Since Business School Netherlands offered its very first China trip to Executive MBA and Action Learning MBA students three years ago, every mission comprised an agenda chock-a-block with interesting corporate visits. On this year’s list featured semiconductor manufacturer Tsinghua Unigroup, taxi on demand service UCAR, and wine wholesaler Jiuxian, where our students were treated to a guided tour and wine tasting. The objective was to show the Dutch delegation what the Chinese drinking rituals and traditions are all about.
“It was interesting to experience the differences between Western and Chinese culture,” says Matthijs Mennes, a lecturer at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam. “Whilst Western people dislike Chinese wine, Chinese wine drinkers like to mix their Bordeaux with a glug of Coca Cola.”
Ambition and scale
Bike sharing startup OFO was one of the trip’s highlights, says Mennes. “Everything seems to be possible in China, if you have the right connections. The way Chinese companies scale their operations is very impressive. Take OFO, which has distributed millions of bikes across the country in just a few months.”
According to Mennes, China offers plenty of opportunities for Western companies. “Chinese entrepreneurs mainly look at their company’s operations, and not at strategic marketing activities. They talk a lot about revenue and employee numbers but not about values, mission and vision,” he explains. “This offers opportunities for Western companies who want to tap into the Chinese market.”
Aik Geresse, Chief Operations Officer at GC Biotech BV, says the size of the companies he visited impressed him. “From Smart City initiatives to the Olympics of 2022: every plan is incredibly ambitious,” he says. “It was great to look at how these and other large organisations are run, particularly since my organisation is small and developing.”
Over and above the official visits, the trip was fun too. “We saw a theatre show about the history of Kung Fu. Afterwards, we had our pictures taken with the entire cast,” says Blankenstein. “We have also visited one of the Olympic resorts. On the Great Wall of China, our students were the attraction themselves! Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with them!”
The trip’s key benefit, says Mennes, is that it changed his perception of China. “The West is critical about China, despite the many great things that are happening there,” he says. “This trip has made me aware of the prevailing Western arrogance. Are we really all that better? Like Stephen Covey says: first try to understand before you want to be understood.”