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Time to change the act
Feb 19th 2009 | DONGGUAN
From The Economist print edition
From The Economist print edition
Business in China, like business everywhere else, is being walloped by the global crisis. The slowdown is also exposing some deeper flaws
Illustration by Claudio MunozA SMALL stretch of land, a two-hour drive from end to end, reveals much about the economic transformation of a vast country. This slice of southern China runs from Guangzhou, the old treaty port reserved for foreigners before Mao expelled them, to Shenzhen, the city established after Mao’s death as an experiment in private enterprise. Over the past decade it has become one of the world’s fastest-whirring economic engines—a global hub in the manufacture of clothing, shoes and electronics—serviced by tens of millions of migrant workers.
Now the region is undergoing an equally remarkable contraction. In the past year thousands of factories, perhaps one-third to one-half of the total, have closed. Reliable statistics are hard to come by, not least because many factories operate in a legal netherworld, but the severity of the slump is plain. The flow of migrants has gone into reverse. Some of the newly unemployed have stuck around (and a few have started a new industry: street crime). The lucky ones have found work at factories that moved inland, although at lower pay.
On the road through Dongguan, a sprawling industrial city roughly halfway between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, building after building—residential as well as industrial—displays red banners advertising its availability. Local agents say there is no interest from buyers. A lack of demand for whatever a factory might make is part of the explanation. So is concern about the quality of properties for sale: a lot of factories were put up in a hurry and have been maintained poorly if at all. And so is the nebulousness of Chinese property laws. Purchasers cannot be sure that what they buy they will truly own.
Oh, for yesterday’s problemsThe rapid collapse of economic activity around Dongguan indicates that China’s private companies are being subjected to the same battering as their counterparts in many other countries. Yet it also raises questions about the long-term survival of many of these companies. They have been among the most dynamic components of China’s fast rise towards prosperity. Their turmoil may be transient. Then again, there are also worries that it is in fact tied to profound flaws in the Chinese economy.
Six months ago Chinese manufacturers were being pounded by increases in all manner of costs, from wages and the prices of materials and energy to interest rates and taxes. Just about every type of skilled labour was in short supply. Annual results for 2008, due to be released in the next couple of months, will show that these forces did much to hold back Chinese business for a large part of the year.
Now those manufacturers are taking a different sort of pounding: a dramatic falling-away of orders. December’s official industrial-production data, for what they are worth, showed a marked drop in annual growth; January’s are delayed (see article). Exports, on which the figures are more reliable, were 17.5% lower in January than a year before. Imports were down by 43.1%.
The slowing economy has sent all those costs in the other direction. It has brought the prices of materials and energy down sharply and slackened the labour market. After years of steadily pushing up interest rates and increasing banks’ capital requirements, the financial authorities in Beijing began to cut both in September, and lending has been vocally encouraged.
Fearful of the social consequences of widespread unemployment, both local and national governments have backtracked on policies put in place between 2006 and 2008 that raised private companies’ costs. Exporters’ tax rebates have been restored, for example; and new laws on wages, work rules and benefits that added costs a year ago are turning out to be more flexible than they at first appeared. Around Dongguan, local officials no longer seem bothered about pushing the region towards higher-value-added products. Makers of labour-intensive goods, such as apparel and toys, find that they are no longer under pressure to move away. A strike that the municipal government would have all but encouraged for much of 2008, it would now help to settle. None of this has come anywhere near offsetting the decline in orders. Worse, the malaise may go far deeper than the short-term effects of a slump in demand.
A footloose businessMuch of the remarkable success of Chinese business has been based on low-margin, low-technology activities. Broadly speaking, China is a net exporter of goods with a low technology content and a net importer of more sophisticated wares. In richer countries, not surprisingly, the reverse is usual (see chart 1).
Granted, China has plenty of important companies which do not need to worry about their business disappearing to other emerging economies. More than 30 of the 100 firms anointed by the Boston Consulting Group in January because they are “contending for global leadership” are Chinese. No other country can boast so many. However, almost all of these are owned at least in part by the government and benefit from protective barriers in their home market. China Mobile, for example, is the world’s largest mobile operator, but its competition is limited, by ministerial decree, to just a few other domestic rivals. The same goes for steel, aluminium, energy, finance and a host of other areas that the government deems “strategic”.
