong support for economic growth, long-standing themes of building a harmonious thus pushing a Chinese investment agenda in a society and allowing all Chinese to “enjoy the fruits persuasive and non-confrontational way. of development”. He talked about the need for Read the full speech..
  5. 5. Idea labs Perhaps some of the most interesting seminars at topics were familiar for me as a communications the Forum are the so-called “idea labs” where all professional, the outcome added an international participants are involved in interactive, small-group angle to my Chinese experience: highlighting the sessions and then share outcomes with the bigger importance of transparency in the supply chain (it’s seminar audience. enough that a single guy with a webcam broadcasts abuses from a factory for any abuse to instantly In one such session, Professor Ian Bogost escalate to a media crisis) as well as the importance conducted a session on didactic computer games of authenticity and “leveling” with consumers; there such as “Fatworld” which addresses obesity in kids, is nothing people hate as much online as “being and training games where fast-food managers learn talked down to”. how to optimize their staff and material use through simulations based on real-life business processes Kuk Yi also emphasized how external transparency and costs. Games can provide context which is forces companies to take a harder look at internal difficult through traditional teaching, by directly and and employee communications; this echoes my own simultaneously highlighting how different factors experience, where internal stakeholders are often in a simulation are linked to each other. Rather neglected during an external crisis, which leads to than studying abstract theory, participants develop serious disruptions in productivity and can in turn5 a “feel” for how things work. The implications for influence the company’s ability to deal with the a developing and human-resource-scarce market external pressure. like China are obvious: one of the most challenging areas is how to train sales reps and promoters, often The consensus from business leaders was that this numbering in the thousands on this continent-sized really is a new world of transparency, where honesty market. and proactivity are the only paths to competitive advantage. In another idea lab, senior business leaders such as PepsiCo CMO Salman Amin and Best Buy VP Kuk Yi discussed the implications for companies of connected and aware consumers. Though the
  6. 6. Management Mentor workshop6 Photo credit: © World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org)/Qilai Shen Klaus Kleinfeld, formerly of Siemens, now CEO of There were also some gems on management in Alcoa, offered a new perspective on organizational other seminars: for example ways of fostering trust: whereas I have always felt trust is something disruptive innovation in organizations through personal and time-based (“people do not trust a culture that encourages mistakes but tries to companies, they trust individuals”) his example of shorten “time to failure”. The litmus test is how the the Navy Seals and the fact that any member of the organization rewards mistakes that REALLY COST IT team can trust another member with his life, even MONEY, rather than just talking about “encouraging if they have never met before, holds lessons for my people to make mistakes”. favorite topic of Corporate Culture (in my opinion, one of the few sustainable competitive advantages in a globalized world). He also castigated companies for using unpaid interns – “we should be ashamed of ourselves for treating young people in this way; there are limits to what we can do for the bottom line” – something that companies in China should think especially hard about.
  7. 7. Science Some of the most interesting seminars were also know that child obesity is on the rise; and there presentations on popular science, as well as in- are strong indications that movement and physical depth debates about science and its influence on activity stimulate brain activity and learning. But policy and economy. The most important takeaway: here, additional research is necessary to quantify in most cases, we already know the answers to benefits and explore how city environments can the problems. The problem is not more research, contribute to child development, but KaBOOM is but finding the political will and concrete ways of taking direct action by creating local communities implementing the scientific findings. One example that lobby for and contribute to playgrounds in every is the concept of “fish banks”: by setting off marine place where they are needed. reserves in depleted areas, local fish stocks can rebound by more than 400% in a decade; fishing And of course the cosmology session, where we can resume outside the reserves and provide learned about the difference between “dark matter” sustainable incomes for communities whose fish and “dark energy” (each of which makes up a much stocks had collapsed. Yet, only 1% of the oceans larger part of the universe than the stuff we can are protected in this way, while research shows see, feel and touch) was something I wouldn’t have that perhaps 15% would be needed for sustainable missed. Don’t ask me to summarize it for you… but fishing in the remaining waters. Communications it was really interesting and entertaining. I guess you7 rather than science becomes key – how can we had to be there. ensure that research results and best practices are communicated and allowed to spread from community to community and from country to country? The Forum’s unique mix of participants allowed for some unusual applications of “science”, such as KaBOOM’s crowd sourcing of “play deserts” in American cities. We know that children spend, on average, 7.5 hours a day on electronic media; we
