IS it cheerio to Cheung Kong, goodbye to Guangdong Investment and sayonara, Swire? While most investors see these corporations as corporate tigers, it is possible they are actually dinosaurs which have not recognised that the climate has changed. This might sound like heresy, given that these are acknowledged to be well crewed companies, sailing on a sea of limitless opportunity, but McKinsey & Co, the international management consulting group, has raised the questions. As McKinsey says, this region is home to some of the world's most profitable and fastest growing business groups. But for how long? The strategies and organisational approaches that have made these groups so successful in the past will not necessarily serve them well in the future, as they pursue further growth and diversification. The changes in Asia - say McKinsey's Hong Kong managers T.C. Chu and Trevor MacMurray - will severely test the established business formulas of many of the big corporations, from Hong Kong to Indonesia and Singapore to the Philippines and Taiwan. Whether they have the abilities to pass the test is McKinsey's question. ''The leaders of Asia's top groups are enormously energetic and entrepreneurial and have remarkable business judgment. But their organisations are creaking at the seams,'' they charge. ''The real challenge lies in the management ranks. Middle management is often thin, senior management overloaded, and decision making too centralised in the hands of a few. Growth puts an enormous burden on this kind of management structure,'' they warn. ''Some groups have the potential - certainly, most have the resources - to reshape themselves for this new environment so that they can continue to dominate their home markets and, perhaps, become leading regional or even international players. ''Those that fail to do so will stall abruptly as customer, competitor and regulatory changes sweep the region,'' McKinsey predicts. As McKinsey reminds us, some of Asia's groups are now pretty big time. Salim Group of Indonesia, Swire, Jardine and Cheung Kong in Hong Kong, Formosa in Taiwan and Astra/Summa of Indonesia would all rank in the Fortune 500. How they have got to this size differs, but all have benefited from operating in the world's fastest growing region and have taken advantage of the opportunity in two different ways. McKinsey divides them into structurers and builders. The structurers have succeeded by creating powerful franchises where competition is low. Cheung Kong and Swire in Hong Kong, Cojuangco in the Philippines, and Salim in Indonesia are examples of this type of organisation. These are good deal makers which are adapt at exploiting business and political connections. The other common thread is that as they lever their skills and connections they are likely to have relatively diversified portfolios. The builders are more focused. Their high returns are generated by managing a limited number of companies well, according to McKinsey. Stand up Sun Hung Kai Properties and Jardines in Hong Kong, President Group in Taiwan, Astra in Indonesia and Thailand's Charoen Pokphand. Whether they are structurers or builders, both are now finding that their current formulas for entrepreneurial growth may be running out of steam, suggests McKinsey. The structurers are hit by deregulation and intensifying competition, which means new players, although opening up of China and other markets also presents opportunities for this breed. For the builders the coming problem is the situation of the core markets. Hong Kong and property is one example, Taiwan's Tatung group and the television and electronics components industries is another. The strategy for both groups, according to McKinsey, would be to fall back to core businesses, as superior performance comes in a few areas where funds, skills and ''management passion'' are concentrated. McKinsey strips down the figures of some of the large Asian companies, and concludes that most of the money was made by a small number of core businesses. Cheung Kong is successful with its core property assets, but has a more doubtful record in its oiland telecommunication ventures. It can be assumed that, should any of these companies ask McKinsey, as a consultant, if they need to re-examine their strategies, they would give a similar reply to that obtained from a barber if you asked him if you needed a hair cut. Nevertheless, as Western giants have found, being big is not enough to guarantee longevity. The hardest part of a business is not necessarily growing it, but maturing it. Asian leaders have the advantage of being in an environment of growth and opportunity. Southeast Asia is really only just starting to hum; the Chinese story has hardly begun. Asian corporations are different. It is a question of whether that difference is sufficient to overcome the strains of growth, and avoid the sclerosis that has attacked so many Western corporations.