A more durable model for less privileged companies would involve more higher-margin activities, based on innovation and higher quality, with their home-grown brands to the fore. So far, however, Chinese companies have been plagued by an actual or perceived lack of quality. Only a few have built respected brands. The underlying causes of this are a weak system of property rights (including intellectual-property rights) and a financial system skewed in favour of big, state-controlled companies. They will not be easy to fix.
The downturn has shown much of Chinese business to be remarkably footloose. It is as if the companies that died simply evaporated without leaving a tear or a trace. There is more to this than the eradication of excess capacity or the shift of production inland. Buyers in Hong Kong who a year ago drove over the border to buy clothing in southern China now take flights to Dhaka in Bangladesh. Nike will produce more trainers (sneakers) in Vietnam this year than in China, its leading source for 15 years.
In 1988 a small, secretive, Taiwanese plastics manufacturer named Hon Hai opened a factory in Shenzhen that has since grown to the size of a city, with more than a quarter of a million employees. Little of what its Chinese subsidiary, Foxconn, produces is directly disclosed by the company but it is broadly believed to include iPods, Nintendo and Microsoft games consoles and laptops, either in whole or part, for most leading brands.
Because of the sheer number of people it employs, Hon Hai’s every move generates huge interest in local newspapers, although the firm itself says little. In 2007, presumably for much the same reason that it moved to China 20 years ago, it opened a facility in Vietnam which is said to be undergoing a large expansion. Last summer the Taiwanese press was abuzz about production moving back home. Now reports from Taiwan say that the Shenzhen workforce will be cut from 260,000 to 100,000 and that there will be more jobs inland. Whatever the figure turns out to be, Hon Hai is a nimble transnational company, able to move production around as circumstances change. And it is not alone.
Admittedly, there are still good reasons to remain in China. Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries have only a finite ability to expand quickly without overloading their infrastructure or sparking wage inflation. China still has lots of cheap labour. Perhaps most important, it has a vast domestic market, much of which is protected from foreign producers. But as the frailty of the southern Chinese manufacturers demonstrates, these virtues have their limits.
Higher margins are often linked to higher quality. In a recent survey of 700 international business professionals by Interbrand, a consultancy, 80% of respondents cited low quality as an important barrier to the sale of Chinese products abroad. Two-thirds said “cheap” was the chief attribute of Chinese goods. Only 12% believed quality was improving.
Judged by the struggles Chinese companies have had operating abroad, such impressions are well founded. With rare exceptions, notably Lenovo, which purchased IBM’s laptop business, and Haier, the maker of cheap, small refrigerators that furnish the rooms of numberless students, Chinese names have failed to make much of a dent. Where they have thrived is either in cost-conscious emerging markets or in cost-sensitive areas of developed markets defined by clear specifications and minimal innovation. The greatest examples of this have been ZTE and Huawei, makers of telecoms equipment.
The poor external reputation of China’s products hurts not only Chinese companies but also Western firms known to be selling Chinese-made goods. Last year, in response to a series of scandals, buyers’ complaints and lawsuits over Chinese toys, America passed laws requiring elaborate certification. This is costly for good manufacturers, but American toy distributors found themselves incapable of judging the safety of products they imported from China. Out of similar concerns, India has imposed restrictions on Chinese-made toy trains and cars, dolls and puzzles.
Why, then, have Chinese manufacturers not done more to improve the quality of their goods? The benign explanation is that China is undergoing the same problems as Japan once did, but in a litigious, consumer-centred age in which every flaw is magnified.
There is something to this, but Japan’s national obsession with quality was apparent early in its post-war industrialisation, when it adopted the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, an American quality-control guru. Companies such as Honda crushed the British motorcycle industry by offering higher quality as well as lower prices; Sony and Panasonic did the same to American makers of radios and television sets. Almost all the successful companies began by producing at least some components for others (Sony still does) but were equally determined to carve out names for themselves by making distinctive products. To say these companies had long-term visions is an understatement. Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, drafted a 1,000-year corporate plan.
