The story appears on

Page B2

March 21, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » People

Holding the line to breed local leaders

SHI Bisset has a vested interest in helping businesses in China and it centers on making them sustainable. But her job has been made tougher as a result of the global economic downturn and the trend of overseas companies to be less sensitive about staff in their haste to bottom line, short-term outcomes.

Bisset is an organizational development psychologist with multiple qualifications from Insead and the University of East Anglia and through various postings in Japan, China and the Middle East she has an extensive cross-cultural knowledge of business development.

A British-national of Indo-Italian origin, she set up the company Shi Bisset and Associates in Shanghai five years ago and has 30 people working for her in China, with affiliates in 80 countries and regions.

The firm consults to leading multi-national and Chinese companies across a range of business issues, including organization and team development and executive coaching.

Born on a boat between Mumbai and Shanghai, her father was an Indian diplomat based in Beijing where she lived until age three. She returned to Shanghai in 1982 to work for the World Bank.

"I was on a sabbatical in England after two years in Saudi Arabia as the first female loan projects director of the World Bank when I got this call saying they needed someone to go to Shanghai for six weeks," she said. "I ended up staying for seven years without a break."

In the past 12 months, she has become concerned at reactive business leadership trends, specifically among multi-national corporations (MNCs).

"Success in business here is the sustainability of it. What's happened is that many companies, particularly American, retrench when things get tough and claw everything back," she said.

"They say let's draw in, let's forget all these 'glocalization' leadership development programs because we don't know where we're going now so let's just stop."

But as the economy has picked up, they're now asking why they are losing so many people. "I say, well, maybe it's because you didn't come through with this initiative of turning local leaders into global leaders, you just drew back," she said.

Bisset said she knows of 20 presidents in the region who have adopted this approach. Only one American company on her books °?- she deals with 180 international entities - sustained a people development program.

She cites the example of another company which decided to move regional headquarters within a week from one place to another country without consulting the team. And all the business unit directors had to do it, "or, in the manager's words, get out," she said.

"There was no communication internally to those who were really working hard and producing results. It led to a lot of disappointed people." She said the message seemed to be "you can tread all over your people and move them wherever you like at a moment's notice."

To underline the point, she cites a multi-national chemical company she's been advising for 14 years. "They've done a lot of mergers and acquisitions, bought a lot of companies and had a foreign general manager," she said.

"They finally agreed with me to put in a Chinese-origin GM. He turned the situation around because he could communicate as a born-and-bred Chinese but had worked with the mother company for years."

Bisset doesn't want to be seen as a Mother Teresa of organization development but she gets frustrated that companies "continue to make the same mistake and reinvent the wheel every time."

"We work globally and have learned that, whether it's China, South Africa, India or whatever, companies cannot bring in home office practices, plonk them down and expect them to work out. They need to be open-minded enough to identify where things are working, isolate the gaps and decide how to make things work within the gaps."

She does not believe that the business culture in China needs to be Westernized. "We need to find what will work and pay respect to both cultures, the Chinese and the MNCs," she said.

Bisset believes there's need in China for regular forums to talk about management issues, organizational development and human resources to "highlight the differences in the cultures, their mutual inabilities and to work out a new collaborative approach."

She says the current hot topic among businesses is talent retention and development.

"Some managers believe they can learn but there is the other extreme who have been working for a multi-national for 14-15 years and think they know everything about Asia and how to operate here," she said.

She understands the need to adjust to economic circumstances but believes that a manager brought in to turn things around needs to be counterbalanced by a "people person" who's going to keep the staff together.

"When people say, can you do this, I say no, I can't do this, you can do it. I can take you there, show you the door and push you through it, but I can't do it. You have to create the success."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend