Chi­nese CEOs pow­ered by pas­sion and dreams

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew­moody@chi­

Steve Tappin said many Chi­nese en­trepreneurs have a vi­sion to be the Steve Jobs of their in­dus­try.

The founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Xinfu, a con­sul­tancy that ad­vises CEOs across the world, said what dif­fer­en­ti­ates Chi­nese bosses from their West­ern coun­ter­parts is of­ten their pas­sion.

“The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence is they are pow­ered by their dreams. They talk about want­ing to be the Ap­ple of their in­dus­try and, if not now, in 100 years. They want to build a le­gacy.

“West­ern busi­ness lead­ers tend to be much more cor­po­rate. They have very nar­row time hori­zons and talk about how they score on bench­marks such as how they treat their staff or on en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­te­ria.”

The en­gag­ing and of­ten ef­fu­sive 48- year- old was speak­ing in the busi­ness lounge on the 18th floor of the Kerry Ho­tel in Bei­jing’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict on one of his many trips to China.

As well as run­ning Xinfu, he is also a fa­mous face on TV, pre­sent­ing CEO Guru, a sixth se­ries of which is set to air on BBC World in May.

He is also set to pub­lish a new book, Se­crets of Chi­nese CEOs, based on in­ter­views he has done with some of China’s top CEOs, in­clud­ing Li Shufu, chair­man of car gi­ant Geely, and Guo Guangchang, chair­man of the Fo­sun Group.

Last year he also did a BBC doc­u­men­tary, China’s Bil­lion­aires’ Club, on the China En­tre­pre­neur Club, whose mem­bers in­clude the heads of some of China’s top com­pa­nies.

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion is un­like any other busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion. It con­sists of China’s elite en­trepreneurs and they travel to­gether and take part in events. You don’t get that cal­iber of peo­ple net­work­ing in that way in West­ern busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Tappin be­lieves it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore a Chi­nese com­pany be­comes a global gi­ant.

“I think the best known Chi­nese com­pa­nies now are the best of what we could call the 1.0s or 2.0s. I think there is as yet an un­known 4.0 out there that will take ev­ery­one by sur­prise,” Tappin said.

The Bri­tish guru is par­tic­u­larly keen to forge links be­tween Chi­nese and West­ern CEOs. He co-chairs the Zhis­land Global Fel­low­ship, which brings to­gether 30 of China’s top busi­ness lead­ers with the same num­ber of sim­i­lar fig­ures from the West to pro­mote cross- cul­tural un­der­stand­ing.

“I think there are still quite a few prob­lems in China, par­tic­u­larly with joint ven­tures where the West­ern man­age­ment and their Chi­nese part­ners are in a dif­fer­ent place in terms of their am­bi­tion and time frames of what they want to achieve. I think it is more se­ri­ous than many peo­ple think and is some­thing of an un­ex­ploded bomb.”

He also be­lieves that many for­eign multi­na­tion­als are dan­ger­ously com­pla­cent about their per­for­mance in China.

“I think their head of­fice might give them a score of seven out of 10. I think they are just a five,” he said.

“This is be­com­ing more crit­i­cal be­cause the China op­er­a­tion used to be just a nice thing that grew at 20 to 30 per­cent a year. Now it is an ab­so­lute strate­gic pri­or­ity.”

Tappin, who is from the York­shire spa town of Har­ro­gate in the United King­dom, was qual­i­fied as a cer­ti­fied ac­coun­tant be­fore work­ing for Im­pe­rial Chem­i­cal In­dus­tries.


do­ing an MBA

at Cran­field Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton, he went into man­age­ment con­sult­ing, first with KPMG and then with PA Con­sult­ing.

He set up his own com­pany, Eden­gene, which helped large cor­po­ra­tions set up new busi­nesses. Dur­ing this time he helped Bri­tish Tele­com set up BT Broad­band.

He even­tu­ally sold a ma­jor chunk of his shares in the busi­ness, which he said made him fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent for life.

“From that point on I wanted to do some­thing I was pas­sion­ate about and re­ally be­lieved in.”

In 2009, he set up Xinfu, which of­fers a per­sonal con­fi­dant ser­vice to CEOs. Some of his clients have been bosses of ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions.

This in­volves Tappin, who has an air of open hon­esty, al­most tak­ing on the role of a ther­a­pist and of­ten ad­dress­ing per­sonal is­sues in one-toone meet­ings with CEOs.

“They can get very per­sonal. We have had ses­sions where a CEO ac­tu­ally came out (as be­ing gay),” he said.

“CEOs are rarely bland but also rarely bal­anced. They have of­ten had ex­treme events in their back­ground, even a par­ent dy­ing or com­mit­ting sui­cide when they are at an early age or fac­ing ex­treme poverty.”

Tappin said it is of­ten im­por­tant for CEOs to re­bal­ance their pri­or­i­ties.

He said the over­all aim is to put the CEO in a po­si­tion to make the right de­ci­sions when he or she has to.

“They face a lot of pres­sure and it is a very lonely job. They in­vari­ably have three or four big points in a year where they have to make crit­i­cal strate­gic de­ci­sions and they have to get most, if not all of them, right.

“Some of my role might be talk­ing through those de­ci­sions since they might not have any­one else to do that with. The CEO has to think about all the im­pli­ca­tions, bal­anc­ing the long and short term and the in­ter­ests of all the dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers.”

Xinfu not only works with CEOs but whole man­age­ment teams as well. The com­pany also uses a num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als. “We try and bring in a whole range of skills where we can. We have a strong team to draw on.”

Tappin said he has been very heav­ily in­flu­enced by Sir John Har­vey-Jones, the late for­mer chair­man of ICI and an­other TV man­age­ment guru.

“He ac­tu­ally men­tored me for five years in my busi­ness ca­reer and he helped me through a board­room battle, which I ac­tu­ally lost. He was a bril­liant man of great in­tegrity and the best men­tor I have ever had in my life.”


Steve Tappin says there is much the West can learn from the Chi­nese busi­ness arena.

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