Getting HQ On Board the ‘China Train’

Published : March 2018

The primary job of the China CEO is to ensure that opportunities in China are maximised for the company as a whole. Getting HQ on board the ‘China train’ means helping them see where the business is headed and how you plan to get there. According to one China CEO at a recent IMA forum, ‘I do not worry about getting boxed in by the idea that “Mr. China” is speaking. I have to advocate for China because that is what I am responsible for.’

Keeping headquarters informed of the environment in China is an unending task. As people change, and the story changes, getting HQ to see your point of view, as you and your teams see it, is imperative. One IMA member teaches his team to ‘argue as if you are right, but listen as if you are wrong.’ Forgoing the art of persuasion, and letting slip a negative attitude, can be counterproductive to the goal of getting the support from headquarters that is needed.

It does no good to complain that HQ does not understand China. The China team need to use HQ’s language to help them see the picture clearly. One IMA CEO found they had positive results when they shifted their attitude, ‘We moved from a complaining mode to a proactive one to influence the company. It makes a huge difference whether you blurt out, “you are not doing enough” versus saying, “this is what we need to grow the business by 20%.”’

At a recent IMA meeting, CEOs for China discussed the best methods for communicating with headquarters and revealed the following tips:

  • Do not leave too much to chance of misinterpretation. When messaging is unclear, it creates confusion leading to distrust.
  • Beware of letting communication fatigue set in and make the China case persuasively. At the same time, be cautious of over-promising and under-delivering.
  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a trip is worth a million conference calls. Bring HQ staff to China for short trips and secondments. Also, grab opportunities for board and strategy meetings to be hosted in China.
  • Demonstrate innovation to earn trust. Develop innovation for global application in areas where China is emerging as a leader. China’s speed, scale and increasingly consumer-driven digitisation can lead to innovations with global application.


IMA Asia’s China CEO and Management Forum members can read more in-depth highlights from this discussion via login here. To learn more about IMA Asia’s memberships, click here or contact us at service@imaasia.com.