CHINESE business leaders will gather on June 26th in Tianjin, a charmless industrial city near Beijing, for the annual “Summer Davos” conference. This talking shop for big shots, organised by the World Economic Forum, will feature endless discussions about the fourth industrial revolution, panels on the internet of things and briefings on other whizzy topics that occupy the minds of business leaders the world over. China’s bosses will lap it up. The country wants to shift from its position as the world’s sweatshop to become a powerhouse of creativity and invention. The priority for corporate chiefs, runs the fashionable refrain, must now be to embrace trailblazing innovation and technology. In fact, a better bet would be to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of management.

China does need to shift from brawn to brain, but Chinese companies are not going to turn into Google or Apple overnight. Most of them, especially those controlled by the state, will continue to plod on in unsexy industries, such as steel or cement, for some time yet. For this cohort of firms, the central problem is not a lack of futuristic thinking or transformative innovation…Continue reading