There is no equivalent in China yet. However, many Chinese companies are aware of the pervasive criticisms of their quality. Some big firms have begun employing Westerners with long experience in the best American and European facilities. The Chinese authorities are also awake to lack of quality, because of its deadly effects in the (heavily protected) domestic market, where it has been all too easy to succeed by being shoddy. Last year, after poisoned dairy products killed six children, the chairwoman of Sanlu, the most notable producer, was sentenced to life in prison. Two suppliers were condemned to death.
To be sure, lots of high-quality things are made in China, from sporting goods and MP3 players to luxury clothing. China has become the world’s largest exporter of information and communications technology. Local markets and trade fairs are awash in aspiring brands. In transport alone, there are a dozen sizeable carmakers, 300 tyremakers, 1,000 bicycle-makers and several thousand scooter-makers, all hoping to make an impression. More than 3,500 watchmakers list their services on Alibaba, a sourcing website, as do 8,000 razor-makers. And myriad companies churn out the fake Gillettes and Rolexes sold on street corners.
Anonymity also spares Chinese companies from official and press scrutiny of labour conditions, which can be abysmal. But there are limits to this strategy, in as much as margins on undifferentiated production have proved low. Retaining customers means holding off competition from any country with lots of cheap labour, and, as southern China is finding out, businesses of this sort are vulnerable to being wiped out in a slump.
In Taiwan many of the companies that once were leaders in anonymous production have slowly developed high-quality products under their own names, notably Acer, Asus and HTC. The most glaring impediment to creating the same kind of operation in China is the country’s weak intellectual-property protection. Why invest in design or innovation when the results can be knocked off by competitors? Aware of this barrier, the government has passed new laws and has been vocal in supporting greater protection, but settlements remain trivial and enforcement patchy. Most Chinese patents granted to domestic applicants are still of a type known as “utility model” patents, mainly awarded for incremental improvements, rather than for innovation or new designs (see chart 3).
In state-controlled companies, senior managers are rotated at the behest of government. China Mobile is said to have 100,000 suppliers. One reason is that with its management and operating franchise subject to frequent government intervention (it was reorganised last summer), technological innovation must be done outside. Leading managers have low salaries and often let stock options expire even when they are in the money, which suggests that rewards are not closely tied to creating value for shareholders.
Medium-sized companies have their own conflicts. Factories inevitably occupy land that was once state-held. As a consequence, their shareholders often include local government. Officials have little interest in industrial efficiency: mergers, for instance, are unattractive if they mean losses of local jobs. Invariably, if there is a photograph on a wall at a corporate headquarters, it features a visit by a senior government official—showing who matters.
Blurred ownership distorts finance, management structure and long-term planning. To insulate themselves from the vicissitudes of China’s state control, companies go through all manner of legal contortions when they list shares. Haier, for example, is incorporated in Bermuda. Securities offerings must be approved by the government and the bulk of legal financing comes from state-controlled banks. With all these political ties, lack of innovation is hardly a surprise.
None of these impediments has prevented China from growing. Indeed, the extraordinary way in which money, people and companies seem to come and go illustrates the country’s adaptability. But they are impediments all the same.
Two years ago, on one of his frequent trips to China, Bill Gates said he was often asked where the next Bill Gates and the next Microsoft might emerge. To the delight of his government hosts, he predicted Asia, because of the changes he had witnessed, the level of education and the impact of technology. It is easy to imagine that someone from China might follow in Mr Gates’s footsteps. In today’s conditions it is, alas, hard to imagine that someone from a Chinese company might do so.
