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Chinese CEOs tell how they manage in US

When its Chinese parent company invited all the managers of Phoenix Paper in Wickliffe, Kentucky, to visit China prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one manager, an American, was fearful.

His second-hand understanding of China was that it”s an unsafe country where the government randomly arrests people for no good reason. Nevertheless, he made the decision to go for work reasons. His family bought him three life insurance policies, just in case.

After he returned to the US, he told people that the trip was simply “wonderful”. China is entirely different from what he imagined.

Jiang Yulin, CEO of Phoenix Paper, said such exchanges helped ordinary Americans from rural Kentucky to get to know China. “Chinese companies can also function as people-to-people ambassadors to promote mutual understanding between the US and China,” Jiang said.

Jiang, along with Jeff Liu, president and CEO of Ohio-based Fuyao Glass America, and Li Pei, president of Texas-based Wison USA, discussed how to successfully manage Chinese companies in the US during an online discussion Wednesday hosted by the China General Chamber of Commerce-USA (CGCC-USA).

The three executives agreed that the biggest contrast between Chinese and Americans is that Chinese value collectivism most while Americans value individualism the most. They said that understanding the cultural differences and integrating Chinese and American working cultures is the key to Chinese companies’ success in the US.

For example, Liu said that the American employees don’t use honorifics when they address their presidents and executive officers, as Chinese customarily do. While Chinese workers are used to taking orders and carrying out tasks without questions and complaints, American workers tend to demand respect and understanding.

Such differences often lead Chinese executives to feel that their authority is being challenged. However, that’s just a cultural difference, and Chinese executives need to learn to adapt to local practice.

Li agreed: “Americans tend to argue with reason instead of simply following orders. We can manage with reasonable argument, too.”

Liu said that the normalized practice of overtime in China won’t work in the US. Chinese executives have to recognize that to keep workers from leaving.

“For American workers, family comes first,” said Liu.

Li pointed out that besides competitive pay, a management style that makes employees feel they are part of the company and its future is also important to retain talents.

Jiang said his company made the decision not to lay off employees when the pandemic first drove the factory’s operation to only one-third of its normal capacity. “The employees appreciate our human touch,” he said.

It’s necessary to do as Romans do when in Rome, and one way to achieve that is hiring local Americans to manage workers, Liu said. Communication is also important to build trust.

“We also learned to include Americans in our annual budget and strategy discussion, overtime options. Such inclusion makes our employees to feel this is a truly American company and willing to stay,” Liu said.

Fuyao Glass America experienced bumps in labor and safety issues due to cultural differences and uncertainty about American practices when it first started in 2014. However, the company has gradually learned how to run its business in the US and successfully developed five factories in the US and Mexico after seven years.

Fuyao Glass America’s success has enabled the company to take the top spot in auto glass market share in the US, Liu said. It currently employs about 3,000 people with annual revenue of about $1 billion.

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