Asian Competition Rising
February 1 2004 by William J. Holstein
It was 25 years ago that I shipped off to Hong Kong as a young, impressionable corrrespondent for United Press International. That allowed me to be on the ground in southern China to witness the first strirrings of China’s transition from Communism to a more capitalistic system. At that time, the landscape consisted of mostly rice paddies and peasant girls herding water buffalo down dirt paths. But when I came to understand that the Chinese intended to “get rich,” in Deng Xiaoping’s words, I suspected that this transformation was going to be big.
Now a quarter century later, it’s become evident just how momentous China’s emergence is, far exceeding anything that I could have anticipated. China is one of the world’s major manufacturing centers and it is attracting huge flows of capital. Skyscrapers have replaced the rice paddies.
China is just one of the stories. Combine its growing clout with Japan’s domination of high-tech and automotive sectors and South Korea’s surprising strength in everything from semiconductors to MP3 players. Then toss in India’s surprising new assault on the service sector and information technology. (See story, page 16.) The net result is a potent across-the-board wave of competition facing American CEOs.
Our CEO2CEO Leadership Summit (see story, page 37) demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s nowhere left to hide. Some major companies, such as American International Group, Citigroup, Corning and Lucent, have sophisticated strategies in Asia. But I suspect the majority of American CEOs still haven’t mastered the game.
One key, of course, is to develop senior management skills. Increasingly, as Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell argues in our cover story (page 23), CEOs must spend some time living in a distant market early in their careers to understand how a truly international company operates. A CEO needs that experience to understand how cultures and governmental systems and time zones force most companies to adapt their U.S.-centric models. No one business style works everywhere.
BECAUSE OUR GOAL at Chief Executive is to be at the top of the business world’s intellectual foodchain, we are introducing a new look to the magazine as of this month. This redesign, conceived of and carried out by Art Director Andrew Ogilvie, is aimed at communicating a sense of urgency and authoritativeness. We want you to pick us up, read us and react to us. To encourage that, we are giving you more visual points of entry into stories. You’ll notice more graphics and other visual elements. But we’ve avoided cluttering the magazine with too many jarring typefaces, opting instead for a clean, accessible look.
As always, I’m pleased to hear from readers about what’s on your minds. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William J. Holstein