The past week was one of transition for me. My swanky work-from-home contract ended and I began a new contract with a company that requires my presence in the office every day. After almost two years of being home based, the concept of bathing daily and wearing pants was a bit of a shock. Traffic here in the Dallas area is a friggin’ disaster, so commuting ~20 miles each way is a bummer. The upside is having co-workers with whom I can chit chat and look in the eye as we speak.
Anyway, the company I’m working with is based out of China. It’s the first Chinese company at which I’ve worked, so there are some cultural nuances I’m still trying to learn. Over half the folks in the office are Chinese. There’s a quite a bit of conversation that goes on in Mandarin, which makes it the first workplace I’ve seen where business conversations are conducted in anything other than English. Of all the challenges, communication is the one that requires the most attention on my part. My role as a recruiter demands a substantial amount of time speaking with people over the phone and I’ve become quite adept at understanding folks for whom English is a second language. It’s even less of a worry when speaking with someone face-to-face. But I’m sure there will be head scratching from people when I inevitably drop some relatively obscure cultural reference.
One matter that should be self evident is the dichotomy between a nation’s government and its people. Reams have been written about China’s leadership and their attitudes toward the Chinese people and the other governments around the globe. Suffice to say “ruthless” is probably the most appropriate description of the government in Beijing. Conversely, the Chinese people much like people everywhere are more concerned with day-to-day matters like eating, educating their children, and creating a better tomorrow for future generations.
All of the Chinese people I’ve met and will be working with directly are incredibly warm and friendly. They have a tremendous work ethic and are dedicated to being successful. Of course, they are some of China’s best educated and not a fair representation of their population as a whole. But the ones who are here is the US have embraced their host nation and wish to stay. Anyone who says America isn’t still a shining beacon of freedom or the land of opportunity needs to spend some time with someone who came here from abroad.
Perhaps I’ve been fortunate in my career since everywhere I’ve had the pleasure of working has been rife with camaraderie and a strong work ethic, so it’s just another office in that respect. But it’s odd how one’s perception of a nation’s government can subconsciously influence expectations about its people.
Which, I suppose, makes me no different than some Euro-hipster stricken with Bush Derangement Syndrome.
China is not alone in that respect. We’ve learned that Saddam’s regime was not a fair representation of the Iraqi people’s attitudes, and if reports from dissidents are true the US isn’t broadly regarded as the Great Satan in Iran. Americans are quite lucky that we enjoy a standard of living that allows us to contemplate geopolitical concerns rather than fretting over whether we can feed our families.
From an economic standpoint, the industry in which my new employer competes – telecommunications equipment – has fallen into disarray since 2000. Our domestic competitors have been ravaged by failures and mergers, and foreign manufacturers (like Nortel, for example) are facing bankruptcy and mass layoffs as well.
One competitive advantage a Chinese company enjoys is lower costs. They can therefore offer a technologically equal product at a lower price. So with a strong commitment to R&D, competitive product portfolio, and significant price advantage my new employers is growing at a rate of 40% annually while other telecom manufacturers are hemorrhaging employees.
So I’ve found an oasis in the telecommunications desert.
One of the things that has troubled me most about the new Congress and White House has been rumblings about scads of new laws/regulations that will further erode the US business environment. The recently passed Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – opening the door for an explosion in litigation costs as trial lawyers go trolling for huge payouts on contingency – is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a federally mandated week of paid medical leave being discussed. Card check legislation can bring a portion of the Big Three automaker’s woes to thousands of other companies. Costs of any universal health insurance mandate will almost certainly be foisted onto employers.
Then the big enchilada – carbon taxation. Making energy more expensive affects businesses at every point of the supply chain. Heaping regulation and taxation on every company in the US doesn’t bode well for our economy or jobless rate.
I riffed on the Californication of the US economy in a previous post, but it’s something we all need to seriously consider. Over at National Review there’s a post on the effects of California’s cap-and-trade legislation and its impact on businesses. It’s not pretty. A rational assumption is that Washington would use caution when legislation they’re contemplating at the national level causes a catastrophic explosion in one of our fifty laboratories of democracy. But reason has never been one of the federal government’s strong suits.
It’s frightening to imagine that the only hedge we’ve got against serious, long-term damage to the US business climate is a razor thin margin preventing cloture in the Senate.