Distinguished speakers discussed many topics including the effects of strong local competition, targeting brands towards certain Chinese consumers, and the effects of the anti-corruption campaign. Abinta Malik, GM and Senior VP of Gap Greater China, commented on the importance of brand awareness. “The pivot to a consumption economy is very real and it’s here to stay, but there is a big difference between regions in China and we need to think about how our customers will react in Beijing compared to Hong Kong, for example,” she said.
A late morning panel featured four young and influential Chinese executives from Ctrip, Dianrong and other companies who shared their views about running companies in China and how it differs from the U.S. The “Young CEOs” panelists discussed the factors they expect will guide the future of business in China. They said that although the manufacturing industry is slowing down, there is tremendous growth and opportunity in the high tech sector with a younger age group as the new investors. Tong Li, Founder and CEO of Origin Capital Group spoke about the new generation of China’s rising middle class. “We estimate that the middle class will reach 300 million in the next 30 years. These are the families that will be thinking about education, health care, travel and wealth management. ”
In a panel discussion titled “Coming Home, Returning to China After Years Overseas,” Chinese entrepreneurs and executives returning from the United States discussed what it’s like living and working in the U.S. and China. They agreed there are wide differences when it comes to life in the U.S and life in China. “Coming Home: Returning to China after Years Overseas” panel consisted of four Chinese business leaders from various companies, like Sailing Capital and WildChina, all of whom had extensive background living in the U.S. A common theme expressed from the four “haiguis” was the attractive business opportunities and “more interesting life” that lured them back to China. The panelists touched upon a variety of issues, ranging from new perspectives gained from living abroad, and the differences in workplace culture.
Several panels took place simultaneously, including one focusing on Chinese outbound investment. In China, direct investment is today what trade was in 1995. More and more Chinese companies are going abroad to make investments or acquisitions. At the same time, these companies are also expanding abroad. Some of the top reasons presented for why they chose to acquire abroad include the relatively low PEs versus those in China, as well as the chance to adopt and integrate good technology that is not in China. However, acquisition is also challenging, with culture differences and localization the top considerations for integrating new acquisitions. Panelists emphasized the need to find and use the right local talent on-the-ground. Panelists also discussed the importance of utilizing Chambers for local connections and expertise.
Innovation and creativity are two words discussed at length when speaking about the future of the Chinese economy. In 2005, there were no incubators, no angel investors, and no early venture capital funds in Shanghai. Today, it’s a very different picture. A panel of entrepreneurs and investors discussed the growth of innovation and start-ups in China, highlighting successful cases and sharing insights into the challenges and issues around innovating in China. WeChat was presented as a case that profoundly disrupted the industry. At first a defensive venture against Xiaomi chat, it became wildly popular with professionals in their 30s through the innovation of voice messaging. From there, the once QQ-attached younger population adopted the platform as well. One of the biggest challenges to innovation in China is government regulation. Problems with IP protection, while improving, remain.
“I think it’s a very interesting position that AmCham has in China in terms of being between the government and business, and I think we can all push that a little forward and I do see a lot of speakers who are trying to do that. It’s a delicate place and I’m always interested in how people advance various ideas that are not so easy to discuss in public,” said AmCham Shanghai member Virginia Moore of Younger Niche Logistics (China) Ltd.
In the last panel of the evening the discussion turned towards the next 100 years. When the speakers were asked what the world will look like in 100 years, Chairman and CEO of China Renaissance Fan Bao said, “I’m predicting China will be leading the industry of robotic technology. The younger generation will not be taking care of the old and we will likely all rely on robots to take care of us. We need to invest in the younger generation because they are driving consumption.”
See also our review of the 100th Anniversary Gala on October 28.