Despite close to two decades of foreign direct investment in China, and the country's enormous market potential, most US and European multinational corporations have never made a profit in that country. The distribution of profits among multinationals also seems highly skewed. The latest survey on profitability showed that five US companies accounted for one‐third of equity profits among US‐based multinationals in China. This research proposes explanations for why multinationals fail in China and strategic solutions for profitable operations.
Through in‐depth interviews with 29 CEOs and directors of major, profitable US and European multinationals, overseas Chinese companies and People's Republic of China companies, this paper proposes a model of strategic convergence for successful operations in China. The first part discusses cultural and cognitive differences between Westerners and Chinese that affect the strategies they choose. The second part proposes a strategic model of convergence, fusing the best of both Western and Chinese business practices, for strategic success in China.
Profitable foreign multinationals in China appeared to modify their management practices on eight dimensions, often adopting traditional Chinese methods of strategic planning and evaluations of effectiveness, as well as relations with key stakeholders, especially the government. Yet, these multinationals continued to retain their Western norms and values in business dealings. Conversely, profitable Chinese companies that competed with these multinationals also modified their management practices in line with Western norms
The study has implications for the management of foreign subsidiaries in China as well as the successful management of Chinese foreign direct investment in the US and Europe.
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