A Quietly Revolutionary Approach to Global Innovation

e+i  Dec 2011


"Make the World Smaller: Bridge the Differences, Bridge the Opposites"

 - Ming-Jer Chen, Darden Professor of Business Administration and AOM President Elect, Annual Academy of Management Conference, San Antonio, Texas, 2011

At the annual Academy of Management conference, leading scholars and academics challenged attendees to meet the call of the “West meets East” conference theme by “Enlightening, Balancing, Transcending.” An in-depth conversation with Darden Professor Ming Jer Chen follows, in which he shares his vision for the Academy as its president-elect.  

 Also captured below are highlights from this year’s “all-academy” events, which included an impressive presentation by HTC co-founder and CEO Peter Chou and a provoking panel discussion of deans from Asia’s leading universities. 

Ming-Jer Chen – A Quietly Revolutionary Approach to Making the World Smaller and Better 

 Spend some time with Ming-Jer Chen, and his desire to make the world smaller and better becomes quietly apparent. Chen’s approach to achieving such a monumental task is both ambitious and straightforward. His method is commonly referred to as an “ambicultural” approach, one that embraces the best of both Eastern and Western business practices and philosophies, while shedding the worst. Companies, executives and managers who are able to bridge the cultural and business divides in this manner can create not only tremendous value but also a better world. 

 For Chen, what makes a company truly global is not the number of offices it operates globally or the percentage of international suppliers or any of the traditional metrics companies typically offer to affirm their “globalness.” Being global is a way of thinking that represents a fundamentally new mindset and a transformed corporate culture. 

 According to Chen, companies such as Gillette, Corning and HTCdemonstrate an ambicultural  mindset, one that is marked by a brilliant and culturally egoless ability to meld the best of Eastern and Western philosophies and business practices. For example, the ability to stand up to the forces clamoring for short-term earnings and profit in favor of “long-termism,” which values what is effective for the long term, including the patience required to achieve it. 

 Chen shared an interesting anecdote that sheds some light on Samsung’s approach to expanding its global IQ. In the late eighties – long before Samsung became a household name – the company regularly sent dozens of its executives to the U.S. for executive education programs at leading business schools. Upon completion of their study, and prior to their return to Seoul, executives had to drive across the country, and through at least fifteen states, to get reimbursed for their travel expenses. According to Chen, Samsung’s initiative demonstrates a grassroots understanding of what a more global company perspective begins to look like.          

 Chen’s interest and willingness to make the world smaller and better reflect one of his key strategic priorities for AOM. His goals for the academy as its president-elect are focused on three areas: continued emphasis and leadership on AOM’s intellectual/research initiatives; a renewed and reinvigorated commitment to service, particularly from a top-down perspective; and a reduction in the gap between scholarship and practice. Chen will assume the presidency in August 2012. 

 Chen said he feels obligated to live up to the expectations of the people who shaped his success, two mentors in particular: William H. Newman, a co-founder of the Academy of Management and one of the first four business professors to teach in China, and Master Yu-Yen, Chen’s spiritual leader and teacher, a cousin of the last emperor of China who studied with the four most celebrated Chinese philosophers of the early 1900s. 

2012 AOM All Academy Headline Event 

Bridging East and West: Asian Business Schools and Models of Management Education and Research  

This thought-provoking session featured deans from leading business schools across Asia, who answered the question: Is there a distinct Asian model of management education and research?  

Dean Bernard Yeung of National University of Singapore framed his response in this way: Do we Imitate? Innovate? Imitate and Innovate? Or Leapfrog?  

Yeung contended that an Asian model does not exist: the basics of good management education and research are universal. The challenge facing him is to ensure the relevancy and impact of the curriculum.  Business schools in Asia are in a unique position to take advantage of their geography to train students to propel sustainable economic growth in the region. 

Interestingly, 20 years ago there were fewer than 100 MBA students in China. That number has since ballooned to 30,000. Within China, there are diverse populations with differing approaches to business.  According to many of the deans, this diversity – within China and throughout Asia – underscores the need for domain-specific, local content as part of the Asian management education experience. 

