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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
Canada's National Interest in the Asia Pacific:
Trade and Investment, Political Change and International Security

Tony Yuen,
Senior Vice-President, New Market Development,
Northern Telecom Limited and Vice-Chairman,
Nortel China Limited, Toronto

It's always good to be doing something different. I must tell you there's a number of firsts for me this morning.

I've never been asked to speak on Sunday morning. I've also never talked to a diverse audience, such as yourselves on a subject I know nothing about; public affairs.

Finally, even though I have a lot of experience in doing business in Asia Pacific, I probably wouldn't be here, except for Alan Pearson, who worked with me a bit last year and knew that working in an environment is not the same as talking about it. So, he asked me to share some of my thoughts about the time I spent working in Beijing.

Before I get on with my talk, I also want to tell you this is the first time I've talked in Canada without a set of notes. I did bring notes with me, but yesterday having listened to three speakers and how emotional they feel about themselves and what they've done in Canada, I felt that anything I would talk about was totally inappropriate.

Let me tell you what I'm not going to talk about. I'm not going to talk about Northern Telecom.

It is very difficult, challenging and rewarding to be a $20 billion Canadian company where the capitalization is more than of the parent Bell Canada Enterprises. Nobody would have thought it could be done.

I'm not going to talk about how well we're doing in Asia Pacific, even though we've only been there for less than 10 years and we're really gaining market share.

I'm not going to talk about how well the Canadian government has supported us, particularly the embassy in Beijing and the ambassador. It's not just Northern Telecom, but a lot of businesses that decided they want to do business in China.

I'm not going to talk about the next generation of satellite technology, which will have a major impact on the information industry in the years to come.

Those are topics for other times.

I'm going to talk to you, though, about what it feels like to be a Hong Kong Canadian. I use the word Hong Kong because I was born in Hong Kong. I spent my first 19 years in Hong Kong. I feel extremely proud to be part of Hong Kong. I was so poor in Hong Kong I was happy like hell. I just felt it was the right place to be; I was born there and there was so much I could do.

I feel even prouder that I'm a Canadian right now, because there's so much I've done in the past 33 years in Canada. Everything I ever wanted to do, I got a chance to do.

So, I want to talk to you a little bit about how I feel about being a Canadian from Hong Kong working in Canada and

how that experience brought me to Asia Pacific and what I've done in Asia Pacific, which remotely [has] anything to do with this conference.

I heard a lot yesterday about how people feel being an immigrant. Certainly, coming over when I was 18, having gone through a Chinese high school, which didn't teach a lot of English. Certainly, it is a challenge to go to university when your language is not at par. It's fair for me to say that the only 'C' I got in my university career was in English.

The other thing, too, though is, whether we like it or not, what's happening in Russia and everywhere else is [that] English has become the business language. You cannot do business without the English language.

That puts us in Canada in a very good position to do more business around the world, because it's the language everybody uses, including the Japanese. When they have to negotiate with somebody else in China, they're not using Japanese — they're using English.

Yes, there's many languages around the world, but fortunately for us, English is the business language right now around the world. So, I get a chance to practise my English a lot. I get a chance to practice my Mandarin a lot, as well, because of living in Beijing and spending a lot of time in my job, which includes government relations.

I spend a lot of time with the Peoples Liberation Army, the state planning commission, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Commission and they feel it's very important that we communicate with them in the Chinese language. So, it's more than politeness. And you find in translation [that] a lot of the real meaning gets lost along the way.

Having picked up the Mandarin language because I'm from Hong Kong so I speak Cantonese. In the last year-and- a-half it's become quite obvious to me that in working in the East and West it's difficult to find a balance. We'll probably have to live with the fact that if you're working in Malaysia it's important that you can speak Malay.

If you're working in Taiwan, it's important that you can speak Mandarin.

In going through what I've gone through in the last 25 years, I find that every job I do for the company — if I feel I'm up to it — I'm given the job.

So, I've never seen the kind of discrimination that I thought I heard a little bit of. Well, if you're not Scottish maybe you don't get a Scottish job; if you're not Irish, you don't get an Irish job and so on. I don't feel that at all.

