Back-to-basic teaching on China and leadership

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, 12:00am


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A big part of Ron McEachern's role as an adjunct professor at HKUST Business School is to bring the 'real world' into the classroom. After 30-odd years with multinationals such as PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, he knows what works - and what doesn't - and is therefore ideally placed to elucidate priorities and pitfalls for the next generation of corporate high flyers.

For the MBA programme, McEachern teaches two courses - marketing in China and maximising personal leadership potential. A theme that unites them is the need to go back to fundamentals, questioning accepted practice and textbook principles, plus the emphasis on finding the right solution for each case.

'For example, in the marketing course, I explain that it is no longer a question of 'Made in China' - it is now all about 'Made for China',' he says. 'Many multinationals used to think that global portfolio products were right for China and that consumers were just waiting to buy them. But they now know they need to look at all aspects of the marketing mix - product, packaging, sales strategy, media message - and build plans appropriate for China. Otherwise, they will just skim the surface of the potential market.'

McEachern leads students through the necessary steps and sequencing. That might start by talking about sources of market intelligence and their reliability, subsequently touching on everything from design, pricing and advertising to footprint strategy, distribution channels and key performance indicators.

Business in China can still look and operate very differently from standard Western models, he says. There are decisions about whether to start as a joint venture and evolve, or to do it yourself. Special care is needed when communicating with corporate headquarters to keep them aligned. And there is always the issue of adaptation and control.

'In the past five years or so, virtually all the large multinationals have figured this out, but there has been some painful learning and many stops and starts along the way,' he says. 'Today, if you want to succeed with a global company, you must understand China and how it works, so the whole course is geared to giving a [comprehensive] and organised approach.'

Similarly, when teaching leadership skills, McEachern begins by going back to basics. He asks students to identify four skills they know they need to develop and expects them to be suitably introspective. Case studies and generic dilemmas then follow to illustrate rights, wrongs and different reasoning.

Turning words into action, students are expected to set out a vision of where they want their career to be in the next three to five years. They also prepare an action plan on how to improve two or three attributes critical to good leadership.

'I have a pretty clear roadmap of what it takes to be successful in a big organisation,' says McEachern, noting four key gauges: results, setting the agenda, taking others with you, and doing it the right way. 'You need to achieve results on time and budget, but not at all costs. Success also depends on the other leadership behaviours like integrity, effective communication, and being able to build an organisation.'