Letter from China – No: 3

Things seldom work out well when people stay too long in the same place. It is the same with things. They get worn out after years of use and need to be replaced. That is why we build new houses and have new kitchens.
Ordinary folk change jobs, change partners (divorce) and move to new places. But it is more difficult with people in power. They never seem to move, even when the “best by” date has passed. In Finland we see many recent examples. Just look what damage Ollila and Stubb have done. The first did not leave Nokia fast enough, and now he has made a big mess of Outokumpu. Stubb, for his part, is so unrepentant. He even complained about the futility of the last 2 governments, even though he was one of the most influential decision-makers in both of them. Now he is doing his 3rd term in office? Even Obama, Blair and Berlusconi cannot, or do not, have a 3rd term in office.
And it is the same with those old-boy networks of board members in the big companies. If you shuffle an old pack of cards long enough the cards get very worn. It is little wonder that Finland has seen dwindling exports. New products require innovation, customer perceived quality and value for money. I do not believe for one moment that our “12% higher cost of labor” is the main factor behind falling export sales. There are just too many lethargic bosses out there who have been sitting around for too long. VW’s CEO should have been sacked, but he got millions and a company car when VW was caught cheating big time. And didn’t he know? Of course he should have known – if not the system of management is rotten. In both cases the golden handshake he received is never justified.
I am saying this because I witness the daily travails of the Chinese workers here in Hainan. I see the real estate salesmen line up for their morning pep talk at 08.00h. They are still at their desks at 21.00h calling customers. They work 6 days a week and Sunday.
I see the waiters lined up next door, at 16.00h, ready for the dinner shift, when they sing their restaurant’s song, after the boss has given instructions on how to handle clients and show their best.
They all take pride in their jobs – 6 days a week. There are no unions protecting them from slavery. They are not paid a wage fixed by PAM or SAK. They work hard and are pleased to start to earn an honest living.
And these people are not our enemies; they are too far away and living in another world just now. But sooner or later they will be our important friends and neighbors. We have so much to learn and re-learn what life can be like. I am not saying that we should remove all of our safety nets nor am I saying that we should ban unions (employers and employees).
No, I am just reminding myself and others that it is important to work and take responsibility for your own life and others near you. It just like learning Chinese, or any language, blood, sweat and the midnight oil are needed. These are the same ingredients that we all need when we work. However, you can only be so enthusiastic for so long. Change is always needed to spice up life and work, and that is just as important for bosses and leaders as it is for ordinary folk.

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