Power Distance and Collectivism

Rachel Horvath looks to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to examine her experience interacting with companies in Hong Kong and Mainland China as a 2017 Operations Global Lab participant.

Our travels in Hong Kong and Shanghai for the 2017 Operations Global Lab gave our group the opportunity to experience the impact of cultural differences in a professional setting. While getting used to the subway system and fast-paced nature of the two cities proved to be a challenge for me, an even bigger adjustment was learning to adapt to the customs of our Chinese host companies.

One of the most memorable visits of our trip was to Totole, a large food producer based in Shanghai that, among other things, makes products with the uniquely Asian “umami” flavor. After our tour of their chicken bouillon plant, we had the opportunity to meet with the president of Totole. This meeting highlighted the importance of power distance that is part of Hofstede’s cultural dimension.

China’s high power-distance rating was made clear through a few characteristics of the meeting. First, the carefully arranged seating situation placed the president at the center of the table, with his advisors to his side and our group on the other side. Next, Professor Dickstein and Zach were presented with expensive green tea that was poured and refilled throughout the meeting. This is a sign of both wealth and respect for the leaders of our group. He spoke through a translator and maintained strong eye contact, and at the end of the meeting we presented gifts in a more formal manner. In Chinese culture, the presentation of gifts as a sign of respect and hospitality is an essential part of doing business with both domestic and foreign partners.

I would contrast this visit to our GM-SAIC visit where the woman, an expat from the US, made her presentation much more informal and interactive. The GM-SAIC plant is a joint venture between General Motors and Shanghai Automotive Company, so this visit was a perfect example of the intersection of east and west that could be found in Shanghai. The woman who presented also discussed her experiences as a businesswoman living abroad while her husband and family are in the states.

China’s collectivist culture was most obvious during our visit to Wong International Holdings. We were shepherded around by multiple employees who were all eager to answer any questions we had, and it was clear throughout the day that our tour was the result of a group effort on their part. When we were being shown the technology, two of the men who had developed the tablets gave the presentation together, and worked with one another when handing out the tablets or explaining technology.

In many company overviews that I have seen at Fisher, there tends to be one or maybe a few people discussing the company, but they usually have much more defined roles in the presentation. Typically, in the US one person will do an entire part of the PowerPoint before moving on to the next person. This same style of collaborative presenting was also seen at TAL Apparel, Continental, and Crown during our visits, speaking to the broad reach of Hofstede’s cultural dimension of collectivism.

Overall, this trip allowed myself and fellow participants to broaden our knowledge of international supply chains while at the same time deepening our cultural competencies and ability to adapt to different styles of doing business. For me personally, the trip gave me the opportunity to bring my specialization in Operations together with my minor in Chinese in a way that has enriched my experiences both in a classroom and professional setting.

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