Interesting post on This is China, entitled, “My Beer With Andre,” documenting a conversation with a Fortune 500 CEO who “had just made the rounds through” China, Vietnam and India “to gain impressions of the investment environments of the countries.” [link no longer exists. Per the post, the CEO’s “observations were gut-level, and not given to rigorous research methodologies; still, they have their uses.”
They most certainly do and it is quite possible this company will choose to locate its Asia business based on this CEO’s initial observations. And as anyone who has read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Blink, knows, there are worse basis on which to make decisions than initial, gut-level, reactions.
The CEO saw the following:
Vietnam. Not a big country. 85 million inhabitants. Inflation already a problem. Not many people speak English.
India. “Nearly everyone speaks English….People take care of shit out there. It’s not the same as China, where everything is driven into the ground with very little maintenance. In India, people maintain things that are expensive. There seems to be a greater sense of the value of things than in China.” He then went on to talk about how when he was flying into India there was a taxi strike in progress so the hotel “went out and bought a luxury sedan, and then picked us up at the airport. Now can you beat that for service?”
Where in Vietnam was he? In Saigon, just about everyone involved in foreign business speaks English and it is in Saigon where so much of the foreign business is done. Vietnam’s population is a sliver compared to China and so many times those who tout Vietnam as the next China ignore that.
I do not know enough about India to comment on what this CEO saw there, but I know it is unlikely a Chinese hotel would have acted with the same concern for its guests as the Indian one the CEO discussed. It is a very rare Chinese restaurant, store, or hotel that provides top level service and those that try seem to have frequent lapses.
I found it interesting this CEO saw India as putting a greater value on caring for things than China as I have always found China interesting in this regard. I lived in Turkey for a year and there is tremendous “pride in stuff” there. Old cars are impeccably maintained, as are the houses of just about everyone, from wealthy to poor, from city dweller to remote villager. I always notice how that is definitely less true in China. Just last week, I had a discussion with our summer associate, who grew up in a village near Wuhan. He was telling me how much he disliked the Chinese city in which his sister lived, in large part because there was garbage everywhere and nobody did anything about it. We talked about why this was the case in his sister’s city, yet not the case in Dalian or Qingdao, where he had just spent a month or so before coming to Seattle. Neither of us could come up with a terribly good explanation. We threw out things like wealth gaps and quality of the local government, but no real answers.
If India does care more about maintaining its physical properties than China, why is this the case? Does government ownership in China discourage pride in place? Is it something else? Or does this CEO, in fact, have it all wrong?
What are your thoughts?