Today started on a bittersweet note since two friends were leaving us to return to the states but our business program was just beginning. Erik and Tom greeted our group in the lobby to say goodbye before their flights that afternoon then right away our trip began.
The first company visited was Lenovo, a computer design and manufacturing company based out of China. It was a very good fit for the beginning because of the interactive nature of the tour. Our guide began with a description of the Lenovo add campaign in which a paper airplane thrown towards the sky becomes a rocket symbolizing the power of imagination; anything believed can be real. While the story was interesting, the best was the gimmick. To begin the tour we had to throw a paper airplane through a hole in the wall, activating a beautiful video display. My favorite aspect of the presentation was the interaction because they caught our attention making menial fact memorable. During the tour, I was often struck by the thought that it seemed more like a product pitch than a lecture. While all the material was undeniably interesting, much of what we were told related only to Lenovo instead of business in general. That being said, I was very interested to learn about the high cost of housing in Beijing and in China as a whole. We were told that a small apartment in the city could easily cost over a million yuan which is a price that most Chinese would be hard pressed to pay. While I understand the comparison made to New York City, I still find the figure a little intimidating especially when compared to a starting salary of maybe two thousand yuan a month. While at Lenovo, we also had the chance to test several of their new products including a 3D computer screen, a laptop as light as a shirt, and an indestructible computer. Apparently Lenovo designed a computer for the military that can be drop, jumped on, and even used underwater. My overall impression of the company was of a very well put together marketing campaign. I left the campus feeling that possible partners would be shown the same exhibit that we had just viewed; while that is not entirely a bad thing, it lacked a sense of honesty that I would have appreciated. Even so, Lenovo deserve credit for a beautifully arranged tour.
After Lenovo, we headed to a cute little restaurant where we ate in the Chinese style (sharing large plates of food on a lazy Susan) and generally relaxed. From there it was off to Hi Soft, an outsourcing company that focuses on winning over fortune 500 companies as clients. For this presentation we were seated in a conference room in a horseshoe shape facing a large screen. We started the visited by introducing ourselves to Weiwei, Hi Soft’s director of marketing. He was a very animated individual who obviously loved his job and his company. After the introductions, a woman practiced her English by presenting a power point on Hi Soft to us. While her language skills were very impressive, I often found it hard to follow her speech because she spoke so quickly. The power point felt similar in intent to the tour of Lenovo in that it seemed like a thinly veiled marketing ploy. After the presentation the entire visit turned around and I found myself listening to one of the most interesting conversations that I have heard since arriving in China. Weiwei told us about the importance of building a faithful employee base especially in the recession because it is often hard to raise salaries. By making the company into a family, Hi Soft attempts to give employees a nonmonetary incentive to stay. This was the first time that I ever actually understood the purpose of teambuilding activities. Until now I thought that they were intended only as a means to make a stronger group, which is of course a goal, but I learned that teambuilding can help bond employees and keep them loyal to the company. Like building school spirit and patriot pride, Hi Soft works to keep employees happy and loving their job. Weiwei also had a very honest conversation with us about the Chinese government and corruption. He told us that bribery is often used when companies vie for government projects because it is an easy way to get ahead of the competitions, but there are risks involved. Hi Soft’s official policy is to avoid bribery, or so he said. Weiwei told us a Chinese saying, “In China being a liar is dangerous, but not being a liar is more dangerous.” I found this interesting because he was willing to admit that bribery has benefits and is often seen as acceptable. Our conversation with Weiwei was refreshing because I felt that he was very open and honest in answering our questions about both his company and Chinese business in general.