在中國南方的某處開兩個小時的車程，可從當地市 街面貌約略看出一個大國經濟的變遷。這個區域從廣州 ─清末時期為外人開放直到毛時期關閉的通商口岸，延 伸至深圳─毛時期決定成立的特區。近10年來它成為帶 動世界經濟運轉的引擎之一，出口服飾、鞋類，以及電 子產品至全世界，同時也聚集了數以千萬計的外移勞動 人口。
《Economist》 報導，對照過去幾年的快速發展， 這個地區目前也正面臨同樣幅度的顯著工業萎縮。數以 千家工廠近幾年已關廠，比例約佔全體的 1/3至 1/2。 由於還有許多仍持續經營的廠家同樣遭逢困境，因此上 述數據可能不真確，不過，景氣衰退的陣痛確實明顯。 外來移民潮已轉成為返鄉潮。新近失業者一直待業 (新 聞報導甚至指出一小部份的人淪落黑幫求生) ，幸運者 則是在遷移內陸的工廠中找到工作，不過所得較低。
從廣州到深圳途中，所經過東莞這個櫛比臨次的工 業城，不論是在住宅區或工業區，都可見到紅布條廣告 高掛，內容寫著某某廠房待售待租。當地仲介商表示買 家目前對此地段沒有興趣投資。無需求致使買家對廠房 產能產生懷疑是部分原因。另外，待售中的廠房許多是 倉促建成的，而且沒有被好好維持。還有，在中國，相 關房地產法律條文予人字眼含糊的印象，買家並無把握 可否買到真正持有產權的標的物。
東莞經濟活動的急遽放緩代表的是：中國私人企業 的經營，與世界各地的同行對手一樣，正遭逢打擊。然 而，關乎這些企業是否可以永續的問題也浮上台面。在 中國快速發展的前幾年中，中小企業是最具驅動力的鏍 絲釘。目前，中小企業的關停風潮也許是暫時的，但也 有人憂慮：這個風潮其實就是中國經濟本質的暗流？
中國製造業在 6個月以前的困境是各種經營成本高 漲，其中包括工資、物料、能源、匯率、稅費。當時， 各行各業都在短缺技術人力。即將於未來幾個月發布的 年報將會顯示，這些情況其實是抑制中國經濟過熱發展 的一大助力。
目前，中國製造業所面臨的挑戰則又是另一個面向 ：急遽萎縮的訂單。中國商務務所公布12月的數據反映 出當月產能大幅衰退 (今年1月份的的數據尚未出爐)。 至於 1月份出口數據同比衰退 17.5%則更加明顯，而進 口數據則同比衰退43.1%。
低迷的景氣對於企業經營的成本造成另一種壓力。 物料和能源價格遭到打壓，勞動市場幾近停滯。中國政 府過去幾年都在逐步調高央行利率與增加銀行資本適足 率，但自去年 9月起，北京財政當局者開始進行降息， 同時聲明鼓勵融資。
為了防範高失業率帶來社會不安，中國中央與地方 政府收回了過去 3年來可能增加中小企營運成本的政策 。例如，調高出口退稅率減輕企業負擔、對勞動合同法 採取彈性相對放寬的執法態度。東莞官員目前關切的重 點並非企業須製造出高附加價值的產品。諸如成衣和玩 具這類具有高度人力成本的產業，其業者發現，他們面 臨遷廠的壓力不再。地方政府在面對工人罷工時，也選 擇以安置政策加以解決。不過，這些努力目前尚未能夠 改善生產訂單銳減的情況。較糟的是，景氣可能還會更 陷低迷，不僅是短期內的需求衰退而已。
多數經營有成的中國企業是以低邊際、低技術的生 產活動起家。廣義來說，中國是一個低技術含量產品的 淨出口國，以及較精密產品淨進口國，這與已開發國家 的外貿特質剛好相反。
許多中國企業的發展是從出口低價人工產品開始打 根基，這些產品如服飾、鞋類。至於電子零件、或為西 方品牌代工的休閒運動用品，其人工成本則較高一點。 但西方國家也能生產這類產品，甚至其成本更為低廉。
今年 1月被Boston Consulting Group(波士頓顧問 公司) 評選為「具有全球領先能力」 (contending for global leadership) 的百家企業中，超過30家為中資 ，但多數為大型的國家企業，或受惠於國內保護扶持的 行業。例如中移動是全球最大的行動通訊運營業者，但 其競爭者有限。其它國內大型企業如鋼鐵、鋁、能源、 金融等行業亦為政府規畫中的「重點」行業。
在西方，可持續發展的企業型態較多是屬於生產高 度創新與質量，邊際應用效益較高的產業。此外，這種 產業的自創品牌可以領先市場。然而，目前的中國企業 在持續發展的過程中遇到的問題是：形象不佳，予人品 質不良的觀感。只有少數中國品牌可建立起較佳的口碑 。根本原因為包含智慧財產在內的產權體系不夠堅固， 以及金融機構對於大型國企較為優待。這些情形欲加以 調整並不容易。
