I am just wrapping up an interesting conference in Kauai sponsored by the BMW Foundation which assembled about 50 alumni of the foundation’s various young leaders programs over the last decade. We had a bunch of Russians here, Germans, Chinese, Americans, and some individuals from Singapore, Canada, the Netherlands, and India. Fascinating group of people.
One of the dignitaries that spent yesterday morning with us was Stan Shih, founding Chairman & former CEO of Acer, one of the largest computer firms in the world and based in Taiwan. He spoke on the subject of “Building Identity and Trust in Business,” and when he concluded, I asked him a question.
I said that in my previous experience as Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Southern California in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, I noted that the most difficult challenge Japanese multinational firms that invested in America had was that they often had repugnant personnel policies when it came to women and minorities and found themselves sued left and right.
I asked whether his firm and other major Asian firms — particularly those that were rooted in China and Taiwan — had modified their cultures to take advantage of the strengths in diversity, particularly with regard to women, ethnic minorities, and gay people.
Stan Shih then rambled on for about ten minutes without ever mentioning the word “woman”, the word “gay” or the word “minority”. He completely avoided the question. . .so a colleague in the conference, Joyce Davis, former Deputy Foreign Editor at Knight-Ridder, asked him again point blank what his views on Acer’s corporate culture and women and minorities were.
While acknowledging that his wife (who was in the room) had helped him start Acer, Stan Shih stated that “the problem is not with companies but with Chinese society — and in Chinese society, the role of women is to take care of the family.”
On the one hand, I’m glad Shih didn’t gloss-up his views about this subject. And he’s probably right, overall, that Chinese firms are going to be fairly hostile environments for women. He didn’t get to minorities and didn’t elaborate. Time was up.
But like is happening in Japan today, I imagine that the very best female talent in China is going to escape that country as soon as possible.
Stan Shih is not just any ordinary CEO. He is one of Asia’s top two or three best known corporate personalities. He is a regular at the Davos World Economic Forum and fits the bill for what Sam Huntington has called ‘Davos Man.’
With all of the prosletyzing America is doing recently about democracy and human rights, particularly women’s rights, perhaps we should require some diversity training for Asian-based CEOs who want to operate firms in America or partner with U.S. firms operating abroad.
I realize that that this proposal is facetious — but I have to admit to being somewhat floored by Shih’s first non-response and then blunt response to a question about modern management policies.
I certainly don’t have any “trust” in that kind of corporate or political culture he described.
— Steve Clemons