The cultural gap in biking: China versus Europe

May 5th, 2015

How many times was I told: “Gilbert, it’s a loss of face to go to an official meeting or a 5-star hotel on a bike. You are a boss, you cannot do this”.
So, why not? Many Chinese still have this attitude, brainwashed by their “loss-of-face” obsessions and the prestige to have a car. No thanks, we Europeans don’t think that way, leave the cars to the Americans with their automotive addiction. Now more and more European cities switch from cars to bikes and in many cities cars are the enemy – much like in my home town Ghent (Belgium). In several EU countries even ministers use a bike.
I also brought up this “loss of face” during my speech for the  Exclusive Dialogue with Vice Mayor of Beijing Ms. Cheng Hong, see

Our Swedish friends showed the example in China Daily:
“Swedish Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport Gabriel Wikstrom (second from left), along with Swedish Ambassador to China Lars Freden (first left) and World Health Organization Representative Bernhard Schwartlander (right), ride bikes to a meeting at the WHO offices in Beijing to promote good health and environmental protection. More than 80% of Chinese adolescents do not get enough physical activity, a major risk factor in obesity and the development of chronic diseases.”

In polluted and congested Beijing, biking is the solution to get somewhere on time and to unclog the traffic. Also, I can have my beer(s) and bike home. With a car, zero drinking, plus no parking etc. On the positive side, the city government is increasing the outlets for rental bikes and media such as The Beijinger promote it nicely, see also their explanation of Chinese terms.

Yes, biking is a hazard as Chinese respect nothing and traffic regulations are a joke. Traffic police does not exist so Chinese do whatever suits them. Cars and arrogant pedestrians occupy biking lanes, all while looking at their mobiles and/or smoking. One traffic rule seems to be that under no circumstances should a driver keep his eyes off the mobile.
Anyway, I always bike. Cold, hot, rain, snow, sunshine. I am happy to have found in a U.S. supermarket a great rain outfit. USA, the country of cars has this stuff, China no. Get that.
Of course I look like coming back from Ebola country but I could not care less. The set is super light and compact and I can put it over my shoes, trousers etc. And unlike the Chinese rubbish clothes, it does stop the water.
See the pics. With and without on 27 April. And my friends on WeChat showed massive support…

As for my little funny red bike, well, I have it nearly four years. Rather of poor quality I have persevered in repairing it, in the spirit of “Toxic Capitalism”. Many parts have been changed but I always return to the same bike shop on Dongdaqiao Lu where the more-than-retired staff serve me well and cheaply. Once they worked on it one hour and was billed … 25 RMB.

Another banquet in Diaoyutai for a mystery Taiwan seminar

April 29th, 2015

Sometimes life in Beijing for a foreigner can be both challenging and interesting. Like in my case, with my Chinese being reasonable for social contacts but pretty useless for business, it also sometimes leads to frustration.
The Chinese side (whatever that means) insisted I joined some big Taiwan seminar and banquet in Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, most probably the most prestigious location of the city, food being normally better than in The Great Hall of The People.
I managed to escape from the seminar, luckily, as everything was in Chinese without translation. On top of that all the speakers (idem in the Banquet) were shouting like hell, making it also rather annoying. My daughter was getting tired of the noise in the banquet.

So, what was it actually all about? I still have no clue. My entourage just tells stuff me on a need-to-know basis. No extras.
The seminar was in one building and the banquet in another one. Nice walk.
During the banquet I also escaped by not having to sit at the VIP table. There was just one more foreigner in the whole hall and he was sitting pretty lonely on that long VIP table. Nobody seemed interested in him.
I got however a lot of attention as many of our Chinese friends were there and many other came to take picture with me. So, smile, give business card, say cheers and then next one. Who they were, mostly again clueless.
Oh well that is part of Beijing life. A must to stay connected to the “important people”.
The food was good, the red wine was pretty good and some of the performances were nice.
The gardens of Diaoyutai are meticulously maintained and are lovely, and we were so lucky with the weather.. Once I was there for a night party and it was really pretty with all the lights on the trees.

Finalement, déjeuner avec Li Chunyan, auteur

April 27th, 2015

Voir article précédent:
“Les clés pour réussir sur le marché chinois par Chunyan LI”

Le 22 avril j’ai finalement rencontré en personne Chunyan, lors d’un déjeuner chez Morel (évidemment!). J’ai aussi eu le plaisir de recevoir une copie signée de son livre.
On avait tellement de choses à se dire…
Ensuite elle est passé voir mon ami Philippe Reltien de Radio France. Elle a certainement eu un séjour très chargé à Beijing…

Alcatel: why the company imploded by incompetence

April 26th, 2015

When I joined Alcatel in 1990, it was ranked the world’s top telecom company.
That changed dramatically over the years, the “employee shares” I bought became just junk. Their management was sclerotic, authoritarian and lacked any sense of a looking-forward strategy.
Not able to survive, the former champion slimmed down and merged with Lucent.
Now, NOKIA is to take them over.

Sweet revenge for me. I intend to one day write the story in detail, in a book.
Indeed, something like in 1992 we were sent to the London Business School for a seminar to reflect on the future of the company. I need to dig up the details as well as my recommendation. That time I was stationed in Bangkok, as the Alcatel regional director for Indochina – Burma. I was impressed how people in Thailand jumped into the mobile world and how NOKIA was at the forefront.
So, I wrote my report suggesting Alcatel to buy NOKIA. That was received with near ridicule: “Come on, that company is just in Hi-Fi stuff and alike”.
Around the same time I had internal opposition to quote to the Vietnamese DGPT a mobile network around Hanoi. Only after I complained to the President of Alcatel France, I got a quotation. The French lack of interest was explained as follows: “Why talking to the Vietnamese about a mobile network, they even don’t have a phone!”. Obviously a very ignorant reaction.
We soon signed the GSM contract. Guess what? It was the first GSM contract of Alcatel in Asia. Still today I can’t believe that: no contracts in China, Singapore or something? Kidding right.
Later in 1994 in Brazil, same story. I urged Alcatel do Brasil to focus on mobile and private markets. Nope. “We are a company of switching” (= the traditional telephone exchanges).
The rest is history. They completely lost the mobile market, among others.

Good luck to NOKIA. Hopefully they will make better use of the excellent engineering in the company: the incompetence was always with the management.
More details on the expected take-over:
Nokia to snap up Alcatel for $16.6b, China Daily 16 April 2015.

Beijing finally decides a new policy for e-cars, as I had suggested

April 26th, 2015

In my reports to the Beijing mayor (at that time, Guo Jinlong) and vice mayor I urged the Beijing government to allow e-cars to drive every day in Beijing, unlike other cars that are taken off the roads one day in the week.
See: Exclusive Dialogue with Vice Mayor of Beijing Ms. Cheng Hong,

Well, finally they did it and as for now the e-cars face no more restrictions as from 11 April 2015 till 10 April 2016. Hopefully they will extend that as in my opinion this could be a major factor to convince people to buy an e-car. Other incentives are that it is practically easy to get a license plate, while for normal cars the lottery is pretty hard to get one. Obviously there is still a lot to do to increase the amount of charging stations.
Indeed, the government goals for e-cars are 500,000 new energy vehicles on the road by the end of 2015 and 5 million by 2020, but sales in 2014 were well below the target: 74,800 all-electric and plug-in hybrids.
It will be interesting to see the impact on sales later this year.
Read the full story here: