The first in a series of articles with an international perspective on Developing Managerial Capabilities: what talent is needed? With Kelvin Chao of Talent Creations Ltd.
Talent Creations, a China-based global company focusing on the design and supplying of corporate uniforms and clothing, is unique in that it works with fashion stylists to tailor work clothes into garments that employees love to wear.
CEO Kelvin Chao takes a step back to provide us with perspective on how the Chinese working environment has developed since the early 1990s and give insight into the future talent and capability requirements China will face in the years to come.
No longer “one size fits all”
Starting his career in 1993, China had at that time just started to open up with collectivism still mainly dominant, and Kelvin Chao found himself one among millions of college graduates that were assigned a job in a state-owned trading company. Today, the government no longer guarantees employees a job. Individualism, fuelled by the one-child policy implemented the 1990s, is now the predominant mindset for younger generations. “Mass production time is now over,” says Kelvin Chao, “there is no more one-size-fits-all”. Moreover, survival or even success no longer constitute major concerns for the young, but rather fulfilment, doing what they enjoy, and doing what inspires them are foremost in their minds. Some of us who like Kelvin Chao can enjoy being able to look back over several generations would say that this is not so very different from young people in the West too. In this respect, globalisation has perhaps brought younger generations more things in common than with their predecessors: it is the era, it can be argued, of individual needs, social media, efficiency and information overflow. How can managerial capability – and specifically that of China – cope with those changes? Kelvin Chao states that not only has he learnt to deal with the younger generation, but that he takes their needs into consideration in his business model. Talent Creations still operates bulk production, but the company considers more individual needs, tailoring the vision – Dressing the World – and the products themselves to make people feel good at work, even though they may wear identical uniforms be it on the production line or as a member of an airline cabin crew.
In the past, successful Chinese businessmen tended to follow Confucius doctrines based on intelligence, integrity, benevolence, righteousness, and loyalty, ploughing back these values into a collectivist approach towards their company and their teams. “But think about all these virtues we’ve been following,” suggests Kelvin Chao, supporting the argument that some of them no longer apply to the current business environment in China. From a personal perspective, loyalty in business is now difficult to spot. With life-long employment bygone, it is not unknown for employees to come into the office or even send an e-mail with news that they are quitting with no regrets and no fear of finding further employment elsewhere. Kelvin Chao sees in this the importance of letting the modern employee feel that both the company and the business activity can inspire them. This can be achieved in part through the changed nature of organisational and functional developments in China over the past ten years. In the past, business in China was all about cost, insists Kelvin Chao. A firm would hire thousands of people, paying them a same wage and organising their work around two shifts. Today, cost is no longer the dominant factor but rather the growth model. In the specific context of Talent Creations, inventory management, engineering, processing, and strategy are the factors which have overtaken priority from mere labour cost. Consequently, as a business, Talent Creations requires a whole panel of individual talent to build the company for the future.
Capabilities tailored to the future
Kelvin Chao sees the young generation as talented and self-driven. As CEO, he argues that rather than force younger employees you must empower them, as well as structuring operations to encourage workers to inspire each other. Expertise is required that probably never existed before. For example, the retail industry in general in China is equipped with good stock and sales ratio and supply chain management processes, but for Talent Creations, dealing in a niche market such as corporate uniforms and dress wear, the stakes remain how to manage their value chain and create best efficiency and lowest costs. Empowerment thus consists in relying on the team to build the right processes to ensure these. In the Chinese business world today, there is still a requirement for managers in finance, marketing, and manufacturing, but the new challenge is to recruit different types of expertise that address the fast-changing business environment. China needs people that are deeper, broader, cross-functional and even cross-industry in profile. Moreover, Chinese business needs people who are global and multi-cultural.
More information on talent Creations
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Written and edited by Tom Gamble, the Council on Business & Society, from speaker’s notes. By kind permission of Mr Kelvin Chao
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