Ser­vant leader out to help busi­nesses

Han Wei­wen leads Bain & Co’s China unit, now in its sil­ver ju­bilee, to­ward ex­cit­ing so­lu­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By CAI XIAO caix­iao@chi­

Han Wei­wen, pres­i­dent of the China branch of Bain & Com­pany, the global man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm, comes across as a cere­bral ex­ec­u­tive who is con­sumed by his own in­sights into what makes a com­pany a win­ner.

He gets ex­cited and an­i­mated while dis­cussing man­age­ment — ev­i­dently, he is pas­sion­ate about it — and has even co-au­thored a book on the sub­ject ( Founder’sMen­tal­ity, whose Chi­nese ver­sion is out), spilling some se­crets.

“Af­ter 10 years of re­search into 100 com­pa­nies across 40 dif­fer­ent sec­tors in China and glob­ally, we’ve found that founder’s men­tal­ity is the se­cret (to win­ning for com­pa­nies),” he said.

Even be­fore your mind could won­der if this is some dig­i­tal-age man­age­ment mumbo-jumbo, the sharp­brained Han, as if sens­ing your thoughts, holds forth.

Many com­pa­nies, he said, ex­pe­ri­ence pre­dictable crises of slow­ing growth, but those with founder’s men­tal­ity grow at a very healthy rate.

This in­sight has been gath­ered from Chi­nese com­pa­nies, and is rel­e­vant to the cur­rent con­text of China’s slow­ing eco­nomic growth. Han said an econ­omy can be only as healthy as its con­stituent com­pa­nies.

By say­ing that, he makes a case for more and more Chi­nese com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing founder’s men­tal­ity.

What ex­actly is founder’s men­tal­ity?

Han said there are three main el­e­ments to founder’s men­tal­ity.

First, the founder has a clear mis­sion, sees him­self as an in­sur­gent and wages war on his in­dus­try and its stan­dards on be­half of un­der­served cus­tomers.

Sec­ond, he or she has an owner’s mind­set.

Third, he or she must be ob­sessed with the front line of the busi­ness, its em­ploy­ees.

“Main­tain­ing that founder’s men­tal­ity is also very im­por­tant for a part­ner­ship firm like Bain, so we are push­ing very hard in­ter­nally to re­ally dis­till it, to con­tinue to be suc­cess­ful,” said Han.

As Bain & Co’s point man in China, his fo­cus is on three key ar­eas: the firm’s op­er­a­tions in China, the firm’s clients in the coun­try, and how those two ar­eas could dove­tail with the goals of the larger econ­omy.

To­ward that end, the in­sur­gent mis­sion for Bain & Co in China, he said, is to make its clients more valu­able, by help­ing them make, and im­ple­ment, bet­ter de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing learn­ing to be driven by re­sults rather than re­ports.

To achieve that, Bain & Co’s China branch has 25 part­ners or co-own­ers, in­clud­ing Han, who are ob­sessed with the front line, and with be­ing close to the clients and their front lines.

Han joined Bain 14 years ago. He took the lo­cal arm’s reins in Septem­ber. His am­bi­tion, he said, is to en­sure Bain’s con­tin­ued suc­cess in China, more so be­cause 2016 marked the sil­ver ju­bilee of the lo­cal arm.

“We have had tremen­dous growth in the past years and this year has been a par­tic­u­larly good year for us.”

How good? Han de­clined to share rev­enue fig­ures, but said they are closely re­lated to the num­ber of part­ners.

“We want to ac­cel­er­ate our growth in China. But that growth is sub­ject to the qual­ity of our clients, ser­vices and tal­ents, so we won’t sac­ri­fice qual­ity to just sim­ply grow.”

So, should we “sim­ply” take his word for “good”? Well, he said, one-third of Bain’s clients in China are lo­cal com­pa­nies now (while two-thirds are for­eign multi­na­tion­als).

To serve them, Bain has ex­panded its re­sources to more than 200 con­sul­tants across six sec­tors, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial ser­vices, pri­vate eq­uity, health­care, and con­sumer and re­tail.

That re­sulted in dou­ble-digit growth this year. Al­though he has been at the top for only four months now, Han takes pride in the achieve­ment be­cause he has been in­volved in hir­ing for Bain for about 10 years now. He per­son­ally re­cruited staff for the China op­er­a­tions and helped nur­ture the tal­ented group.

Al­though some of them have left Bain to pur­sue their ca­reers else­where, see­ing them suc­ceed and thrive made him proud that he played a role in their pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment, he said.

That role has many hues. There was a time when he was a client leader, he said. Now he will be a “ser­vant leader”.

As a client leader, he worked with lo­cal Chi­nese clients on strat­egy and op­er­a­tions. With com­pa­nies’ founders, he was al­ways di­rect, to be able to in­flu­ence them and their man­age­ment teams, he said.

“Be­ing the head of more than 20 part­ners and 200 plus con­sul­tants re­quires a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship style. Es­sen­tially, I need to lead from be­hind and make sure that the part­ners and the lead­er­ship team have a com­mon goal and di­rec­tion.”

No less than Bain’s world­wide man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Bob Bechek, ac­knowl­edged in a state­ment that Han is a trusted ad­viser who brings a unique per­spec­tive to his work.

Look­ing ahead, Han said there are a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties in China be­cause the mi­cro en­vi­ron­ment is chang­ing. “Most Chi­nese com­pa­nies have not ex­pe­ri­enced change in the past 30 years. So, Bain is uniquely po­si­tioned to help them build new busi­ness mod­els, ex­per­tise, tal­ents and or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

As for chal­lenges, he said Bain needs to in­no­vate and trans­form it­self to align with the new en­vi­ron­ment, given that many cur­rent busi­ness mod­els are years old and be­long to de­vel­oped mar­kets.

“We need to adapt to the de­mands of lo­cal Chi­nese com­pa­nies and work closely with th­ese clients to co-develop so­lu­tions that may not ex­ist in the world or in China. I think the next 10 years will be very ex­cit­ing for both our clients and Bain in China.”

To cope with all that ex­cite­ment, Han’s strat­egy is to make the most of his week­ends, which are usu­ally spent in the com­pany of his wife and two sons, 14 and 2, the older one be­ing an as­pir­ing swim­mer. Han him­self loves ex­er­cis­ing, watch­ing movies and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic.

We need to ... code­velop so­lu­tions that may not ex­ist (any­where yet).” Han Wei­wen, pres­i­dent of con­sul­tancy firm Bain & Co’s China branch


Han Wei­wen, pres­i­dent of Bain & Co’s China branch, is keen to see the con­sul­tancy firm help­ing lo­cal com­pa­nies build new busi­ness mod­els, ex­per­tise, tal­ents and or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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