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Meet the editor of... Journal of Technology Management in China

An interview with: Richard Li-Hua
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Image: Richard Li-HuaRichard Li-Hua, PhD, is professor of strategic management and development at Sunderland Business School, University of Sunderland, UK and an associate of Global Higher Education Consulting which promotes employability, entrepreneurship, innovation and internationalization in higher education as a response to globalization.

Through his teaching and academic seminars, Dr Li-Hua is well connected with world-leading master of business administration (MBA) and executive MBA (EMBA) programmes, such as Cambridge Judge Business School MBA, Tsinghua MBA, Tongji Shanghai international MBA, Shanghai global local MBA and Wuhan EMBA. Richard is also founder and current president of China Association for Management of Technology (CAMOT).

He is an internationally recognized authority on international technology transfer and Chinese business and management, and a frequent speaker at international conferences. He has consulted for business, higher education and government and is a regular contributor to leading international journals and the author of several books.

As a Chinese national and permanent resident in the UK with a range of commercial and academic experience, he is in a unique position to observe the interaction of Chinese and Western culture, and how differences between the two affect business negotiations.

An earlier interview with Richard can be seen in his editorial, "The challenges of the Chinese business environment", published in the Journal of Technology Management in China (JTMC), Vol. 1 No. 2 (Adolphus, 2006).

About the journal

The Journal of Technology Management in China (JTMC) is an international journal, launched in 2006, which focuses on technology management and knowledge transfer in the world's fastest growing economy.

The journal is aimed at both researchers and practising managers with an interest in the area, and hopes to increase understanding by publishing research and good practice. It seeks to promote critical discussion on the nature and process of technology management and knowledge transfer that is academically rigorous, multidisciplinary and with a global reach.

JTMC has published articles covering a range of topics, including knowledge and technology transfer, science and technology policy management, joint ventures between China and the West, the management of intellectual property, and brand strategy. The industries analysed range from construction to online gaming.

How has JTMC developed since it was first launched in 2006?

The journal has become really well established and has attracted the attention of, as well as being cited by, the world's leading researchers in the area, both in the West and in China.

It has out-performed other journals launched at the same time in terms of downloads. So I'd like to say a big "thank you" to members of the editorial team and the international advisory board for their part in making JTMC such a great success.

We publish three issues per year, with about six papers per issue. We are really looking for quality; we now [2010] have a 30 per cent rejection rate.

What is technology management, and why is it important to have a journal devoted to the Chinese perspective?

Technology management is hidden competitive advantage and the bridge between engineering, science and technology on the one hand, and people (including scientists, engineers and business executives) on the other. It's about trying to achieve the right fit between technology strategy and business strategy. It should belong at the top echelons of a company's operational management, along with human resources, finance and logistics. That's especially the case with technology-driven companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Lenovo.

As to the Chinese perspective, I'd like to make two points. Firstly, in the last 30 years, China's economy has grown rapidly and has become the engine of the world's economy. Three factors go to make up this success: China's achievements in science and technology, foreign direct investment, and the capacity of its labour force. The phenomenon has been variously referred to as new capitalism, market economy, or central command economy, but is in fact socialism with Chinese characteristics.

There's a sharp contrast between what is happening in China and in the West. In the West, a consensus has grown around the "New Right", with its privatizations, liberalization, deregulation and view that private is good and public bad. In fact, this has led to irresponsibility, the credit crunch, and recession.

On the other hand, in China the economy is strongly controlled by government. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has on many occasions referred (from the eighteenth century economist Adam Smith) to the concept of the "two invisible hands": the market and morality. The latter is embodied in the hand of government, which is very strong.

The second point is that despite the vigorous growth of China's economy – 8 per cent in 2009 and expected to be even better in 2010 – an appropriate technology and innovation strategy, with its structure and infrastructure for management of technology, has yet to be established. This is quite necessary in order to achieve sustainability of economic growth.

Doesn't it also help that labour is very cheap?

Yes, labour is cheap, and the market is huge. But the most important thing is that there is strong leadership and the development of enterprise is politically charged. It is unusual that with a fast growing economy, China still maintains a low salary system. However there is awareness of the big gap between rich and poor: that's an issue to be addressed.

