Our intrepid hedge-fund mole is visiting red-hot China Internet companies this week (BIDU, SINA, SOHU, etc.). An old China hand, she’s noticed a funny change in the country of late: Chinese CEOs are now as overtly pleased with themselves as American ones.
No More False Modesty
When I studied in China in the late ’90s, we were taught that when someone paid you a compliment, it was impolite to reply “Thank you.” Cultural protocol dictated that you did not confirm that the compliment had any merit whatsoever. Instead, you were supposed to reply, “Nali, nali?” or “Where, where?” as if the compliment were being paid to someone not in the room…
Chinese management teams, however, no longer project such false modesty. They have taken their cues from global counterparts and now not only accept compliments, but enhance them.
In my meeting today with the finance director of a large Chinese portal company, for example, I began by complimenting the strength of the company’s most recent quarter (the common and blatant analyst obsequiousness you hear all the time of quarterly conference calls). Instead of saying “Where, where?”, the corrected me and said the company had “strong quarters, plural.” No doubt he was joking a little, but, wow, compared to the old Chine, that’s swagger worthy of Yao Ming.
Do the CEO and his team deserve the credit for good performance? Absolutely. They’ve thrown up some nice quarters. But let’s give some credit to broader trends:
- the average Chinese user spends an estimated 16 to 18 hours per week online. Compare that to the average US user who clocks maybe 12 hours.
- Internet penetration in China is far less mature than in the US.
- Online advertising in China is a nascent industry.
Given all these factors, it’s harder to miss a quarter in China these days than to make it. But that hasn’t stopped Chinese Internet CEOs from following in the footsteps of their big-headed American brethren.