This month I travelled to Shanghai, China for the Global Immersion Week in my Global MBA from IE Business School. It was a great week with my peers visiting businesses, listening to excellent lectures from Fudan University professors, eating delicious food, and seeing the city.
There are a few takeaways I had from the trip. I don’t claim any original thinking here, but it was different to see it in person.
China is here to stay
The trade war, debate over the gravity of China’s economic slowdown, currency manipulation, Chinese vs Western interpretations of economic theory, and debt backed development were all in the air in our lectures, company visits, and discussions. However, these details seem less significant in the face of the tremendous growth and development that China has gone through since the late 1970s. Since the movement to open up to the outside world, the country has embraced markets to fuel a growth story that I can’t reasonably compare to anything else. How long this growth continues and at what rate is debated, but China is a real power today and will remain so. It is up to the rest of the world to figure out what that means to them.
Globalization and Westernization
In a lot of ways, downtown Shanghai seems like any large western city I’ve ever visited. The same storefronts, similar architectural trends, and English everywhere. The software startup we visited seemed exactly like any tech startup I’ve seen in the United Staes. The same hoodies, the same layout, the same software tools, the same founder’s techno-prophecy pitch, pizza ordered for lunch, similar business models and organizational charts. It seems that globalization so often just means westernization.
However, this homogeneity is deceiving. Many Western companies have had to take very different approaches to the Chinese market than have worked for them in the Americas and Europe, and many have totally failed and beat a hasty retreat. Cultural differences, family structures, government relations, and technological development have created very different circumstances on the ground in China. Some of the way that Chinese consumers use smartphones are a wonder to see. For all the problems of censorship and lack of privacy, WeChat, TaoBao, and Alibaba are a marvel to behold. I am very curious to see at what point globalization will actually globalize the west as much as it’s westernized the world.
Coming from the United States, it is amazing how inescapable the Chinese government is in business. It came up in almost every conversation. Government relations are important for business in every country, but it’s on a totally different level in China. Along these lines, this trip has made it clear how ignorant I am of modern Chinese history. I am eager to find some books and read more.
It was a great trip. I am very happy I went. It is an optional experience in the Global MBA, but, for me, it is one of the most eye-opening weeks I have had in my studies so far. I highly recommend taking advantage of any similar opportunities you may have in the future.