經濟衰退的情況可從較多中國企業無預警倒閉明顯 看出。這些企業的關閉過程彷彿人間蒸發一般，未留下 一絲線索痕跡。其嚴重性大過於因產能過剩而縮減工時 或將廠房遷移內陸。香港的採購商 1年前還可跨境進入 中國南方洽訂布料，現在則須飛到孟加拉的 Dhaka。全 球運動品牌Nike今年在越南生產的運動鞋數量，預計將 超過在中國的製造數量。而中國為Nike過去15年來的原 料供應地。
1988年，鴻海 (2317-TW)以一家小模具台資廠誕生 於深圳，現已成為擁有超過25萬名員工的中國大陸製造 業頭富士康 (Foxconn)集團。市場普遍的認知是，消費 電子品牌iPod、任天堂和微軟的遊戲機，以及相關零件 皆由這家代工廠包辦生產。
鴻海集團由於雇用員工數量龐大，它所批露的消息 都引起地方媒體的關注，儘管該公司發布的聲明低調。 2007年鴻海集團在越南開設第一家子工廠，聲稱該集團 將擴大營運。去年台灣媒體則密集報導富士康集團即將 回台投資。近日台灣媒體則傳出其深圳工廠26萬人將裁 10萬人，表示內陸廠將有更多職缺釋出。不論這些傳聞 的結果為何，經營手法靈活的跨國企業如富士康集團， 有能力因應環境丕變而採取遷移生產基地的動作。但富 士康集團不是唯一這麼做的企業。
誠然，中國大陸仍具有優勢。越南、印尼，以及其 它國家，既可快速擴增產能、又不使其基礎建設負荷過 重或者工資飆漲承壓的能力有限。中國大陸擁有大量的 廉價勞工。也許，重點是中國大陸擁有腹地廣大的內需 市場，目前多由外商主導。但南方中國工廠所面對的處 境可以顯現，這些優勢的背後也有限制。
較高的邊際利潤與較高的品質有關。全球品牌顧問 公司Interbrand針對 700名跨國企業經理人調查顯示， 80%受訪者指出，較低的品質是中國貨行銷海外的重要 障礙。2/3 受訪者則表示，中國貨的價格「便宜」是其 競爭優勢。但只有 12%受訪者認為中國貨的生產品質已 經改善。
由中國企業在海外銷售所遭遇的處境可以判斷出， 上述的評價極為普遍。不過，幾家知名中資企業最近的 外貿斬獲則表現出罕見的意外，例如買下 IBM個人電腦 部門的聯想、以價格優勢攻佔學生宿舍小冰箱製造商海 爾。它們成功打下的江山不是具有成本意識 (cost- conscious)的新興市場，就是已開發市場中的屬成本敏 感性 (cost-sensitive) 區域，此區針對產品標準配備 要求高、創新質量要求低。中國通訊設備製造商華為科 技與中興通訊優勢產品亦屬上述特點的範例典型。
「中國製」產品在國際市場間的風評不佳不僅對中 資企業，也對西方國家中販售中國產品的通路商帶來虧 損。去年美國政府通過立法來提高玩具安全認證規制， 以因應一連串黑心貨在美販售所引發的消費爭議與訴訟 。這為良好的玩具製造商增加成本開銷，同時，美國當 地的分銷商也無能力判斷自中國進口的產品是否合於安 全質量。印度政府亦是基於相同的考量而在最近禁止包 括火車、汽車、玩偶和拼圖在內的中國玩具進口該國。
為何如此？難道中國廠商都沒有進步嗎？比較正面 的解釋是，中國大陸目前所經歷的情況，日本也曾經歷 過，只是在現今消費者至上、興訟風行的時代，每一件 產品小缺失都有可能會被放大。
舉例來說，美國現代品管之父 W. Edwards Deming 的學術理念，在日本二次戰後工業化時期掀起全國仿效 的風潮。汽車巨頭Honda Motor Co.(7237-JP)是以高品 質、低價格的產品扣關英國摩托車產業。現今為消費電 子大廠的 Sony Corp.(6758-JP)和Panasonic Corp. (6752-JP)成為美國收音機與電視製造商的途徑亦是循 此模式。
這些成功的廠商幾乎均以為他廠代工幾樣零件產品 起始(Sony目前仍如此作)，同時也自創品牌研發出色的 自家產品。欲以經營目光長遠來說明這些企業經營者的 理念似嫌不夠充分。舉例來說，Panasonic 的創辦人松 下幸之助甚至擘畫了1000年的企畫藍圖。
