I am honored, for the third year in a row, to have been asked to write the Preface for this special CCAFM magazine edition. While a full year has passed since our last visit in 2012, the late nights we spent preparing the slide decks on the 22rd floor, the discussions inside the Melody KTV basement complex, and the look of satisfaction on the clients’ faces after the various Q&A sessions, all still seem like they occurred just last week. However, the real merits of our partnership, now in its 10th year, were truly rooted in the work we completed from January through May 2012, before this year’s new set of students began their annual work in June.
Especially when working across cultures, it’s always easy to, for lack of a better term, ‘robotically’ go through the motions and casually throw around terms like cooperation, improvement and trust, as periodically mentioning them sounds like the right thing to do. However, it’s quite another matter to internalize forthright feedback, and adjust and change one’s work habits to conscientiously follow it. Company President Dr. Fu was kind enough to meet with me in Shanghai last May. Over dinner, we had a frank critique of the past projects, our communication model and how much value we were truly adding to CCAFM’s clients. While we had ostensibly made an enormous amount of progress completing nearly 25 projects in ten years’ time, we both agreed some crucial, infrastructure-type changes could only improve the preparations for 2013. Amongst other items on our large “to do” list, the research depth would have to be dramatically increased, the approach to locating pragmatic case studies changed, and a need to complete the analytics without having the benefit of CCAFM sending an in-person delegation to Boston in the fall. Key personnel who had amassed years of vital, past experience— our so-called institutional memory— would be shifting on CCAFM’s side, as well. But what would make the need to innovate that much more pressing was my acceptance that the message over dinner had neither been lost in translation nor was it originating from 2nd or 3rd hand sources. All of the feedback was coming directly from our CCAFM colleagues who each had years of direct experience with the ICP Program. No one, including me, ever likes to identify challenges, but the only way to keep improving is through a true willingness to eviscerate past practices, regardless of how comforting or familiar they might be, and thoughtfully commit to rebuilding from the ground up. With those thoughts in mind, on June 6th, 2012 the project specifications arrived, and the 10th year of the cooperation officially commenced.
This year’s students did a Yeoman’s Effort successfully navigating through the uncertainty embedded in strategic consulting around the concepts surrounding Cross Border M&A, Centralized Fund Management and Business Model Innovation. Despite the vapid looks I regularly encounter from new students, when I emphasized the need early on for multiple, value-added case studies to be located, the 21-person group, working in three distinct teams, rose to the challenge and performed admirably. But, I equally commend our CCAFM colleagues for their frank feedback across the three sets of preliminary presentations in August, October and December. As vociferously as many of those same colleagues had offered their critique in advance of my meeting with Dr. Fu, so, too, did they then energetically follow through on their promise to review each and every slide, as well as the respective speaker’s notes, and even took the additional step of regularly doing so in a timely fashion.
While every consulting project is always a work-in-progress, even up through the Q&A session with one’s clients, I’d like to believe we’ve come a long way during the 2nd half of 2012. Each presentation this year cannot not only be delivered as a full, 100+ slide “story,” but they’ve also been specifically prepared such that different elements on management theory, the individual case studies, and the summary slides at the end, can efficiently be extracted and re-packaged into shorter, equally persuasive presentations. The hope is that different versions of this year’s work can be sent to various CCAFM clients, each of whom has their own respective goals they’re trying to achieve, as supported by CCAFM’s ongoing counsel. Particularly gratifying is the positive feedback this year’s work has uniformly received from many of these same CCAFM colleagues.
Outside of the day-to-day work with the students, we have also tried implementing different, bigger picture concepts related to our ICP Program. In terms of Programmatic marketing, our BC web site was expanded to better spread-the-word about our joint cooperation and to highlight many of the Chinese and English articles which had been published from past teams’ work. Additionally, a senior consultant from CCAFM agreed to call-in to a weekly radio show I began co-hosting to talk about her experience in the first-person, and the same radio station later agreed to broadcast other segments on the graduate students’ work for ICP. In terms of student recruitment, the videos from a few minutes of the actual 2012 presentations in Beijing were filmed and edited, and posted on the same BC web site, to provide prospective ICP students a unique vantage point on what to expect. From CCAFM’s side, and for their clients’ benefit, they followed through on their promise to vigorously, and frequently, promote the consulting work presentations, and conclusions, on their own bi-lingual web site.
However, probably the most exciting innovation over the past six months was discovering how to eventually implement General Manager Mr. Qiu’s suggestion of receiving external feedback on the students’ work, before the successive PowerPoint drafts were sent to Beijing for review. Within the close-knit team of “outsiders” I ultimately located, we would have to contend with confidentiality concerns, time management and a need for forthright feedback (often in absence of people having complete knowledge of the ICP Program’s overall scope). We owe a true “thank you” to the copious time this small band of executives spent supporting CCAFM and the students’ efforts.
Of course, a wrap up of our accomplishments this year would be woefully incomplete without writing a heartfelt “thank you” to the many people in Beijing and Chestnut Hill who worked tirelessly, and in multiple languages, writing, reviewing, editing and translating the content. Despite the countless time zones separating CCAFM’s offices from our classrooms in Fulton Hall at Boston College, during this year more so than in others, I sincerely felt each side had a true partner, and friend, after the “send” button was pressed on email. Compared with past ICP’s, conference call scheduling was much easier, humor was injected into many conversations, the language gap admirably dealt with, and mutual respect acknowledged for everyone’s hard work. Our students, with whom I had daily interaction, never ceased in their hard work and dedication, with many of them even working well into late December amending different portions of their PPT slide decks. To say they were excited to meet you face-to-face would be a tremendous understatement.
As much as continuous improvement is necessary internally, nothing can ever be successfully implemented without giving credence to the exogenous factors affecting today’s business environment. 2012, with all of the ups and downs, will certainly be a hard year to forget, and one that will likely be etched in the history books for years to come. Whether from my business and social networks, my commercial real estate tenants, or the growing Rolodex of current and past students, I’m often asked my thoughts on the short-term, and long-term, outlook for the US economy and my general thoughts on China. I continue to be bullish on each, acknowledging, however, that both countries are concurrently repositioning their economies for the long-term. China has had a statistically somewhat slower year, and 2012 was gradually improved for the US. Hopefully the worst is behind for all of us, with 2013 boding well for financial markets, consumer confidence and unemployment. On a personal level, I’m still maintaining my investment positions in stocks and bonds worldwide, optimistic that the events of the past few months, and even daresay years, will eventually firmly be routed in our respective rearview mirrors.
In conclusion, I wrote last year that my late father, who was always a huge source of guidance and inspiration in all facets of my life, often reminded me that “any company standing still, is essentially moving backwards,” as successfully running, or consulting to, a business, is a dynamic process. Win, lose or draw regarding the results, and critique, of everyone’s hard work from the middle of 2012 to the present day, thank you, once again, for another fine year of cooperation. As always, we look forward to continuing deepening our friendship in the near future. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.