Returning to the US? It’s a non-starter
and move back to the US.
He highlights the US chemicals company Cabot, which has been in China for 30 years and set up a joint venture with Hengyecheng in Wuhai in Inner Mongolia in September last year to make silica. The new investment will create thousands of jobs.
“It has done a considerable amount of work on that project, including building a strong relationship with the local government. Why would it have to close that plant and rebuild another one in the US? It would just be illogical.”
He says Cabot, which has other hubs in Tianjin and Shanghai, is a prime example of a modern US multinational company, with 80 percent of its revenues coming from overseas.
“Its growth is driven by Asia, primarily by China. The American market is not really a growth area for the company.”
Ni believes Chinese autoglass maker Fuyao’s decision to set up an operation in Moraine, Ohio, in October was driven by very specific factors.
The Volkswagen scandal relating to disguising emission levels is set to boost sales of US cars and therefore autoglass. Fuyao already has a 60 percent share of the China market and needs to find markets outside the country.
“The economic advantages relate to energy costs, such as natural gas, being between a third and half the price they are in China. They are getting the land almost free. The labor costs, however, are almost eight times those of China.”
Ni argues it is not just the cost of labor that is likely to stop a flood of China manufacturers switching operations to the US, but also the lack of skills now available.
Cao Dewang, founder and chairman of Fuayo, has admitted that he has had to employ mainly people over the age of 50.
“He can hardly find any young working adults suitable for such blue collar jobs. This is because the industrial landscape has changed and is now very much service-orientated rather than production-orientated so there aren’t the young people with these skills anymore.”
Ni also cannot envisage Trump getting the steel mills in Pittsburgh rolling again, with the Pennsylvanian city now more noted for its robotics industry.
“We no longer talk about American companies in the steel sector, to be honest. It is either Japanese, Chinese or European ones in high-end steel production.”
Ni, who was born in Harbin but moved to Singapore as a teenager, studied electrical engineering at the National University of Singapore before doing his master’s at MIT in the US. He began his career in investment banking with Credit Suisse in Singapore before going to study for an MBA at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.
He joined Roland Berger, one of the few international management consultancy firms that has developed out of Europe, rather than the US, in 2011 and now works for a wide range of clients in industrial goods, packaging, steel, utilities and energy.
Ni believes that instead of manufacturing migrating out of China, it is now more likely to remain at home, given the current emphasis on developing a high-end manufacturing sector. The State Council issued a guideline in December aimed at attracting more foreign investment in manufacturing.
“In China you have access to a more talented, highly skilled and comparatively cheaper labor force. China has transformed from low-cost production to a technologically-driven and technically intensive economy. The government has achieved this by investing heavily in research and development,” he says.
Ni believes there is now an opportunity for early stage European start-up companies, in particular, to come to China to develop their products.
“This does not just apply in manufacturing, but more generally. There is just a bigger market to test any concept with. In the past, companies might have tested their products in Sweden and the Nordic region, with access to 20 million people, before taking them to Western Europe. In China, they can do this on a much bigger scale.”
principal for management consultants Roland Berger