Guo Guangchang: What I’ve Learnt from Other Masters
Volume 4, 2014
On April 26, Fosun Chairman Guo Guangchang spoke about “Strategies for Chinese Companies Going Global: Role Reversal in Integrating Resources” during a Master Class, one of a series of lectures being held to mark CEIBS’ 20th anniversary. He drew heavily on lessons he’s learned from some of China’s best known business figures. Here are excerpts from his speech.
“Looking back on my path as an entrepreneur, I think it’s been important to listen to others and try to learn lessons during conversations. During the past 20 years I’ve learned a lot from conversations with many major business figures, and I’d like to share with you my thoughts about three of these discussions.
The first conversation was with Vanke’s Wang Shi. We talked about specialised operations vs diversified operations. The conversation made me realise that an enterprise can do well in multiple industries, through investment, and it won’t necessarily be unprofessional, because it can hire the best teams in those industries to handle operations. What’s most important is that it should properly allocate its resources, like Fosun has done as an investment group. So in my view, for an investment group, the source of capital is very important. Of course talented employees and project knowledge are also important, but knowing how to allocate resources is crucial. An investor should always ensure that he makes the right decision about these important factors, instead of having the core team being stuck operating one single industry.
Based on the theory of diversification, extraordinary success in one industry may be a huge help for new investment in another. But those fixed mind-sets and stereotypes brought by success might instead block the new investment. So while it’s worthwhile to be a good multi-industrial investor, it might not be possible to be a good multi-industrial operator. To be a good multi-industrial investor we have to hire industry professionals to handle the job and look at it as an investment – that’s what I learnt from my conversation with Wang Shi. That’s why Fosun now clearly defines itself as an investment group.
In the future, we will move ahead on two “tracks”, one is to be a financial group with the insurance business at the core, while the other track is to be a China-rooted global investment group with a multi-industrial foundation. Those are our two goals, which were inspired by the conversation with Wang Shi. I really appreciate that he was willing to share his insights with me, though he’s more well-known than I am. I’ve found that those Chinese business figures that I admire most are all willing to share their thoughts with and listen to each other, instead of exerting power over others. That’s really important.
The second thought-provoking conversation is one I had with Alibaba’s Jack Ma. It was about tai chi, which may seem to have nothing to do with corporate management. Jack Ma introduced me to my tai chi teacher, who he actually thought isn’t a good teacher. But I worked very hard with my teacher to learn Yi tai chi – even though Ma said I didn’t have to. Yi tai chi focuses on the accuracy of every motion, by which one can facilitate the circulation of chi and blood, and be fully vitalised through this process. However, with the help of his tai chi teacher, who is an authentic master, and relying on his gifted high-level perception, Ma focuses more on spirit enlightenment and chi circulation than on accuracy. In my view, he’s practicing with his mind instead of his body.
Talking with Ma reminded me of two well-known concepts in Buddhism – sudden enlightenment and enlightenment in meditation. People with high-level perception and who are gifted with wisdom, even if they’re not educated, might achieve success by sudden enlightenment. But for those who are not that gifted and intelligent, like me, what shall we do to get enlightened and achieve success? We need to believe in enlightenment in meditation.
The same goes for tai chi – it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about gift, natural talent. And it also applies to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma and Tencent’s Ma Huateng can achieve success by sudden enlightenment. They suddenly found a successful business model and received a market value of over a hundred billion. However if we think it through, we will know that their stories are legends that cannot be learnt and created by everyone. But you can learn from me. Why? Because Fosun began from scratch in 1994. At that time we had no money, no technology, no MBA. Though we didn’t achieve a quick and huge success as Alibaba and Tencent did, we took it step by step and also became successful.
In 2004, we were determined to open up the financing channels; that was the only way we could be a top-ranked investment group. So what did we do? We spent three years getting listed in Hong Kong. Fosun International was listed in Hong Kong in 2007, and it had a positive impact. At the very least, it solved the financing problems because by going public we could enjoy the global financing platform. Besides, it laid a solid foundation for us to go global.
However, gaps still existed, and our capital was still insufficient for what we needed for future development. So after the company was listed in 2007, we began to think about which future path we were going to take, and where we should look for breakthroughs.
Then we decided on our main areas of focus for the future. One focus is to enhance our investment capability. Because we had already listed in Hong Kong, I thought it was time to go global. At that time we faced fierce investment competition, and our competitors were not just Chinese companies. Blackrock was also a competitor then. They were good at integrating global resources, which was exactly what Fosun lacked. We were at a disadvantage in competition, and we had to reverse the situation. So we came up with a strategy, which needed other Chinese companies to go global and integrate global resources. We all knew that to win the competition, we had to be clear about our strengths and weaknesses. Our advantage came from knowing China better than any outside company could, and our capability to help global companies develop in China.
But what about our weakness?
Our weakness was the lack of a truly global vision and organising capability when it came to global resources. So we needed Chinese companies to go global and integrate global resources, and through this we could give full play to our advantages.
Method to the madness
Some people have advised me to establish a corporation with a set of clearly defined systems which we can successfully apply forever. But I think that’s absolutely impossible. I prefer to establish a corporation with a lot of vitality, even if it’s a bit messy in its organisational structure. This kind of corporation is much better than one that seems perfectly organised but is really going downhill. Many companies fail even when they seem perfectly organised.
Throughout Fosun’s history, every new employee feels the disorder within the company and might not even know whom they should report to after one month on the job. I now spend a third of my time on recruitment. At the end of job interviews, I usually ask candidates if they have any questions. Some ask me about the project, our KPIs, our goals and their future prospects. Then I will tell them how Fosun rolls. In Fosun you tell me what I need to provide for you, and I will provide the money, our platforms, and our resources, whatever you need. You can even ask me to assist you, and I’ll always be ready to help, but only if you tell me your goal. If you can’t tell me your goal, or your goal doesn’t seem like a good one to me, then I won’t let you go ahead with the project. Sometimes when two of my teams separately tell me their plans to do the same project, I will encourage the two teams to work together on it. The point I’m making is that openness ensures a company’s lasting vitality.”
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