Can you pick any articles/issues you've published that have had a particular impact on research and/or practice?

As I said at the beginning, the journal has been attracting world-leading researchers. There are many excellent papers from China and the West. The following are just a few highlights:

All these papers will have a significant impact on both research and practice in the management of technology field.

How do you ensure the journal's quality?

We have a rigorous review process involving double-blind, and sometimes triple-blind, peer review. We have a ten-point set of guidelines (listed below) and a marking system (out of ten for each guideline), according to which papers getting 49 or less will be rejected outright:

  1. Relevance – the article needs to fit with the journal's vision and mission.
  2. Originality in terms both of theory and practice. What is the contribution to knowledge?
  3. Clarity of thematic focus.
  4. Relationship to the literature and theoretical background.
  5. Rigour of research design and data (although this does not apply to conceptual papers and those which express a particular author's viewpoint).
  6. Critical quality and analytical rigour – the data presented must be analysed rather than just presented.
  7. Policy implications – does the paper have implications for government decision makers?
  8. Clarity of conclusions.
  9. Attractive to an international audience – the paper must appeal both to Western and Chinese readers, and not offend either side.
  10. The quality of the communication – the English grammar and style.

What are your plans for the journal over the next couple of years?

As we are now well established, we will need to build a much stronger team.

From 2010 I will be editor-in-chief, and we will be appointing an executive editor, Professor Wei Xie, from the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University. His responsibility will be to procure quality papers from China and promote the journal there; we also hope to appoint an editor based in the West. But the overall control will rest with me.

As far as special issues are concerned, we have published excellent ones on "Triple Helix in China: Strategic Challenges (Vol. 3 No. 1) and "Examining China's technology strategy" (Vol. 4 No. 3). The most recent, "Managing technological innovation" (Vol. 5 No. 1), was edited by Professor Tugrul Daim from Portland State University with selected papers from Portland International Conference on Engineering Technology.

What is the journal's relationship with CAMOT, and what are the latter's main achievements?

JTMC and CAMOT are closely linked having "grown up" together. CAMOT is an international organization for academics and researchers which currently has over 2,000 members, drawn from three categories: Westerners, Chinese working abroad, and leading, Chinese researchers based in China. All these groups share a passion for management of technology in China and interact through CAMOT.

CAMOT also supports a range of other journals, including Journal of Technology Management and Strategy in China, a Chinese publication which is published in Chinese and on an occasional, special issue basis. It deals with issues of technology management and strategy in China, and carries a combination of translations from JTMC and original commissions. We plan to increase the latter in the future.

I believe that you are of the opinion that the management of technology is under-represented in business school/management school and MBA courses. Why is this the case and why is its omission a problem?

Technology management is a very important issue which should rank alongside other management sub-disciplines such as human resource management and financial management. But it is under-represented, mainly because of lack of knowledge on the part of the leadership, the deans of business schools or management schools. This is very short-sighted, because future business managers need to understand every aspect of the workings of a business: technology, human resources, operations, finance and marketing.

It's also worth pointing out that the MBA is a programme originated from America 100 years ago. The MBA, once regarded as a prestigious qualification for senior managers, has been gradually losing its lustre in the last decade. Its value has been questioned and criticized since the 1990s for failing to provide knowledge and skills to enhance the employability and entrepreneurship of professional managers and address real business issues. My wife and I have just completed a paper which looks at how MBA learning and teaching could look at the integration of Western management and Chinese philosophy in the current economic climate.

What's your view of the attacks on in 2009 where "sensitive" information, e.g. on Tiananmen Square, was filtered and the e-mail accounts of notable dissidents monitored?

Before I answer this question, let me tell you a story. An American boy came to Beijing ten years ago, one day he told his mother that, although he liked living in Beijing, he had various problems. So his mother took him back to America. But then he discovered that he couldn't have the beautiful meals he'd been used to, so he returned to China.

Google has also been in China for ten years, and has been doing very well there: the search market is dominated by Google and Baidu. Baidu is a Chinese-language search engine with around 66 per cent of the market, and Google has 33 per cent of the market share in China. However, Google has been the market leader in the English-speaking world since the launch by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998.

However, at the beginning of 2010, Google met problems in China on human rights issues, and privacy and intellectual property rights problems in Europe, for example with Berlusconi in Italy. Google claims to have had serious problems with the Chinese Government, for example, over hacking.