當然中國企業目前還無法與這些日企相比。但已有 許多中國企業意識到外界對於中國貨的風評普遍不佳。 有些大型企業已開始雇用曾長期任職於歐美標竿企業的 西方經理人。中國大陸當局也察覺到中國貨品質低劣到 出人命的程度，是由於仿冒品氾濫的國內市場強烈受到 保護所致。去年三鹿毒奶事件爆發導致 6名嬰兒死亡， 中國大陸執政當局便將製造黑心毒奶的頭號女要犯，以 及另外兩名供應商判處死刑。
其實，有很多高品質的商品是在中國製造的，諸如 運動休閒產品、MP3 播放器，到珠寶服飾。中國現在已 是世界最大的資訊與通訊科技產品輸出國家。中國本地 市場與貿易展充斥著卓越 (aspiring) 品牌。單就運輸 工具相關產業而言，汽車製造廠商約有12家，輪胎製造 廠商則有 300家，自行車製造廠商有1000家，機車製造 廠商有數千家，這些業者都期待有一番作為。阿里巴巴 商務網上登記的鐘錶製造商有超過3500家，刮鬍刀製造 業者則有8000家。至於量產仿吉列與仿勞力士這類假貨 ，然後舖到路邊攤叫賣的製造者則不計其數。
中國生產的規模如此之大，竟無法打造強勢品牌是 令人不解的。最簡單的解釋是，許多華人企業的經營屬 於代工模式。台資寶成工業 (9904-TW)旗下的裕元集團 在東莞設廠，是為歐美領導品牌製造運動鞋用品的一家 代工公司，其發跡過程與鴻海相似。小代工所製造的產 品無所不包，從網球球拍到歐洲奢侈品都有。西方客戶 認為代工供應者的名稱曝光無益於商品行銷，通常與代 工廠簽約堅持加註保密條款。
代工模式 (Anonymity)也讓中小企業得以免除政府 與媒體對其人力調度的監督，特別是在生產環境極度惡 劣的情況下。這種策略的限制在於，機械式生產的邊際 利潤已被證實是低度的。爭取客戶意謂著必須在他國同 業在大量廉價勞力攻勢下仍然維持競爭力，以中國南方 的產業現況來看，這種經營模式是脆弱，不堪景氣放緩 的衝擊。
台灣有許多知名廠商曾是代工生產的龍頭，但都已 漸漸發展出旗下自創的品牌產品，例如Acer、Asus、 HTC。在中國大陸，欲培植類似這樣的企業最突出的障 礙，是其國內對於智財維護的無能。在一個智慧結晶可 能遭受同業泡製的大環境下，企業為什麼要在此投資研 發和創新的領域？中國政府在察覺到這層障礙後，已頒 布新法令，聲明即將賦予智財權更大的維護。不過中國 政府目前所能做到的部分是有限度的，同時執法的力道 也分散不均。大多數被核發下來的中國專利認證書顯示 ，中國境內申請專利的商品類別屬於加值改良型的「實用模式」 (utility model)，較少為創新型的設計。
智慧財產權的申張無力凸顯出一個較深層問題：公 眾維護私有產權意識薄弱。OECD(經濟合作發展組織)的 報告指出，中國在70年代末期重新開放時，這個問題尚 未浮現，當時的創新與科技發展成果均屬國家機構所有 ，而工廠則專司接單生產。即便今日也只有極少數的企 業自主經營。 MIT(麻省理工學院)的經濟學者 Yasheng Huang指出，半數的中國經濟成果是由國營企業創造而 成。這個說法或許是低估，因為在中國大陸，就連中小 企業也認知到它們與國家的關係是非常密切的。
在國營企業中，高層人士的異動是由政府指派。中 移動擁有10萬家供應商。有一項理由是由於經營運作的 特權歸是由政府部門來指導，科技研發須委外進行。領 導高層支薪不高，個人所持股權即使在可拿紅利時也不 願兌領，他們認為拿到花紅與為股東創造利益並無密切 關係。
至於中型企業則有自己的矛盾。它們在設廠時必須 取得國有土地。也因此，中型企業的股東常包括地方官 員在內。地方官員對於產能管理的認知較不敏銳，除非 企業經營發生整併這類意謂失業率將會提高的大事。幾 無例外的是，假若這類企業總部牆上出現了人物照片， 那代表了某位政府高官來訪視察，不過平心而論，就管 理層面而言，地方官員入股的意義，實在是不大的。
還有，歸屬權不清將會扭曲企業的財務、管理組織 和長期規畫。企業為了適應政府管理風格的變遷，在公 布股權時會嘗試各種折衷方法，例如海爾電器集團於百 慕達註冊成立有限公司，以便在香港借殼上市就是一例 。這是因上市證券的核發權隸屬於政府，鉅額融資的合 法途徑則來自國營銀行。由於政治上的因素，中國企業 經營中的研發環節較弱就不難理解。
