2005–8

Leadership in China's High Tech Companies

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SPRIE leaders talk with Nick Yang, president and co-founder of KongZhong (KONG), which has a market cap of more than $400 million, and is a leading provider of wireless value-added services in China.

From an unprecedented number of start-ups to a rising class of billion-dollar giants going global, high technology companies in China have a dramatically increasing need for effective leadership. Since 1999, founders have led 24 Chinese firms to IPOs on NASDAQ, ranging from portals such as Sina and AsiaInfo in 2000 to mobile hardware makers and service providers like Hurray!, Vimicro, and Techfaith in 2005. Other company executives have wrestled to grow firms (whether multinational or home-grown) into powerhouses in China's domestic market; and a few have jointed an elite club of leaders responsible for grooming their firms (like Lenovo and Huawei) to compete in the global arena.

Leaders of companies of all sizes and sectors in China face what one CEO described as "uncharted waters." Even to seasoned executives, China's current operating environment seems like a new frontier, because of the extreme dynamism caused by simultaneous rapid economic growth, transitions from state to private enterprises, emerging markets, an (over-) heated investment climate, institutional reforms, etc. In what another CEO called a "wild west" climate, how are executives of China's major high tech firms leading?

During the past year, SPRIE and Heidrick & Struggles, a premier global executive search firm, have partnered to collect data and conduct in-depth interviews with 40 executives in China's high tech firms.

Sample of Chinese Companies and MNCs where Executives Interviewed:

  • Achievo
  • AsiaInfo
  • Autodesk
  • Chipnuts
  • Ctrip
  • EBay China
  • Google
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Intel
  • Kongzhong
  • Lenovo
  • Linktone
  • Microsoft
  • Mtone Wireless
  • Neusoft
  • Shanda
  • Spreadtrum
  • ST Microelectronics
  • Techfaith
  • UT Starcom
  • Vimicro
  • Yahoo!

Research questions include: What are major challenges confronting executives in China? What principles and practices are executives using to lead their organizations effectively? How do these compare with practices in other regions, such as Europe and the US? Among peer executives, who are regarded as successful role models for leadership? Why? With a limited pool of senior managers with a proven track record, what talent strategies are executives using to promote the next generation of leaders?

Early results show, for example, that a set of the most highly prized leadership competencies is regarded as both hard to find among business leaders and particularly important in China. These include visionary leadership, driving results, people development, organizational buy-in, customer orientation, and modeling key values/ethics.

The Most Vital Leadership Competencies in China:

  • Best practice perspective
  • Team leadership
  • Creative thinking
  • Openness of communication
  • Delegating and empowering
  • Managing innovation
  • External awareness
  • Visionary leadership
  • Driving results
  • People development
  • Organizational buy-in
  • Customer orientation
  • Modeling key values/Ethical
  • Relationship building
  • Analytical thinking
  • Conceptual thinking
  • Internal awareness
  • Self-confidence/ determination
  • Decisiveness

(Source: SPRIE and Heidrick interviews with Chinese executives)

Emerging trends in leadership among China's high tech executives may be a good harbinger. Outcomes from the crucible of experimentation and practice may point to how and where this influential generation of China's leaders are steering their high tech firms, which are charged with being the engine of China's future economic growth.