The other thing I want to mention, though, is when you work in a place that is a well-groomed in the socialist state, so to speak, like China, it's a very different world. Living there is a very different world; having sat on the board of all joint ventures of Northern Telecom is a very different world.?Running the joint venture, which is going to be run by partners and they don't have to follow the corporate policy of Northern Telecom, or to some extent the general rules of engagement from the Chinese government, is a different world. Negotiating a contract seldom takes more than a year and a half. It's true, it's a different world.

Trying to train people in middle management is more like knowledge transfer and not technology transfer, even though my job in China is to transfer technology into all joint ventures. It's a different world.

Working with people with absolutely no middle management skill is a very different world. Spending time in Beijing, there's a very limited amount of exposure to anything. Certainly, you can connect to CNN, the Internet and all that, but it's very limited. It's a different world.

Travelling a lot to Hong Kong and Taiwan and talking to a lot of my friends and relatives who are still in Hong Kong and how they feel about the coming of 1997 is a different world.

Spending time in Taiwan and looking at how Taiwan looks at the People's Republic of China and how they feel and what want they to say and what they don't want to say in front of an audience is a different world.

Looking at how Singapore competes with Malaysia on everything, including the information society, because not everybody can win the same game all the time is a different world.

The only point I want to make is that you have to be there to feel it. You have to be there to touch it. You have to be there to know what you have to do. You can't just talk about it.

The other thing I want to share with you is actually related to being a Canadian. I know we have a lot of concerns about what we can do better in Canada, but I think you have to believe me when I say that Canadians are extremely well received in almost every single country in Asia Pacific.

They like us. They think we're honest. They think we are hard working. They think we may have good retirement homes, I don't know. But, generally speaking, they think we are neutral enough that they can trust us.

So, yes we may not yet have a strong policy on certain topics that all of you feel very strong about in your heart and in the way you express yourself, but certainly Canadians are doing very well in Asia Pacific; all the Canadian companies that I have come across.

Also, if you look at actually what transcends the Canadian situation, the best example I can give you is what happened in Sweden. Sweden has only six or seven million people, so they're exporting a lot. Look at a successful company like Ericsson. Less than two per cent of their business is in Sweden. The other 98 per cent is the rest of the world. And it's not just telecommunications. They have cars, they have good stainless steel; they have tennis balls and so on. So, how can this be done with so few people? But, they did it.

Ericsson is awesome in Asia Pacific. They do about 23 per cent of their business in Asia Pacific Ericsson is even a bigger company than Northern Telecom.

So, there's a lot of things we can do to actually get a much bigger share of the Asia Pacific market if we focus on what we can do as a Canadian nation and as companies who have decided to go after the business in Asia Pacific.

Finally, a point about relationships.

You cannot develop relationships unless you work with people. You can't do it on the phone. You can't have relationships if you only meet with people once or twice a year, because a lot of other people meet with other people as well and then you get lost. If you really want to develop relationships, you've got to stay focused.

Nobody can do well in all the Asia Pacific countries. So, you have to be selective. Right now we're doing really well in Hong Kong and Taiwan, mostly because our technologies fit more into the advanced telecommunications users of the world.

We're doing reasonably well in China, mainly because of the fact we're committed and we have done it in terms of technology transfer.

We're doing extremely well in Australia and New Zealand, because we can't speak the language and we feel there's a little binding in this British Commonwealth.

We're doing decently in Japan, even though $150 million worth of business in Japan is peanuts, compared with the addressable market in Japan, which is in the billions of dollars.

We're doing well in Singapore and Malaysia, because they want to get into the information society and the Canadian government has been pushing for the Canadian information infrastructure, IT 2000, so there is a match.

We're trying to do well in the Philippines and Thailand, because they're setting up many new operations around the region because of the regulation. So, all in all, if you can't do it all you have stayed focused. And you have to do it with people who really understand the region.

The way we're doing business right now is that we're trying to pick the best people in each region so they can run the business in the region. There's no way we can send people over and hope that they can be so good in understanding that part of the world [that] they can run it better than the people there.

So, the program we have is more of localization and the job that people like myself do is to make sure that I give them the knowledge and insight about what we're good at in the company and in the Canadian environment so they can succeed in it.