01 Dec 1996

On Eve of Transition, Alumni Conference Set for Hong Kong

by Elaine Gottlieb


The final stages of one of the most significant events in Asia this century Hong Kong's transformation from British colony to Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China will be witnessed firsthand by attendees of the 1997 HBS Global Alumni Conference. Titled "Greater China: Myths, Realities, Opportunities," the conference will be held in Hong Kong April 5 through 8 on the eve of the official transfer of power in June.

"We timed the conference to coincide with the transition," says David B. Yoffie, Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration and the conference's HBS faculty liaison. "It's an opportune time to consider how the change will affect business prospects in the region. By April we should have a clearer sense of what the future will hold."

With regard to the conference's first theme, Yoffie says that "the 'myth' involves the widespread belief that Greater China which encompasses the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong is a huge, open market of 1.2 billion consumers who will buy anything that any business has ever wanted to sell. That is not the case."

Rather, says Yoffie, the reality is that "China poses significant challenges to multinationals, in part because the role of government in the economy is still more pervasive there than in other parts of the world." But, he adds, as the world's fastest-growing economy, China is a land of unquestionable opportunity.

This "opportunity" theme will be addressed throughout the conference, as a distinguished lineup of speakers including high-level Asian government officials, business leaders, economists, and HBS professors help attendees with practical strategies for capitalizing on the real opportunities available.

One session on consumer markets will ask, for example, "Who is the Asian consumer?" Another session, on investments, will explore whether Asia indeed offers bullish possibilities. Sessions on specific industries will probe prospects in telecommunications, media, entertainment, services, technology, and infrastructure. The leaders of these discussions will include a number of HBS professors.

The Hong Kong conference will also consider China in the larger context of the Asian business environment. HBS professor Michael E. Porter will offer his perspective on the competitive challenges in Asia, to be followed by a discussion of his remarks featuring Asian business leaders. Westerners entering the Asian marketplace also need to know something about business relationships based on what the Chinese call guanxi, or "connection." The role of guanxi will be discussed in a session with panelists from major multinationals and Asian corporations who will identify common pitfalls for foreigners trying to conduct business in Greater China.

"Connection" known in the West as networking is an important part of HBS alumni conferences. There will be ample opportunity to interact with professors and peers and to meet Dean Kim B. Clark, whose opening remarks will elaborate on his vision for HBS in the 21st century.

Attendees will be able to have a firsthand look at Asian businesses during visits to Hong Kong companies and on trips offered before and after the conference to Beijing and Shanghai, cities that may well provide a glimpse of things to come in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong is bound to become more like China," concludes Yoffie. "The hope is that it will become closer to the Chinese market while retaining its modern infrastructure. Hong Kong will move deeper into the midst of the ongoing energy and creativity that has been driving the Chinese economy for the past fifteen years."


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