IMD International

“China, what’s next?” – Business Forum marks the

20th anniversary of IMD’s alumni club in The Netherlands

October 4, 2011

"This is an inflection point. When our children’s children will be studying history in school, they will regard this decade as the start of significant change in the world economy. An important part of this change is China.”

IMD professor Bill Fischer kicked off the “China, what’s next?” event, organized by the IMD alumni club of The Netherlands, with an overwhelming amount of facts, figures and insightful interpretations about China. He highlighted both the opportunities and threats that the rapid economic growth of China is posing. Professor Fischer identified six big issues for China:

• The country’s growth model
• Demographics
• Currency & trade
• Innovation
• Entrepreneurship
• Globalization

Despite seeing more opportunities than threats, both for the West as well as for China, Professor Fischer emphasized that, given these six big issues and the many ways in which they could develop, China’s future and subsequently its influence in the world are impossible to predict. All the more reason for us as individuals as well as representatives of our businesses and nations to make a genuine effort to understand China’s dynamics.

Hans Wijers, CEO of Akzo Nobel, went on to illustrate many of Professor Fischer’s points with real-life examples. He demonstrated how Akzo Nobel benefits not only from growing demand in China as a market, but also from China’s innovation power. Products developed by Akzo’s Chinese R&D center appeal to Chinese customers but are also in demand in other growth markets.

Wijers agreed that it is hard to predict whether China will be able to continue developing sustainable political and economic leadership. He was especially concerned about two issues: first, will China create room for competition in politics and the economy, and second, will it solve the issues around the protection of international copyrights. According to Wijers, China will only show continuous high growth if it improves on these and other institutional arrangements.

Wijers, in discussing the need for a more sustainable business approach, not only pointed to the benefits of China’s growth, but also to its high environmental costs. According to Wijers the Chinese are well aware of the issue. In a five-year plan, the Chinese government has committed itself to a focus on sustainability with enormous investments in renewable energy. Wijers concluded by saying that China will continue to be one of Akzo Nobel’s key growth markets and that companies who want to do business in and with China will have to adjust their business models towards specific Chinese market needs.

The event also included a panel discussion with three IMD alumni who have hands-on experience in China:

The panelists shared their experiences in marketing and branding, negotiation strategies and leadership, raising several questions. Why is it that Western brands appeal to the Chinese? Can we trust that in China, a deal made is a deal kept? How can we keep Chinese talent in our company and what can we do to reduce high turnover?

Dick Benschop, President of Shell in The Netherlands, used visuals to vividly show a step change in energy use in the world. China’s growing economy plays a key role in worldwide energy use. Shell is present in China in oil, gas and chemical projects and is exploring opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions with wind energy and natural gas projects. Like the other speakers, Benschop questioned how China is going to solve its problems around sustaining growth, environmental stresses, social tensions and demographic shifts. He wondered if China would get rich before it gets too old. When asked if he would encourage his own children to study in China, Benschop replied he would certainly welcome the opportunity to observe the dynamics.

Turning the attention away from China and back to local ‘IMD matters’ in the Netherlands, the event concluded with a celebration of the Dutch alumni club’s 20th anniversary.

IMD extends special thanks to the more than 100 alumni who participated in the event, making the Dutch club stand out.

A handover of the club’s presidency took place: Koos van Oord, IMD alumni club president for the past five years, passed the baton over to Diederick Bax, IMD alumnus of the EMBA program and currently professionally dedicated to business development for Shell.

“It’s been a real pleasure having Koos van Oord as club president. His contributions and proactive spirit have been invaluable to IMD, and we can’t thank him enough,” said Josephine Schoolkate, Executive Director at IMD.

Diederick Bax assumed his new role in inviting all of the event participants to a Chinese-style networking buffet, fortune cookies and all.

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