In November 2014, The Conference Board China Center convened the country CEOs of its member companies in Shanghai for a biannual CEO Council session. The meeting was hosted by Unilever, and a total of 30 senior-most executives attended.
In the six months since our last China CEO Council, the lively debate about China’s impending soft landing versus hard landing has subsided, and a new consensus has emerged that business conditions have worsened—and continue to worsen—for multinational corporations (MNCs), both as a function of slowing growth and intensified adverse regulatory engagement. In particular, China’s unique and robust Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) investigations and remedies (directed disproportionally, if not exclusively, at the foreign business community) have introduced a new and higher level of difficulty and risk. Implemented in August 2008, the AML—regarded initially by many to be a ground-breaking reform in favor of a more market-driven environment—is turning out to be anything but.
During the session, members debated potential evolutions of the China business environment and discussed and shared views on contingency planning needs and assumptions. A summary of discussion points, learnings, business issues, poll results, and member insights from the Council session can be found in this write-up. China CEO Council sessions observe Chatham House Rules, so these notes provide only a high-level, sanitized synthesis of the discussion.
Additionally, in advance of the CEO Council, The Conference Board polled member CEOs about their assumptions for the near- and medium-term across a range of issues. Thirty country heads responded, and the group also filled out its biannual pulse survey on the economic outlook. The China Center staff compiled the results and reported them back to the CEOs during the Council session to enrich the discussion and highlight areas of alignment and differing perceptions. The results of the polling are also summarized in the session report.