As the second week of the trainees' trip to China drew to a close, we had already seen two very different faces of China. Having spent the first week in Shanghai, a 20+ million people city filled with international influences and impressions, where a Starbucks is never far away and the cars actually stop at traffic lights, and then travelled the Guangxi province, on the southern coast of China, where tuk-tuks still flood the streets, hotel staff barely speak English and all sorts of animal body parts are sold as food in the street corners, it was obvious to all trainees that there is not only one China.
Impressions from the first week have been shared by my trainee colleagues Eleonora and Frida. I want to share with you what I believe is an important learning from this trip for the trainees in our future careers. Let me start by giving you a little bit of background!
The reason why we are in Guangxi is because Stora Enso is currently building a paperboard mill here, which will affect many people in the region. In order to ensure that our operations will lead to increased prosperity and improved living quality standards for the local community, our sustainability team is working hard on numerous different projects aimed at creating shared value for us and the people living here. Some of these projects are in the start-up phase, and the trainees were tasked with giving them a "kick-start" by spending two weeks working on them.
In total, we worked on four projects, and my team studied the art of ancient papermaking in the area (did you know that paper production is a Chinese invention?) in order to come up with suggestions for developing the business. In order to do this, we conducted a field study visiting several production sites. It was an extremely interesting experience for all of us, which gave rise to many new observations and insights, not only about papermaking but also about Chinese culture and way of living.
Trainee colleagues Mikko and Mats learn about ancient papermaking
One reflection that we made during our field study is that information was quite hard to obtain. Due to potential translation difficulties between us and the local paper producers, we tried to ask as clear and straightforward questions as possible; however very often did we get inconsistent or ambiguous answers. Since the project group had been asked to make recommendations on how to proceed in the project based on the information we received, this was somewhat frustrating. Other groups had similar problems – it seemed that information was generally hard to come by.
After reflecting on this situation I realized that there is an important learning here. This is definitely not the last time that we will have to make decisions and recommendations based on limited information. If we are successful in our careers, we will end up in managerial positions sooner or later, and at that point we will frequently be faced with making difficult decisions. One factor that makes decisions difficult is the lack of information; however one must still make a decision based on the information available, without knowing for certain all the facts and numbers. I am not claiming that collecting information is unnecessary, but at some point in the process one must realise that some information cannot be obtained in a timely manner, and instead make assumptions based on what is already known. Having been exposed to this kind of situation early on in our careers through these projects, I believe that this experience will make the group of trainees much more comfortable and agile in making such decisions in the future.
In conclusion, this trip does not only provide us with tangible insights into Chinese society, culture and business world – it also educates us as decision-makers. Since it is soon time for us to return to our home locations, I look forward to using the experiences and insights that I have gained here in China. And, of course, to sleep in my own bed!
Until next time, stay safe