The merits of on-the-job training vs. a formal education
There’s a long-running debate over what matters more—formal learning or learning on the job. On math tests, American teens perform worse than Danes, Latvians, and Koreans. But how much does that matter?
So argues Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia. He says societies need to emphasize lifelong learning, not just school.
World Economic Forum in Davos, the president of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Jin Liqun, said he didn’t know him. Neither did Xu Jinghong, chairman of Tsinghua Holdings, the investment fund of Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Pang, of the chemical federation, says some Chinese consider it “odd” that Ren gets along so well with foreign executives. “This is quite unconventional for a head of a central SOE.”
In the world of state-run companies, where nondescript men wearing short-sleeved white shirts and baggy windbreakers are the norm, Ren is known to flash cuff links on a pinstriped sleeve. “Most of our employees are Chinese, but you can also see there has been a substantial influence from foreign management,” says Michael Koenig, a former Bayer executive who became chief executive officer of an important ChemChina subsidiary in January. “Compared to what I know from other Chinese SOEs, we are more open, more international.”
Ren began his ascent in northwest Gansu province, a poor mining region next to the Gobi desert. He graduated from the economics department of a local university—eventually earning a master’s degree—and joined the state-run Chemical Machinery Research Institute, where he was the Communist Youth League secretary. It was a recipe for a do-nothing bureaucratic career.
In 1984, Ren borrowed 10,000 yuan (about $1,500 at current exchange rates) from the institute to start the BlueStar Chemical Cleaning Group. His first employees scrubbed tea kettles as Ren took the most reliable path to power in China and became BlueStar’s Communist Party secretary, according to his biography. He made an important ally: a woman named Gu Xiulian who was the formidable head of the chemical industry ministry from 1989 to 1998. She was also on the Communist Party’s powerful central committee for 20 years. Ren transformed BlueStar from a scrubbing operation into ChemChina, a nationwide conglomerate of hundreds of chemical companies. Gu declined to comment.
Ren’s perspective on potential problems may be gleaned from a ChemChina newsletter. It reviewed
the Pirelli deal by saying, “Economists expect the merger to have a 25 percent chance of success and a 75 percent chance of failure.” Not to worry, it continued, everything will work out.
The bottom line Ren Jianxin, chairman of Chem-China, adheres to Xi Jinping’s strategy of acquiring technology and access to new markets.