Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Business gurus treated like stars

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Harbin, China

Chester Elton, author of The 24-Carrot Manager, is little known in America, but draws large crowds in China, as can be seen by autograph seekers in Beijing in November. He urges managers to treat their workers with respect and reward them with gifts. Western management experts teaching everything from how to reward employees to how to foster innovation are flocking to China, trying to capitalize on the new capitalist frenzy.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

The crowded auditorium began to take on the feel of a rock concert.

At the urging of the speaker, people suddenly stood up and, to the pulsing strains of a Barenaked Ladies song, thrust their fists in the air and shouted, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

After the speaker finished, a middle-aged woman, who had been lucky enough to catch one of the souvenir furry carrots tossed into the crowd, dashed toward the podium like a wild teenager, seeking another one.

Then a larger throng of people scrambled toward the dais in search of autographs.

Elbows flew.

Something similar happened a few days earlier, at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, when a group of students and faculty members pushed one another trying to reach the speaker: a tall, Western business icon.

Several students crashed to the floor in the melee.

Everyone wanted to meet Chester Elton.

Chester Who?

Elton, the 46-year-old author of a tidy, 105-page management handbook called The 24-Carrot Manager, is practically unknown in the US.

But in China, where Western business and management gurus are suddenly all the rage, he is a big celebrity.

"I just love coming to China," Elton says while signing one of his books and nearly being pushed over in the frenzy in Harbin. "I feel like a rock star here."

Elton is actually just one of many popular management gurus: Experts say the country has a severe shortage of skilled business managers and a growing cadre of people who want to be the next Bill Gates.

So Western management experts -- teaching everything from how to reward employees to how to foster innovation -- are flocking to China, trying to capitalize on this capitalist frenzy.

The big names are coming, like Jack Welch, Stephen Covey and Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School specialist on competition.

But so are the lesser known. They are conducting management-training seminars, hawking their books, making television appearances and soaking up the adoration.

Many of them, like Elton, have even been hired by Communist Party officials, who are eager to transform China's struggling, money-losing state-owned companies into lean, mean capitalist machines.

Huge Demand for Training

"There's a huge demand for management training in this country," says Juan Fernandez, a professor of management at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.

"There's a transformation going on, from the state-owned mentality, where the only objective was production, to a market-oriented mentality, where you have to care about employees and customers."

And profits.

Along with the management gurus and motivational speakers, America's leading universities are now offering high-priced executive MBA programs here.

Major consulting firms are rushing into China to help state-owned companies restructure their operations.

The management problems are particularly acute here in northeast China, the nation's Rust Belt, where large industrial companies struggle with bloated, inefficient operations.

Hoping to reinvent some of these companies, government officials are asking Western experts to unleash a new form of government-backed propaganda, one with decidedly noncommunist slogans, like "downsizing" and "performance-based pay."

The management craze is also being fed by the growth of private enterprises here.

Business newspapers, magazines and television shows are proliferating; bookstores are stocking management bestsellers translated from English.

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