Ambition, China and Europe

In tomorrow’s edition of leading Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, I have written a column about ambition, China and Europe. The point is straight-forward: The Chinese companies I work with, easily understand that successful companies in the 21st Century need to pursue a purpose beyond profit if they want to engage employees, customers, suppliers and others to work with them and even work for them.

Chinese CEOs are hungry. They are driven by a strong determination to win, not only in China, but globally, and they will win. Not because they are smarter than managers in the west, but because they work harder and because they are more hungry for success.

Therefore I am gradually selling the shares I have in big Danish companies. I simply don’t have confidence in their boards who are dominated by finance people in grey or black business suits with no purpose beyond profit. The boards tend to employ CEOs who share the same lack of purpose. It happens everywhere, in banks, in construction companies, in manufacturing and in service. And even worse, the same lack of vision and perspective is penetrating the public sector under the “New Public Management” umbrella. Just look at the lack of vision in the Danish Parliament.

I am personally neither unhappy nor depressed. Because I have the privilege to start new growth businesses with a purpose and even more importantly, I have the means to go out and make a difference beyond business (for me this is Scouting). But for Denmark and Europe, I am concerned: We are gradually eroding what our ancestors built up and we are getting poorer and poorer every day. I have enough, but this will affect a lot of Danish families who certainly do not have enough.

I invite your comments and contributions. We need them!

15 kommentarer til “Ambition, China and Europe”

  1. Karoline

    So then, do you think that Chinese are not running after profit? So what is motivating them then? Yes in Europe we are getting poorer but some “big fish” are getting richer. We have lost our sense of purpose. But how is it in China? I am curious Lars? NO doubt they will beat us up, the future is in Asia. And what do you think we should do? I have no pb with getting beaten up by China. Perhaps what is making them stronger is that they are not used to think the European “selfish way”. China has always been more important to them (Chinese) than their little person, but for how long is it going to last before they reach our our little “selfish way” stage?

  2. Charlotte Fabienke

    Hi Lars
    When you say that Chinese companies understand that they need to pursue a purpose other than profit to be attracktive to their environment how do you envision this purpose (or purposes)? Long tern survival, profitability, growth or something completely different?

  3. Lars Kolind

    I don’t think China will necessarily beat the Western World; if we took advantage of our (human) resources, we could definitely compete. But Europe has fallen asleep and I just want everybody to know what the consequence is!
    Chinese managers are very profit-driven and I think that they accept my “purpose first” law because they believe that will give them more profit in the end. I have nothing against that although I personally think differently.
    “Purpose” means the ultimate impact of what the company does, such as clean water instead of pumps, better productivity instead of cutting tools and quality of life instead of high-performing products.

  4. Mike Hohnen

    As you probably realize Lars you are not alone in thinking this way – to understand more about how some very interesting companies are already working with ‘Purpose’ check out this
    But i must say Lars i dashed out to find JP today thinking you would elaborate more on this theme – but found the JP article to have a lot les ‘birte’ and much more ‘tame’ than your post on this blog – which I though was a shame because you realy have good point with this.

  5. Kjeld Jespersen

    Hi Lars,

    I was at a very interesting talk at IMD last week with prof. Winter Nie on China and innovation, and while she (as an insider) acknowledges that Chinese companies have been and will continue to be very successful in adapting products to the (admittedly large) Chinese market, she questioned their ability to truly innovate. Much, if not most of their “innovation” to date has been making “stuff” cheaper and faster then anybody else at increasingly good quality. But there are a number of concerns she raises. First of all innovation is not a natural trait of the Chinese – their schooling system is largely focused on learning things by heart – most of the innovators in China today are foreign educated (sea turtles – I think they call them), and these will remain a minority. Further there are big societal/demographic problems summed up by “they will get old before they get rich” and “they will get sick from pollution before they get rich”. There is no doubt in my mind that China and the Chinese are hungry and the will be able to live on “cheaper and faster” based innovation for a while still, but beyond that, I think there are grounds for concern,


  6. Jenny Wu

    Thanks for the topic “Ambition, China and Europe”and thanks for coming to inspire us.
    Yes we are more hungry to success after long time struggling with poverty, we have a big room to improve. We open mind to learn know how, practice and win. Win-win situation with the world, that’s the way we can win.

  7. Jenny Wu

    Innovation is human nature , experienced many vicissitudes, we need to wake up this inherent nature.
    Thanks again.

  8. Lars Kolind

    While working in China I hear the reference to schools focusing on “reproduction” instead of “creation” over and over again. China could benefit enormously from schools focusing more on creation; and combine that with the hunger and hard work that most Chinese people are used to!

  9. Jenny Wu

    I totally agree that China could benefit enormously from schools focusing more on creation and inspiration, and I’ve been praticing this notion on my child. However, to set up a fair assement system to “creation” is a big challenge to China. We are changing. We are looking forward to your masterful guideness!

  10. Frank Calberg

    Interesting thoughts about rethinking how education is done. Thank you. Some more inputs on the topic:

  11. david hansen

    Very truthfull and serious analyse, not to say “prophesy”. I truly believe that the decline of western influence are compatible to the neglect and loss of spiritual values. A friend of mine visiting business-colleges in China found teachers encouraging the students read the Bible “as it was a fundament for the success in business in the western hemisphere”. As I see your point aiming for a higher level than financiel surplus namely higher purpose, discipline and integrity it is so crucial, – “preach it”!

  12. Mogens Højgaard

    Very interesting thread!

    Lars draws some lines between the loss of value in the Danish society; our “lack of visions”, NPM and to the way politics are performed in Denmark (and/or the western world?). In this perspective, it could be interesting to get some point of views on the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

    The issue of TTIP is to maximize profits by putting companies well-being and liberal trade above environmental or social factors. E.g. corporations will be allowed to sue governments if a national law creates an obstacle for the free trade.

    Is this a picture of “lack of visions” and “business suits with no purpose beyond profit”?

  13. Lars Kolind

    Thank you for good comments. To observations:
    @David Hansen: Yes, I also see increasing interest in religion in China. It seems that many Chinese are starting to feel the emptiness of just striving for more and more physical goods.
    @Mogens Højgaard: I am not sure about TTIP’s impact. On the positive side is that free trade helps those companies win who have the best offering, irrespective of location. And it makes more goods available to more people because prices fall. That’s good.On the other side there are drawbacks as you describe. Overall I am a supporter of free trade if the international community is willing to regulate where necessary.

  14. Joao Paulo Feijoo

    In addition to the previous comments, I’d say there is a completely different relationship with time between Westerners and Chinese (and other East Asians for that matter). Borrowing from management concepts, we tend to see time as a “stock” variable, and focus on the present; time is a succession of present moments; consequently, we have a much harder time dealing with the long term and the distant future. East Asians, on the contrary, tend to see time as “flow” variable; they focus on the process and can see it flow, and on account of that they can deal much easier with the long term and plan much more into the future (incidentally, I believe this also completely changes the way the two cultures deal with generational differences). To use a metaphor, it’s like we are both watching a river; in the West, we’d sit on the bridge and gaze at the barges that come and go and never mind about what’s going on behind the river bend. East Asians would view the whole river from spring to mouth, and follow up the barge all the way to the dock.

  15. Jenny Wu

    Chinese culture somehow values abstraction – long history flew, we need to learn from western to seize the ‘barges’, the pragmatic approach.

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