Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"In the sky there is heaven, and on earth there is Hangzhou..."

ed. note: I'm continuing to upload posts for Mercedes, who is unable to upload for technical reasons...

This past weekend was the second trip for the Harvard China Internship Program in which the affectionately named “Beijing kids” and “Jim from Qingdao” came to visit Shanghai. Their first day here we all traveled to Hangzhou, about an hour train ride from Shanghai and a popular weekend retreat from the city. I’d heard the Chinese had a saying about this place: “In the sky there is heaven, and on earth there is Hangzhou,” so I was really excited to see the renowned lakes and mountains. However, we ended up spending most of the day touring three Chinese companies:, Wahaha, and Wanxiang. This actually turned out to be a pretty interesting experience as we had a chance to talk to people who worked at the companies and learn more about how Chinese employees think about work and business.

Our first stop was at, the so-called “e-bay of Asia” which is actually a very successful global business that started in China and has since taken over much of Yahoo’s operations within this country. We took a tour of the office and it seemed a bit Google-esque--open areas, bright colors, casual dress, pictures of the company on fun trips around China--all ingredients that probably bode well for the company’s success. However, there was one part that I found a bit odd--the fascination with Jack Ma, their CEO. During the presentation they spoke about his life for a lengthy amount of time and pictures of his face were plastered all over the building. “Jack Ma is the face of Alibaba, he is a very good and charismatic leader,” one of the employees told us. There probably are companies in the U.S. like this, but I don’t know them and certainly have never seen something like it for a company of that size.

One of our later stops took us to Wanxiang, an automotive parts manufacturer that is a supplier for General Motors and Ford among other companies. We’d read a case study HBS had written on the company so we had a pretty lengthy discussion with the manager we met. He gave us some advice about the Chinese work ethic “Work as hard as you can, with as little complaining as you can,” and also “Always be patient and do whatever your boss asks of you.” The first I agree with, the second only in the perfect-world scenario where my boss asked me to do everything I wanted to do [kidding--sort of]. With that presentation and a look at their exhibition room (the companies we visited sure loved their exhibition rooms--I, not so much) we finished up

our Hangzhou tour and headed back to Shanghai where we spent two days touring the sights I’ve become all too-familiar with: The Bund, Jinmao Tower, People’s Square, the Yuyuan Gardens, and so on. I sort of reached that wow-I-feel-like-this-is-my-city moment when I realized I was giving Ieva ’08 long winded, tour-guide worthy snippets about buildings we were passing.

Sunday afternoon the Beijing kids went back north and I headed to the fabric market to order my first custom-made clothes (trench coat debut next weekend!). That was the last bit of fun I’ve had in the past few days as I put myself on lock-down and 12-hour working days in order to prepare for the big end-of-summer presentation next week. The presentation is actually about 2 to 3 weeks before we leave, but I guess that’s so we can get feedback. It’s just a little thing on the 1970s and 1980s oil crises, the ensuing stagflation, how Japan/US responded to it, what lessons China can learn from it, and oh make some recommendations on the asset and sector class levels. Eeek. Help anyone?