Dean Baris Tan of Koc University in Turkey offered an interesting perspective. Koc, a private university in Istanbul, bases its approach to management education on a liberal arts core and includes social responsibility as a key component of its mission. 

In my conversation with Ming-Jer Chen, he agreed with the prevailing sentiment of the deans – specifically that there are two opposing forces at work in Asian business schools today: the pressure to conform to the status quo, which is built on the U.S. educational model and places a heavy emphasis on top quality, research-driven scholarship, and a more mindful attention to the differences in cultural contexts, grounded in the humanities. Chen commented that a potential mix of the two educational models might offer the most promising solution. 

Of note, the majority of deans stated that they have shortened their MBA programs from two years to 12 to 16 months, and that globalization will be a key challenge for the foreseeable future. 


HTC CEO “Humble Breakthrough, Quietly Brilliant: Ambicultural Management at HTC” 

HTC Logo

 A particular highlight of this year’s conference was the presentation by Peter Chou, CEO of smartphone giant HTC. HTC was founded in Taiwan in 1997 with 10 employees (one of whom was Chou). In 1999, the company entered the market with the world’s first color palm-size PC, which in 2000 was resold by Microsoft.  In 2006, HTC launched its global brand, and today, the company is the world’s 5th largest smartphone vendor, with 11% market share in Q2 2011, according to industry analyst firm IDC. 

 In the early-to-mid 2000s, under Chou’s leadership, HTC made a huge strategic bet. Chou and his board decided to transform HTC from an unknown manufacturer of smartphones, which were repackaged and resold to carriers such as Cingular, Verizon and T-Mobile, to a company with a globally recognized brand. 

 Major motivators for taking such a large bet, Chou commented, were the “me-too” options and the “business as usual” mentality. These were not good enough to propel the company to the next stage of growth.  Chou viewed his job as CEO to create long-term intangible value for the company, and to do that, HTC had to globalize its brand. HTC had to transform from an unknown tech company to a global lifestyle company that openly contributed to consumers’ quality of life. But to achieve that, a dramatic shift had to occur. 

 HTC soon realized it didn’t have the talent to achieve its objectives, so the company sought out and hired the best people from around the world and empowered them to give HTC their best. In short, HTC managed to morph its corporate culture. What does the HTC culture look like? It’s a melding of the best of both the East and West, as illustrated in the following chart. According to Chou, the traits and approaches to business listed here are strengths of the East and West, respectively.  



  • Hard working
  • Loyal
  • Flexible
  • Aggressive
  • Risk takers
  • Long-term view
  • Persistent
  • Humble (i.e. listening is lauded)
  • Win-win point of view
  • Strategic thinking
  • Systematic perspective
  • Goal-oriented
  • Innovative
  • Out-of-the-box thinking
  • Logical
  • Analytical and scientific thinking
  • Marketing excellence
  • Open and direct


 HTC’s logo, shown above, captures the HTC ethos and its “East, West” philosophy. More specifically, HTC is a quietly brilliant company, smart and humble enough to listen, but also bold and strategic enough to take big bets and become a global leader in the high-growth smartphone market.  

 Chou was clear that a key component of HTC’s success was empowering its employees – not just in word, but in deed.  According to Chou, HTC employees understand that “this is my company.  I own it.  I’m going to make it successful.”  

 In five short years, HTC has become a household name, alongside Apple, Nokia and Samsung. Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of HTC’s success is its bottom line.  In 2003, HTC’s annual revenue was $630 million and net income was $54 million.  In 2010, revenue was $9.57 billion and net income was $1.36 billion. HTC has pivoted as a company multiple times and has established an emotional connection with consumers. HTC has also captured the spirit behind this year’s AOM conference theme by creating a unique and powerful “East meetsWest” approach to business that is reshaping the global electronics marketplace. 

Joyce Smaragdis 
Associate Director for Outreach
Batten Institute 

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