TN-China Network (TNCN) members had the opportunity to network and converse with China retail expert Todd McKean at a members-only dinner July 9, 2019, at Lucky Bamboo China Bistro in Nashville.
Todd McKean is a third generation China hand with more than 30 years of experience living and working in China and throughout the Asia region. He studied Chinese economics with a focus on socioeconomic implications of labor migration throughout his undergraduate and graduate degrees at University of California Santa Cruz and John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, respectively.
As part of the team who built the early Nike China business, Todd helped open the first Nike retail stores in China in the early 1990s. He later shifted to their corporate responsibility team and ran their global labor and environment efforts. Following his time at Nike, Todd started his own consulting company and helped several brands launch their businesses in China. Todd has significant experience in government relations, retail operations and corporate and social responsibility. He now works for a large international technology company, heading up its supplier responsibility team in the greater China area. Todd’s connection to Tennessee are his parents in Johnson City and his U.S. home base in Gallatin where they enjoy time on Old Hickory Lake as often as possible. Todd is based in Shanghai, where he lives with his family.
At the dinner, Todd spoke about living and working in China over the past 30 years, including watching Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform policies come into effect and build up China’s economy. He discussed his experiences with corporate volunteerism and supplier responsibility, and the challenge rapid technology growth poses to the workforce. He also spoke on the difficulty young professionals have finding homes and raising families in first-tier Chinese cities due to residency and school system laws.
The group then enjoyed a lively round table discussion about various aspects of conducting business in China. They discussed the juxtaposition of China’s open economy with its strict political system and its effect on foreign businesses in China. Todd acknowledged the benefits of working for a large company that has had a positive and valuable impact on China’s economic growth when cooperating with the government. He stressed the importance of having a government relations team in your company, as well as “playing the long game”, rather than giving up at the first sign of trouble. He pointed to Volkswagen’s success in the Chinese market as an example. He also praised the accomplishments of Tesla, Marriott Group, and Disney.
Dr. Ming Wang, of Wang Vision Institute, asked a question that sparked a conversation on the differences in Chinese and Western marketing strategies and their roots in the distinct aspirations of the young generations in each.
TN-China Network Executive Director Elizabeth Rowland asked Todd if he had encountered labor union elections in China. He responded that he’s seen different cases where labor unions vary in effectiveness and level of actually serving the workers’ interests.
Kent Rollins, of Nashville Display, asked Todd what lessons he thought the U.S. could learn from China, to which Todd emphasized China’s advancements in sustainability and environmental protection. For example, Shanghai recently enacted a new law mandating that citizens have to sort their trash four separate ways – this is just one of the many ways China is making strides in recycling practices.
Overall, the participants had a wonderful evening filled with informative exchanges, fun conversations, and delicious authentic Chinese cuisine!