Facing challenges and problems in China and Europe, Google is at a crossroads in its business development and future strategy. The involvement of American government even makes the case much more complicated. However I believe the indecisiveness and hesitation for Google reflects the wrestling over technological leadership between America and China.

My advice to Google is that it has to build its competitive advantage on its strength – continuous, technology-driven innovation. In the meantime as an international business, it should always, as an essential part of strategy, consider the external environment in whatever market it finds itself. Part of that is to be aware of political sensitivities: every country has these based on its culture and history.

So do you think that Google was right to threaten to withdraw, and then to decide to continue despite the hacking and the censorship?

In my opinion, it would have been a commercial mistake for Google to withdraw from China and that's why, only two weeks after having threatened to do so [on 12 January 2010], it announced it would stay and continue to build on its success. If you want to be a global player you have to do your political, economic, social, and technological (PEST) analysis, and, as the English proverb says, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do".

In a keynote speech delivered at Cambridge University Asia Law and Business Association's annual conference on 28 February 2009, you talked about the need to integrate Western management and Chinese philosophy. How can Chinese philosophy help us with the post-financial crisis in the West?

Because in business schools we teach how to manage, we take some of the blame for the current recession, but we also need to find some solutions. When we look at what has been going on in the last 30 years in the West, and in China, it's easy to make comparisons.

When I teach strategic management, I always refer to the work of Michael Porter. Michael Porter refers to The Art of War by Sun Tsu, written 2,500 years ago. I have made a careful study and comparison of the two and there are a lot of similarities between The Art of War and strategic management in the current climate.

The West and China have different philosophies; they collaborate, but they also fight. Many authors describe how the strategic lessons in The Art of War have become general constructs to solve a variety of problems. However, I believe the gist of it is "let's win without fighting".

The Economist predicts that by 2025 the Chinese economy will exceed that of America and become the world's number one economy. In the meantime I note that President Obama recently declared that America still wants to be "Number One". There are already a number of issues, such as the USA's weapon sales to Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, etc. which are hotly debated and which could constitute flashpoints.

I always say that Western culture and Chinese culture are like two chopsticks. If you manoeuvre the chopsticks correctly, they should cross. If they don't cross, but remain in parallel, then they will not work. We need the West and China to collaborate, share wisdom and win without fighting.

There have been classic examples of sharing wisdom between China and the West. I mentioned that the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, borrowed the idea of the invisible hands from the Scottish economist Adam Smith. A translation of The Art of War by Sun Tsu appeared in France in the 1772 and was read by Napoleon. Robert Morrison built the cultural bridge between China and the West and so on back to the eighteenth century.

One aspect of Chinese philosophy that would benefit the West – particularly in the current economic recession – is the culture of saving. In China people like to save, in the West people like to spend: the implications for the West's economies are obvious! However, in principle I am in favour of integration. In the twenty-first century, Chinese management will be important, but it will not replace Western management as both are equally significant.

You have also been active in encouraging the collaboration to which you refer, through academic partnerships between UK and Chinese universities. Can you say a bit more about this?

Internationalization in higher education should be not only about talking, but implementation. There is no future for those universities which have closed their doors and do not deliver international and global contents. In my previous position as director of China programmes at Salford Business School, I successfully completed my first Prime Minister's Initiative 2 (PMI2) project which enabled us to establish seven strategic partners in China, including Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Zhejiang University.

The immediate effect was that our staff and Chinese colleagues were able to share knowledge and increase their own understanding of employability and entrepreneurship, and pass this knowledge on to students.

My second PMI2 CONNECT project will enable me to visit MIT Sloan School of Management, Virginia Tech, Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University to consolidate my research links with colleagues there.

What do Chinese students find most difficult about studying in the UK?

It seems common sense that students face difficulties if they do not have sufficient English proficiency. However another underlined element poses immense challenges to students. Many universities claim to be international, but in fact, some of their staff members don't really have enough cultural sensitivity; they may teach international business but not know how to operate business in an international context. They may teach cross-culture management, but are not aware they are dealing with international students.

Publisher's note

Richard Li-Hua was interviewed in February 2010. The interview was updated in January 2011.

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