Sure, China’s best private companies aren’t yet pioneering radical new management approaches, as Toyota and other Japanese companies did 50 years ago with total quality management, continuous improvement, and just-in-time systems. Instead, Chinese companies teach us management’s current imperatives: responsiveness, improvisation, flexibility and speed. These abilities give them a critical edge; studies suggest that China’s private unlisted companies earn higher returns—14 percent, on average, versus the 4 percent earned by state-owned companies.
Chinese companies have learned to manage differently over the past 30 years because they’ve had to cope with a turbulent environment. What’s commonly perceived to be the highly controlled march of state capitalism is in reality an enormous and quickly evolving ecosystem, in which companies must scramble to keep pace with runaway growth and dramatic slowdowns, massive urbanization and huge rural markets, fierce competition and endemic corruption.
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