If you are interviewing for a GM of your China facility, you’re probably interested in a guy with China experience, technical competence, communication skills, leadership ability, intelligence and integrity. On the negative side, we all know about fatal flaws which reveal themselves and tell us who not to hire. China manufacturing has, in addition to the standard set of fatal flaws, it’s own tell-tale signs that the interview over.
Don’t hire this guy!
He parties like it’s 1999 and wants you to know it: Up to about a decade ago, it was not unlikely that your China GM would come to work hungover three days a week. Conventional wisdom said “no problem”– that in China, ganbei-ing is necessary to maintain vendor and government relationships, I disagreed then, and I more strongly disagree now. People who treat their time in China like an excuse to party are likely not on top of their game, and drunken behavior at the top can expose your company to liability. yes, It can be necessary, on occasion, to drink to excess, but it should be an event, not a lifestyle. More and more, suppliers and even government contacts feel they themselves have better things to do with their private time than getting blotto with your GM.
A larger issue is how much entertainment, is necessary for operations (assuming the GM has no responsibilities for sales, which is another issue entirely). My staff and I have almost no social contact with vendors, and very little with government. We are still able to negotiate just fine without the dinners and hangovers.
He manages people like it’s 1999: You can’t approach China leadership the way you could 10 years ago. It’s a new ballgame, and candidates who haven’t processed this fact need not apply. If the candidate has five or more years of China leadership experience, you might ask him how things have changed during his tenure, and what adaptations have been required. If he can’t make a convincing argument that he “gets it”, then he hasn’t grasped the social, demographic, legal and regulatory changes that have swept China over the past decade. Do not waste your time in him.
He brags excessively about his guanxi: He knows a section chief in a relevant department or two, and he is playing this up as a huge competitive advantage. He implies that hiring him (and by extension his guanxi) will bullet-proof your Chinese entity.
Don’t go there.
Times have changed, and while it can be helpful to have some connections, especially if you get into some trouble, guanxi rarely goes as far as one supposes. It is never a get-out-of-jail free card, nor is it kevlar vest or a Teflon coating. One problem with relying on guanxi is that it moves around too much– the powers that be like to shuffle the most “helpful” officials from one office and area of responsibility to another, and they do this just to limit their “helpfulness” and thereby reduce corruption.
Also, if the shit hits the fan you often find your magic bullet has suddenly lost its magic. Your candidate’s friend-in-high-places may have been willing to offer low-risk assistance in the past– things like fixing traffic tickets or pushing legitimate applications up to the top of the pile– but the high-risk interventions needed to get your facility out of real legal or regulatory trouble are another issue. You will find out that most likely, he’s just not that into you.
Finally, a guy who obsesses about his ability to use guanxi to protect operations is probably not a guy who obsesses about operating in the most clean, legal and ethical manner possible. Rather, he’s a guy who probably loves the shortcut. Operating cleanly and legally in China, thereby staying out of trouble, is a much better option than using guanxi to solve your operational problems.
He brags about his ability to deal with (and control) “the Chinese”: Yep, he knows all about “the Chinese”. He can tell you how they think, what they’re good at, what they’re bad at, etc. Of course, the very idea that your Chinese employees are a monolithic group as opposed to a group of individuals is pretty offensive, and a guy who proposes it is showing you he doesn’t understand the environment in which he operates.
Usually this same guy will obsess about the need to “control the Chinese employees” and will have little to say about empowering them. Of course he himself wants empowerment, not control, but he wouldn’t want to empower his (your) Chinese employees because… well, because they’re Chinese! Of course you do need control– control of processes, control of assets, control of costs, etc. But these are different concepts than controlling “people”.
In China (as elsewhere) attracting, retaining, and developing talent is the quickest and most efficient way to achieve operational excellence. Period. There can be no development without empowerment. Yes, even in China.
He does not obsess about manufacturing performance: If your candidate talks about everything except measuring and improving the output of your facility, you have the wrong guy.