Huh? Western Gurus Preaching In Taiwan?

American management guru Peter M. Senge has found a believer in Young Show-ing. The Taiwanese professor, who teaches business at National Sun Yat-sen University, has translated Senge's book The Fifth Discipline into Chinese--and speaks reverently about Senge's advice for managers. Where ordinary Chinese dictionaries failed to capture the essence of Senge's ideas about vision and dialogue, Young says, a book by a Taiwanese Zen master had the solutions. "In the teachings of Zen, I found the words I needed to explain these Western management principles," says Young.

Taiwanese looking for an edge in business are embracing U.S. management gurus. Over the past year, a parade of Americans from Senge to entrepreneur Bill Byrne to Harvard business school's Mark McCormack have promoted best-selling versions of their books in Taiwan. The pickings are easy. Eager to glean the latest in Western ideas, many Taiwanese businesspeople think nothing of forking over $100 a pop to attend half-day seminars with their gurus.

Behind this market is the growing number of Taiwanese returning from overseas, lured by the greater opportunities in Taiwan's booming economy. But their time abroad has left them addicted to some American ways of doing business. "These people start asking: `Where are the consultants? Where are my outside resources?"' says Robert Juarez, an American management consultant based in Taipei.

Besides being an enticing market where authors can earn up to $25,000 a day in appearance fees, Taiwan also offers them a chance to take their first step into China. Unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, where similar books and seminars are presented in English, Taiwan's market is dominated by works in Mandarin. That's a big advantage for authors thinking of making the move across the Taiwan Strait. Like Western recording and cable television companies, many authors see Taiwan as their China lab. "With the tested market in Chinese, it is easy for Taiwan to serve as a bridge to the Greater China market," says John Hei, president of Yu-long Management Consulting Co., who brought Dale Carnegie's training programs to Taiwan in 1987.

Hei and others already are making the leap. Yu-long last year was the top franchisee for Dale Carnegie, graduating more than 7,000 Taiwanese students and raking in more than $4 million, and has won franchise rights for Shanghai and other major Chinese cities. Hei soon will be sending Chinese teaching materials and instructors there. Meanwhile, Young's Zen-inspired translation of Senge's book is on sale in China. The professor has also started traveling throughout the mainland, explaining Senge's principles of System Dynamics.

JOE MONTANA. The move into China will be slow. Consultants say China isn't ready for many Western management concepts. Publishers are also hesitant because of China's problems with copyright infringement.

Moreover, many of the gurus' intended converts remain skeptical about the suitability of applying popular American business concepts to Chinese culture, where small, family-run businesses have predominated. When Taiwanese companies have employee training, they tend to focus on specific skills such as sales, English, and negotiating. They have yet to discover more esoteric topics like "how to create a learning organization."

On their tours in Taiwan, the gurus also sometimes forget that they are not in the U.S. anymore. During a seminar in Taipei in March, Harvard's McCormack frequently mentioned sports figures like golf legend Arnold Palmer and football great Joe Montana. The references to those Americans left many in the audience of 1,300 baffled.

To compensate, some gurus are tailoring their ideas. During his recent Asian trip, Senge spent four hours talking to a leading Zen master to learn about similarities between his principles and ancient Chinese thought. For now, though, most U.S. business gurus are finding that they don't need to consult religious counterparts in order to succeed in Taiwan.

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