理論上說來，較小型的私人企業較具有彈性。不過 籌資則具有難度。根據相關統計數據顯示，中國國家銀 行借貸予小型私人企業僅佔其放款比例的一小部分。中 國小型企業融資的來源是不能說的祕密，但還是有線索 可追溯。中國境內有許多從事透過非正式管道 (grey- market) 進行融資放款的業者，當中包括當舖、「信用 擔保」公司、以及專門借貸給小公司的私人銀行。這類 放款管道特色為非正式，但融資時效屬於短期，投資性 質具有可變性，時常取決於與放款人的關係。同時，這 種情況也會使管理階層的決策失真。
這類障礙在中國正在蓬勃發展，還未受到防堵。這 些關乎財源、人力，以及企業的特殊動向的確能展現出 國家的適應活力，但它們同時也是國家發展的障礙。
兩年前，Bill Gates在一次例行性造訪中國大陸的 過程中向接待他的官員表示，他經常在問：下一個Bill Gates和微軟會在哪裡。當時Bill Gates的預測將是出 現在亞洲，因為他看出了亞洲社會經歷了教育程度的提 高和科技力量的變遷。中國未來如果真能出現下一個 Bill Gates，也是理所當然。
不過，《Economist》 在結語中指出，以目前的中 國企業所面臨的處境而言，要培養出下一個Bill Gates ，是很難的。
Feb 13th 2009While American manufacturing processes were being revolutionised by Frederick Winslow Taylor (see article), France’s were being overturned by Fayolism, a system devised by an engineer, Henri Fayol (1841-1925), who became something of a hero for rescuing a troubled mining company and turning it into one of France’s most successful businesses.
Though born in Istanbul, Fayol spent all his working life as a manager at Compagnie de Commentry-Fourchambeau-Decazeville, a big French mining conglomerate. For the last 30 years of his working life (1888–1918) he was managing director of the company. He is the founding father of what has become known as the administration school of management. At its heart was Fayol’s five-point breakdown of managerial responsibility into planning, organising, co-ordinating, commanding and controlling, a division which has pervaded much management thinking since.
“Command and control” became the slogan for the authoritative style of management fashionable through the 1950s and 1960s, though Fayol’s method was more nuanced than this. His “commanding”, for instance, included energising employees, while controlling included adapting the overall plan to changing circumstances.
