In China, the only Constant is Change

by Bill Loeble- COO

The Chinese culture continues in the process of metamorphisizing much like a worm turns into a beautiful butterfly.

My first trip to China was 25 years ago. Citizens were wearing wool serge commune suits and were intrigued by visiting Americans such that they would simply stand in the street and stare at you. Streets had very few cars other than law enforcement vehicles (even though there is very little criminal activity). Bicycles were everywhere.

Now people on the streets talk, walk, and look like westerners – blue jeans, bright colors, tailored dress suits. Almost everyone you encounter speaks English to some extent. There are still many bicycles but now motorized. The streets and highways are cluttered with cars. Rush hour traffic in Atlanta would be a good way to get a learner’s permit for driving in China.

It is an enigma that China today is a Communist country by government definition but very capitalistic by economic definition.

An exciting side venture to our China trip was a visit to Guizhou University in Guiyang in the southwest of China. It is a 3 hour flight from Beijing. Guiyang is a smaller city of 3 million. Compare that to Beijing at 20 million, Shanghai at 23 million, and Qing Dao at 9 million. Guizhou U. has 60,000 students.

While setting up the visit we were asked to lecture on American entrepreneurism. The young people of China in their early 30’s and younger are indeed focused on the “American dream” of starting a business and becoming successful.

As background, Guizhou U. is a sister school to Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, my undergraduate college alma mater. PC has a Confucius Institute offering a degree in Chinese studies. Four professors from Guizhou U. are here on rotating assignment. As a member of the Board of Trustees of PC a visit was organized for me to take while I was in China. Mike and I were welcomed and in typical Chinese business protocol taken sightseeing, hosted as guests at a banquet by the university’s senior staff and presented gifts by their president.

The Chinese students are eager to learn and value the opportunity for education. Sadly, their work ethic is far better than most of our own students. The lecture was not required, yet the classroom was filled with 50 students. Their interest was intense and questions numerous.

One question that put Chinese thinking in perspective for us dealt with our proprietary dip recipes. The student wanted to know if we could keep our secret recipes or have to give them back to the university that developed them for us. They did not understand that here in the U.S. private business develops their own technology for its own private use.

This concept of technology being developed in universities and given to industry to scale up to commercial manufacturing is the model in China.

However, the young people are more and more going out on their own. The emerging model is young people in their 20’s and 30’s starting a business aimed at Chinese in their 20’s and 30’s. While they may miss older generations in their target marketing approach, there are indeed enough of them within the population of over 1 billion people to be very successful.

One thing is for sure, the worm has turned and the butterfly is spreading its wings. The constant in China is change.