By Janine Coughlin
“We are like ambassadors,” says Victor Lang, President of MMD Asia Pacific, when describing the contributions his China-Europe Management Institute (CEMI) 6 cohort has made to both Chinese and European businesses since graduating in 1993.
CEMI later became CEIBS and its alumni, like Lang, are representative of the cross section of business executives who heeded Deng Xiaoping’s calls to “grab the opportunity for self-development” during the early days of China’s Reform and Opening Up. At that time, multinational corporations doing business in the country had a hard time finding professional executives from the local talent pool. So too did Chinese companies who were looking abroad.
“CEMI was a very mutually beneficial programme. It developed the first group of Chinese senior executives in China,” says Lang, who is obviously proud that he is among this elite group. “When we studied at CEMI we had a very strong mission – to make China and the programme proud,” he adds. “CEMI changed the management history of China. If you talk about the foundation of the Chinese management system, the European Union played a key role here and CEMI graduates did a wonderful job in promoting awareness of the value of an MBA in China.”
Lang was among those whose tuition for the programme was covered by an EU Scholarship. CEMI, he says, helped open the door for him and his classmates to access many opportunities with European companies who were just entering the China market. It also changed the way he thought. “It enlarged my vision. It enabled me to understand things not only from the Chinese side but also from a more global perspective,” he says. For the last 17 years Lang has been with MMD, a family-owned mining machinery manufacturer headquartered in the UK. He started the company’s China operations, which now include two manufacturing centres. He then went on to apply the emerging market business principles he honed in China to turn around some of his company’s operations in Southeast Asia, including India.
“Few people have an in-depth understanding of how small- and medium-sized businesses from the West can achieve growth in emerging markets like China,” he says. “The operations in developing countries couldn’t afford to import expensive European-made equipment. So I applied the Chinese model to these locations. I always analyse what are the key elements that must be contributed from the UK side, what elements can be local and what should come from China. This is how I achieve competitiveness, which helps our overall performance. The model I developed has been very successful.”
Lang is also developing a management system that integrates western practices and principles with Chinese culture, philosophy, and traditional values. He says that competitiveness and a drive to be the best, and the principle of governance by process, regulation and law are the two pillars of western management philosophy, while the Chinese way puts more emphasis on humanity and harmony. “I see both the pros and cons of the Western management system,” he says. “The Chinese culture tries to be more harmonious, win-win. We say you make your fortune when there is harmony. It is really give and take.”
Balancing the needs of his company’s various stakeholders – customers and suppliers, staff and shareholders, as well as the community and environment – is at the heart of Lang’s ideal management system. “We’ve worked out a very specific value system in the company. The various departments can interpret it as a guiding principle and practice they can follow. It is all results oriented.”
Finding a harmonious solution is a skill that has benefited him throughout his career and gives him a unique edge. “Many of my classmates, after graduation, they really enjoyed working overseas. But I’m different. I think my real value is as a bridge between East and West,” he says. “Chinese people need to understand the West, and vice versa. I can understand and present the Chinese problem to westerners in a way that they can understand, and present the western solution to the Chinese customer in a way they can understand.”
He enjoys being headquartered in Beijing while contributing to his company, and to China. “In management, we always talk in terms of efficiency. If I spend 100% I should get 100% return. Working here in China, I can achieve a 120-150% return on my investment. So I prefer being here.”
And then there is the issue of the country’s rapid pace.
“China changes fast in a short period of time. If you have been away from China you will lose track. So I think I must be based here, and visit overseas. In western countries, the society is more mature, and systems are more mature so there is less change. I think I can catch up very quickly after I have been away from a western country. But in China, I cannot. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work overseas but I think China is my place.”