05 December, 2006

Sense of Pride (Part I)

Last Friday, December 1st, I was on my way into the office when some sort of feeling hit me. I wasn't sure what it was, but I think I knew what caused it. I always gaze out the car window on my way to work, to see what's going on in Beijing.

I was listening to some Dave Matthews Band that particular morning (on the iPod, of course). I typically try to listen to some mellow, relaxing music at the start and end of each day; for reasons I think one could only understand if you were working in Beijing. Music (like beer), sometimes sparks my thoughts, ideas & imagination.

This particular Friday was one of the most clear days I've witnessed in Beijing since I've been here. I could see the mountain ranges that surround Beijing (Beijing is basically in a bowl) in the distance, noticing some of the temples that sit top of the bare mounds of rock. The bone chilling wind was blowing, the leaves were churning & thousands of people were making their way to begin another day.

Beijing is booming, obviously. I can't even imagine how much manpower & money is behind the construction & cleanup boom going on in Beijing; and all over China for that matter. This was the first thing that "hit" me on this particular Friday. I noticed some construction workers hanging off the side of a newly constructed building putting some finishing touches on the windows. Three months ago, this building was a long way off from finished. Now, it's a masterpiece in the Beijing skyline. What must go through their heads when these guys, many earning only a few dollars a day, finish these huge structures of steel & concrete? Do they feel proud of what they did? Do they get any sort of "reward" upon completion? Do they tell their kids about it...point it out to them as they ride their bikes by? These blue collar workers are changing this country just as the blue collar workers in the US did after WWII.

In addition to the hundreds of construction projects I see each morning, I see the people of Beijing out on the streets & in the parks. Mostly I see the "older" generation of Beijing'ers. There are many small parks around Beijing, most of them contain some exercise equipment & ping pong tables. It's now December, with morning temperature highs close to 20 F. This is not stopping these people from rising early (I see them around 7am each day) and getting outside to start their mornings right. From the groups of old ladies doing tai chi, to the old couple playing a game of ping pong against each other, to the old man keeping his flexibility in tact on the aerobic
exercise equipment. These are for the most part, the "Mao era" generation sticking to some of the ways many Chinese began their days with back then. Why aren't the younger generations participating? They're out changing this country in a different way.

The 20 & 30 somethings of China are a powerful group of people. They are ready to take on the the world and make their country the best. I first began to really notice this first hand as I was conducting interviews for my first time in China back in July. At some point in the interview, I would try to get a feeling for just how energetic a particular candidate was (it's very hard to tell personality types due to the language barrier). I ask..."Why do you want to work for Lenovo?" I would guess that 80% of the responses were along the lines of ... "I am proud of Lenovo for moving beyond the walls of China. I want to be part of this great company who is helping China to become an international business power." Other responses... "I like ThinkPads." "I like Lenovo computers." This is a very open ended question, but the answer I am always looking for and interested in hearing about is the "I want to change China like Lenovo has" answer. The days of international companies only coming to China for unskilled cheap labor are over. Yes, companies do still and will still come here for that. However, more & more companies are coming to China for skilled labor. While still comparatively cheap, these are not factory jobs. These are real world, global, make or break the bottom line jobs. The days of companies hiring locals to manage only their "China branch" are also over. Companies are flocking to China to hire engineers, designers, programmers, business-types; to help & run pieces of their global company. The Chinese working for these companies do not want "boring" jobs. They don't want the "shit" work that westerners don't want to do. They want to get their hands dirty; increase productivity, come up with break-through ideas, release products faster, become the "big boss" and make more money. The one major downside to the "hungry Chinese professional" ... turnover. On average, turnover in China is at about 30%. People here jump from job-to-job, mostly just looking for the bigger paycheck, some looking for more responsibility and some to just try different things. This is scary for companies investing in China, especially when you invest in a lot of training (both on-the-job and curricular). How to get by this? I haven't fully figured it out, but I've been working on it. My team is still new enough that I won't see the turnover itch for another 4 months or so. You can never manage to retain 100% of your employees all of the time, no matter where you are. However, I don't want to be losing 30% of my team come April (new fiscal year begins, yearly bonuses have been awarded). Do you?

How do you manage all of this growth? Is it possible? Well, it must be, but there will surely be a lot of problems. From scandals to failure, they all exist in China. But where don't those things exist? In any country and in any company, those things exist.

So, what did cause that "feeling" on Friday morning? It was the people of Beijing. Seeing them changing this country made me feel good about being in this country with them. Seeing them continue on with some of their traditions made me hope, for them, that they continue to keep this country with thousands and thousands of years of history going along so they can all achieve a little piece of what we in America call "The American Dream." Have a job, have a family, have a home. I think anywhere you go in the world, "American" can simply be replaced.

1 comment:

Esteban said...

The most exquisite post I've read in a long time... Thanks!