01 Feb 1999

Q&A: Camille Tang Yeh of the Asia-Pacific Research Office

Opening Up the East
Re: Carin Knoop (MBA 1994); Christopher Bartlett; George Lodge; Lynn Paine; Forest Reinhardt; Richard Vietor; David Yoffie


Camille Tang Yeh (MBA 1980) is the executive director of the School's new Asia-Pacific Research Office in Hong Kong. A native of Hong Kong, Yeh has almost twenty years of experience in investment banking, primarily in Asia.

What are some research topics of interest to HBS faculty in Asia?

Topics include whether high-performance Asian companies can provide a business model for success in the region, the role of accounting infrastructure in transitional economies, restructuring diversified businesses in emerging markets, and exploring the Asian management revolution. The list of recent cases [see sidebar] further reflects the wide range of issues covered by our faculty.

What can we learn from this region?

The Asia Pacific, where 2,000 languages are spoken, is home to 60 percent of the world's population. The region's diverse economic, cultural, legal, and political systems offer insights into a variety of conflict resolution and collaboration models. Business and political leadership is transitioning from a family or clan-based structure to one of greater heterogeneity and professionalization. It is also transitioning from a European-trained generation to one more U.S.-oriented. Both transitions have strategic and competitive implications for firms operating in and out of the region. The current "reconstruction" of Asia offers insights about differentiating systemic from asystemic risks and illuminates possible changes in market opportunities and in the role of logistics and information and financial and other intermediaries.

How will the Asia-Pacific region benefit from the presence of the HBS research office?

The intellectual capital created by the exchange of ideas and the study of Asian business practices will contribute toward the crafting of effective strategies for the region. HBS's focus on problem solving, its links to real practice, and its broad experience in training managers will also be our "value-added."

What effect is the recent financial crisis having on your work and on the work of our faculty?

It has created greater open-mindedness and enthusiasm for research. Businesses and governments are reassessing Asia-Pacific policies and strategies. People are searching for new intellectual frameworks and ideas. At the same time, in sectors where growth and performance are highly uncertain and where institutional efforts to address the crisis have not been as successful as originally envisioned, companies may be reluctant to allow research to be published at this time. To address this concern, we need to raise awareness of our research controls for confidentiality and our techniques for "camouflaging" a company's identity or data.

What challenges have you encountered in setting up HBS's first international research office?

It's a tremendous challenge to establish a platform to facilitate research across more than fourteen Asian countries with multiple languages, cultures, and infrastructures.Also, institutional data that is readily accessible in other parts of the world can take on greater sensitivity at this stage of the Asia Pacific's economic restructuring. The challenge is to balance this sensitivity. We must make firms aware that the research cannot be released without their authorization and at the same time maintain the integrity and learning value of the research.

What kind of help can faculty who come to the office expect?

We seek to help translate faculty research interests into productive research in the Asia-Pacific region. We will identify potential research targets, articulate issues of business interest in the region for possible study, establish networks to enhance the exchange of ideas on particular topics, and help with office, translation, and travel needs.

What role have alumni played in this endeavor?

The enthusiasm and generosity of alumni and friends of the School have been extraordinary. Many have volunteered time, advice, office equipment, and ideas. They have also suggested research topics and provided contacts in the region.

How did your previous career prepare you for your current position?

Investment banking exposed me to the macro and micro aspects of operating and developing ideas across a dozen jurisdictions in Asia. Being educated and having worked in Asia, the United States, and Europe has given me a measure of appreciation of the diversity in cultural and business practices. Moreover, serving on various public sector and nonprofit boards started me thinking more deeply about what it takes to build intellectual and human capital and prepared me for the processes we are now engaged in with our own faculty.

What are some of the cultural differences between doing business in the West and in Asia?

The West tends toward litigation and formal agreements to resolve conflict, while Asians prefer arbitration or out-of-court settlement. Management-labor relations in Asia are also generally less confrontational, families figure more prominently in organizational structures, and ties between government and business management or shareholders are closer. But the Asia Pacific is not a monolith and spans cultural traditions as diverse as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, to name but a few. Dispute resolution, enforcement of legal judgments, data transparency, corporate governance, environmental concerns, and management-labor relations vary significantly by country within Asia.

How has the business climate in Hong Kong changed since the switch to Chinese rule?

I don't perceive any change in the business climate as a specific result of Hong Kong's reversion to a Special Administrative Region of China. Where the Hong Kong business climate has changed significantly has been the result of our living in what has been described as a "radioactive neighborhood," that is, a region with a contagious economic flu. Real estate and labor costs are considerably lower, but economic growth projections remain cautious. There is concern over more fractious management-labor relations with rising unemployment. Government's role in education, technology, and Hong Kong's competiveness is being reassessed. And the emphasis has shifted from asset inflation to deflation. The focus in Hong Kong now is very much on the reconstruction of Asia and our competitiveness. Hong Kong-Beijing relations have not posed difficulties to date.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1980, Section H

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