  8. 8. They think of everything! Arrangements and logistics were of exceptionally by leveraging the exotic mysteries of China and high quality. The Forum uses technology to overextending their interpretations into almost provide a better meeting experience: there is anything the author desires; similarly, a presentation a “private area” website and a fabulous iPad by a big-multinational CEO mentor on management app that gives you instant access to CV’s and practices for global success exemplified how organizational backgrounders of all participants, important it is to complement general experience provides an internal messaging platform for and insights with specific examples if we are to setting up meetings, and allows you to keep track avoid vapid repetitions of hackneyed mantras. The of the sessions you want to attend. Service is discussion on the emerging consumer, though, was also superb: when I realized that I had forgotten totally disjointed – but what do you expect when you the charger for my iPad, I agonized for a couple put the Chairman of a Chinese state-owned bank on of hours before realizing that it wouldn’t hurt to a panel purporting to provide insight on consumer ask a local functionary if they had a charger… and preferences? being directed to the IT Support booth where a friendly techie quickly helped me get juiced up. The assortment of chargers reminded me of what must have been available in the Star Wars bar scene.8 Most presentations and workshops can be summarized as “predictably exhilarating”. Do, however, also expect the unexpected. Because of all the new, interdisciplinary connections, I had a few minor epiphanies over three days of meetings. For example, I suddenly realized that a couple of distinctly underwhelming presentations had been as important for focusing my thinking as the best ones: a lecture on Confucianism simply highlighted how easy it is for some westerners to wow an audience
  9. 9. Recipe for success9 Photo credit: © World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org)/Nick Otto The WEF in Dalian offers the opportunity of new, or at least fresh, perspectives on key issues while hobnobbing with interesting people from academics and politicians to business people and local mayors. The keys to success are planning – for example, taking the time to leverage the Forum’s excellent attendance lists, programs and community apps in order to set up meetings in advance – an open mind, and lots of energy.
  10. 10. For over 20 years, MSLGROUP Asia has counseled staff reaches an additional 125 Indian cities and aglobal, regional and local clients, helping them to strong affiliate network of independent agenciesestablish, protect and expand their businesses in across the region adds another 23 Asian citiesAsia. to our reach. In the past two years, MSLGROUP Asia has been recognized with more than 35The largest PR and social media network in both awards, including MSL Japan’s 2009 ‘PR Lion’ inGreater China and India, MSLGROUP Asia is the Travel and Tourism category at the Cannesheadquartered in China and includes 30 owned Lions International Festival of Creativity and ‘PRoffices and 1250 staff across Shanghai, Beijing, Consultancy of the Year’ for Hanmer MSL India,Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, 20:20 MSL India, Eastwei MSL China, and ICL MSLSeoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Taiwan from both international and local industryDelhi, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, groups.Hyderabad and Kolkata. A satellite network of The company’s “knowledge-driven communications” approach has received wide industry attention and has been documented in the local industry bestseller PR, Chinese Style. The book has been printed in three editions and has Johan Björkstén sold some 13,000 copies in China. Widely regarded Eastwei MSL, as a thought-leader, in addition to PR, Chinese Founder & Chairman Style, Johan Björkstén has also written several textbooks on China and the Chinese language and writing system, as well as coauthoring CatchingBorn in 1964, Johan has spent more than 20 years Up Fast: PR and Marketing in a Web 2.0 China andin China since his first visit in 1986. He is fluent the general business handbook How to Manage ain Chinese and worked for eight years as a radio Successful Business in China.and TV host, producing more than 500 of hisown weekly Chinese programs on Beijing TV and Johan is one of the best-known and mostBeijing Music Radio. He is a frequent guest and respected Swedish businessmen in China. He iscommentator on China Central Television and has one of the founders of the Swedish Chamber ofhosted TV shows and events all over China. In the Commerce in China, which in 2010 granted himcourse of his media career, he has built a strong lifetime honorary membership for his contributionsnetwork with key Chinese broadcast and print during his 12 years of service on the Chambermedia and has deep expertise in how to creatively Board. Johan is also a Director and Advisory Boardengage with Chinese audiences. Member at East Capital, one of Europe’s largest fund managers focusing on Eastern Europe,In 1994, he founded Eastwei Relations, which grew Russia and China. In addition, he was Treasurer andto China’s leading local strategic PR consultancy Director of the European Chamber of Commerce inwith over 100 employees in four cities. In 2009, China for two years running.The Holmes Report awarded Eastwei Relationsthe accolade of China PR Agency of the Year; one Besides Chinese, Johan is fluent in English and hisyear later, in 2010, the agency joined MSLGROUP native Swedish. He freely reads German, Frenchto become Eastwei MSL. The firm serves a number and Russian. He has a Master’s degree in Physicalof Fortune-500 clients including household names Chemistry from the University of Uppsala, Sweden.such as P&G, IKEA, SONY, Puma, Volvo Cars,ABSOLUT and Singapore Tourism Board. Contact: johan@eastweimsl.commslgroup.comasia.mslgroup.com