SHANGHAI, China -- Sound familiar? More than 20,000 workers this month ringed government offices in two separate Chinese cities protesting layoffs at the very time top factory managers had gotten lucrative bonuses.
Enron employees who rallied in front of Capitol Hill half a world away would sympathize with their Chinese counterparts.
Or from South Korea: The government Securities and Futures Commission has handed down stiff penalties to 13 companies, six of them affiliates of major chaebol, for cooking their financial accounts. Alsom seven public accounting firms weredisciplined for allowing the financial rigging to occur.
Where have we heard this before?
But before we jump to the conclusion that the Oriental business is moving more in common with the West, better pause for closer analysis. On the surface, isolated happenings do hint that globalization is making all us one-under-the-skin. But a deeper look shows there is still a wide gulf separating Asian and Western ways of business.
It begins with a completely different business mindset on the two sides of the Pacific.
Manas G. Roy, now director of key accounts for Taiwan's Yageo Corp., a Dutch citizen and former Philips Electronics official, explained the vastly different ways the two worlds approach business. Long experience in covering Asian markets has convinced me that Roy is right on target.
The Yageo executive describes the Western business mind as sharply segmented.
"A Westerner has divided up his mind into separate areas that only nominally overlap. He has an area for business that is turned on when he is working. He has an area for family at home. He has a different area for friends. He has an area for recreation and hobbies. When the Westerner is involved in any one of these areas, he rarely turns his mind to the others at the same time."
By contrast, the Oriental mind, epitomized by the Chinese, has the same basic areas. But instead of being compartmentalized, the areas of interest overlap in concentric rings, Yageo's Roy maintained.
Thus even while in a work environment, the Asian business mind is still enmeshed in friends and family and recreation (which explains why so many deals are really wrapped up at dinner or on the golf course).
In negotiating with Westerners, especially in first time meetings, the Oriental isn't comfortable until he believes he knows the other person broadly in family, hobbies, and personal tastes. That's why so many early negotiations seem frustratingly aimless and wandering to Westerners in their initial stages.
"The European or American has a specific business agenda to accomplish. After enough small talk to get discussions started, they want to get down to brass tacks. They have a list of points to be ticked off and a schedule leading to a final decision at the end of the meeting," Roy summarized. The Westerners think their meeting partners are stalling, ambiguous and uninvolved.
By contrast, the Asian counterpart is trying to get to better know his Western opposite. The Oriental mind can be just as put off by what it perceives as a brusque, rigid, impersonal Western approach.
If at the very core of transpacific business dealing there is such dichotomy of mindsets, it's amazing anything gets done as well as it has.
Of course, there are oodles of other disparities. The vague legal standards in China can drive foreigners bonkers, although with WTO membership China is starting to move more towards standard rules of business law. Corruption can still rear its ugly head, although the government is trying diligently to stamp
it out. Decades-long intimate business ties between Asian companies can drive business deals far more than any opportunistic sharp Western offer.
So think twice the next time you read of Enron-like protests in China and Korean crackdown on cooking the company books. The more business appears to change, the more it may remain the same.