December 26, 2010

stanford trip: hong kong

stanford's graduate school of business has a mandatory global experience requirement, which i filled this december break with a trip to china with 40 of my classmates. the trips are included in tuition (thank goodness for financial aid) and are all over the world. i picked china because it's an important growing economy. and because the food is legit.

we started the trip in hong kong where the cultural highlights included: a return to lin heung tea house to battle for dim sum and encourage classmates to eat chicken feet...

...and a visit to the tian tan buddah.

our first meeting was with a top executive at HSBC who studied in the US before returning to china during the first round of foreign direct investment in the mid-1980s. she claimed to have coined term "red chips" to describe privately-owned chinese companies, and had some interesting perspectives on chinese growth, particularly in the financial sector. when asked about potential opportunities with india, she said, "i just don't see the synergy. india looks west, and china looks east." she aired her concerns that western media often gets it wrong and misrepresents china, calling the idea that china is "buying up africa" with colonization intents "laughable." she pointed out that china has been there for years, even back when it had only labor, not capital, to give: "africa has always been friendly to china because china gives without conditions." also, she specifically mentioned the west's coverage of china's railroad from beijing to tibet that implied it was an attempt for the han chinese to settle tibet. money quote: "that's ridiculous! chinese people can't even breathe in tibet."

next we visited li & fung, the largest supply chain company in the world. in 2008, they shipped over 4 billion pieces of goods. 30-40% of mall retailers in the US are li & fung customers. 50% of their sourced material comes from china, and they expect to keep that level steady in the coming years. when asked if that's a reasonable assumption given that china is becoming a more expensive manufacturing source, a company rep talked about how interior cities are getting more competitive. with respect to innovation, they pointed to their new(ish) entities in the US and UK, which will not only be more active in the product design process, but will also facilitate growth as the west starts buying chinese goods rather than just chinese inputs.

we took in views at the hong kong monetary authority for our last meeting. the executive we met with was straightforward about hong kong's strengths (economic freedom, good legal system, nightlife, and food) and weaknesses (expensive housing, pollution). he was hesitant to answer questions about which industry sectors he finds most exciting, but he did sound bullish on infrastructure as a source of growth in china.

our business-suit-clad group was shuttled from meeting to meeting in a tour bus outfitted with a microphone. the appointed fun master maria lambert suggested we conduct “mini talks” with a hat tip to stanford GSB’s tradition called “talk” – a weekly event where a student gives a talk about his or her life to 150+ classmates. it’s probably my favorite thing about the GSB, so i was thrilled to adopt it for the trip.

our last night in hong kong included dinner at a tapas restaurant that was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not good.

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