Executive Briefings

Are Chinese Companies Beginning to Lose Some of Their Global Clout?

Ever since Chinese companies began going global in force a couple of decades ago, their impact on worldwide business has been hard to overstate. By combining low cost with massive scale, and by taking full advantage of a huge domestic market, companies based in China have disrupted and transformed industries from telecommunications equipment to solar panels. Will that leadership continue?

Twenty-nine Chinese companies are represented in The Boston Consulting Group’s most recent list of 100 global challengers. Fortune magazine’s Global 500 list for 2014 includes 91 companies based in mainland China, which is now second in number only to the U.S.

But a close analysis of the Chinese corporate landscape reveals new sets of challenges driven by dramatic changes in the business environments both at home and abroad. For Chinese companies in many industries, the era of easy, rapid growth is winding down. Achieving profits is more problematic. Old competitive advantages, such as low labor costs, are beginning to erode. Innovation, marketing acumen, an intimate understanding of global consumers, and an ability to manage global, multicultural talent are becoming critical differentiators of success. Competition from companies in other emerging markets is intensifying, while established multinationals in Asia, Europe and the U.S. are devising new strategies to defend their turf.

The new BCG list of global challengers—fast-growing, internationally minded companies with roots in emerging markets—illustrates the shifting landscape. The number of Chinese challengers has declined steadily over the years, from 44 in 2006 to 36 in 2009 to 29 today. In fact, more than half of the Chinese companies that appeared on the 2009 list have dropped off the 2014 list.

This suggests that global challengers from other rapidly developing economies are catching up with Chinese companies. But it could also mean that some of the Chinese companies on our list have shifted their focus back to the strongly growing domestic market: the list includes only companies that have at least $500m in overseas revenue or derive at least 10 percent of their total revenues overseas.

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Twenty-nine Chinese companies are represented in The Boston Consulting Group’s most recent list of 100 global challengers. Fortune magazine’s Global 500 list for 2014 includes 91 companies based in mainland China, which is now second in number only to the U.S.

But a close analysis of the Chinese corporate landscape reveals new sets of challenges driven by dramatic changes in the business environments both at home and abroad. For Chinese companies in many industries, the era of easy, rapid growth is winding down. Achieving profits is more problematic. Old competitive advantages, such as low labor costs, are beginning to erode. Innovation, marketing acumen, an intimate understanding of global consumers, and an ability to manage global, multicultural talent are becoming critical differentiators of success. Competition from companies in other emerging markets is intensifying, while established multinationals in Asia, Europe and the U.S. are devising new strategies to defend their turf.

The new BCG list of global challengers—fast-growing, internationally minded companies with roots in emerging markets—illustrates the shifting landscape. The number of Chinese challengers has declined steadily over the years, from 44 in 2006 to 36 in 2009 to 29 today. In fact, more than half of the Chinese companies that appeared on the 2009 list have dropped off the 2014 list.

This suggests that global challengers from other rapidly developing economies are catching up with Chinese companies. But it could also mean that some of the Chinese companies on our list have shifted their focus back to the strongly growing domestic market: the list includes only companies that have at least $500m in overseas revenue or derive at least 10 percent of their total revenues overseas.

Read Full Article