IBD Team Thermo Fisher (Ramya Babu, Lisa Becker, Scott Crider, George James) worked with the China division of Thermo Fisher, an American multinational company, on a growth strategy project for its environment / water analysis segment.
Shanghai is not what we expected it to be. Even George, who had already lived in this city before was surprised by how modern and western Shanghai has become. We stayed in Pudong, aka “Pu-Jersey”, a 45-minute subway ride from the famous skyline of Shanghai. With nearly 25 million in habitants, Shanghai is currently the largest city by population in the world.
The most awe-inspiring thing to behold is the speed at which China is developing. Mega structures that did not exist a few years ago now tower over older buildings. The pace of growth and notion of limitless possibilities in China, and especially in Shanghai, is quite remarkable.
Food to Die For
Upon arrival, we acquainted ourselves with the area around the hotel, home to many expats. The local businesses cater to this population and thus there are many non-Chinese restaurants, with prices not much different from those of the Bay Area.
We sampled many traditional Chinese meals with our Thermo Fisher hosts, including lunches at the company’s business park cafeteria and dinners at Shanghainese restaurants.
One of our favorite meals was la mian, huge bowls of noodle soup for around 12 RMB (or $2 USD). Other favorites included xiao long bao (soup dumplings), Da Dong’s Peking Duck (Beijing’s most famous dish) and, of course, the local pijiu, Tsingtao.
We encountered a variety of people in the new, cosmopolitan city of Shanghai: cab drivers from the provinces, coworkers from Beijing, and foreigners from every corner of the globe. As different as they are, these people all share something in common – the pursuit of opportunity. From the rich to the poor, Shanghai represents the growth of China and the opportunity that a booming economy can create.
The people we met were very open to meeting foreigners, especially those who are interested in Chinese culture. George fit in well with the locals and made friends with the Chinese who appreciated his interest in Chinese language, arts and history.
Culture and Business
Interacting with businesses in China was quite eye opening. There were several conflicting characteristics that we observed. The most prominent are embracing proven ideas, struggling to adopt new ideas, and moving fast. As we spoke with our client and their customers, one idea was repeated throughout: the use of best in class practices combed from all over the world are representative of “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics”. The sheer thirst for knowledge that has been proven was astounding to observe.
In direct contrast to the assimilation of proven ideas is the struggle to adopt cutting edge ones. We used design-thinking processes that we had previously learned in the Problem Finding, Problem Solving class. Our client struggled to understand the value of diverging from common practices to flush out insights. This was especially interesting given that the client is a large multinational corporation based in the United States.
We are truly grateful for the hospitality shown by the city of Shanghai, a constantly evolving city that everyone should visit at least once in his or her lifetime.