Fayol’s theory stood in stark contrast to that of Taylor, his great contemporary. Fayol himself said: “Taylor’s approach differs from the one we have outlined in that he examines the firm from the bottom up. He starts with the most elemental units of activity—the workers’ actions—then studies the effects of their actions on productivity, devises new methods for making them more efficient, and applies what he learns at lower levels to the hierarchy.” Fayol’s approach was top-down, he looked at the organisation from the point of view of senior managers.
He also looked for general management principles that could be applied to a wide range of organisations—business, financial or government. He was a great believer in the value of specialisation and the unity of command, that each employee should be answerable to only one other person. Like W. Edwards Deming after him he distilled his thinking about management into 14 principles, ranging from specialisation to unity of command (one worker, one boss).
Fayol was scarcely known outside his native France until a quarter of a century after his death when his most important work, “General and Industrial Management”, was finally translated into English. His influence then spread rapidly, and persisted. As late as 1993, he was being listed in one poll as the most popular management writer of all time.
Notable publication“General and Industrial Management”, 1916 (in French); Sir Isaac Pitman, London, 1949 (in English)
More management gurusThis profile is adapted from “The Economist Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus”, by Tim Hindle (Profile Books; 322 pages; £20). The guide has the low-down on more than 50 of the world’s most influential management thinkers past and present and over 100 of the most influential business-management ideas. To buy this book, please visit our online shop.
Management by walking about
Sep 8th 2008Correction to this article
This is a style of management commonly referred to as MBWA. It is variously lengthened to management by wandering about or management by walking around. MBWA usually involves the following:
• Managers consistently reserving time to walk through their departments and/or to be available for impromptu discussions. (MBWA frequently goes together with an open-door management policy.)
• Individuals forming networks of acquaintances throughout their organisations.
• Lots of opportunities for chatting over coffee or lunch, or in the corridors.
• Managers getting away from their desks and starting to talk to individual employees. The idea is that they should learn about problems and concerns at first hand. At the same time they should teach employees new methods to manage particular problems. The communication goes both ways.
One of the main benefits of MBWA was recognised by W. Edwards Deming, who once wrote:
“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realise they have one in the first place.”The difficulty with MBWA is that (certainly at first) employees suspect it is an excuse for managers to spy and interfere unnecessarily. This suspicion usually falls away if the walkabouts occur regularly, and if everyone can see their benefits.
MBWA has been found to be particularly helpful when an organisation is under exceptional stress; for instance, after a significant corporate reorganisation has been announced or when a takeover is about to take place. It is no good practising MBWA for the first time on such occasions, however. It has to have become a regular practice before the stress arises.
By the turn of the century it did not seem extraordinary that managers should manage by walking about. The technologies of mobile communications made it so much easier for them to both walk about and stay in touch at the same time. But in the 1950s many white-collar managers turned their offices into fortresses from which they rarely emerged. Edicts were sent out to the blue-collar workforce whom they rarely met face-to-face. The outside world filtered through via a secretary who, traditionally, sat like a guard dog in front of their (usually closed) office door. Even in the 1980s such practices were not uncommon, as demonstrated in the film “Nine to Five”.
MBWA was popularised by becoming an important part of “The HP Way”, the open style of management pioneered by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the two founders of the eponymous computer company. Many of the practices of The HP Way became widely copied by corporations throughout the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The idea received a further boost when Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote that top managers in their “excellent” companies believed in management by walking about. In his second book, “A Passion for Excellence”, Peters said that he saw “managing by wandering about” as the basis of leadership and excellence. Peters called MBWA the “technology of the obvious”. As leaders and managers wander about, he said that at least three things should be going on:
• They should be listening to what people are saying.
• They should be using the opportunity to transmit the company’s values face to face.
• They should be prepared and able to give people on-the-spot help.
Further readingPeters, T. and Austin, N., “A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference”, Collins, 1985
More management ideasThis article is adapted from “The Economist Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus”, by Tim Hindle (Profile Books; 322 pages; £20). The guide has the low-down on over 100 of the most influential business-management ideas and more than 50 of the world’s most influential management thinkers. To buy this book, please visit our online shop.
Correction: when this article was first published, it wrongly referred to “Bill Packard”, rather than “Dave Packard”. This error was corrected on September 9th 2008.
- SPECIAL REPORT: ToyotaJan 27th 2005