IBSS academic investigates organisational culture from distinctive perspective

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A new book by Dr Xiaoguang Qi, associate professor at International Business School Suzhou at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and deputy director of the Operations and Supply Chain Excellence Institute at XJTLU, explores the organisational culture of multinational companies (MNCs) from a business anthropology perspective.

Business anthropological research is an emerging interdisciplinary field that combines management studies and anthropology, the study of humanity.

“Business anthropology can be defined as a practically oriented scholastic field in which business anthropologists apply anthropological theories and methods to identify and solve real business problems in everyday life,” said Dr Qi.

Dr Qi’s book, 'Study of Organizational Culture in the Chinese Operations of Multinational Companies: A Business Anthropology Perspective' (People’s Publishing House, April 2016), is based on his postdoctoral research of over 10 years of observation of MNCs in China.

He explained that due to economic globalisation, transnational cultural exchanges are becoming more frequent: “How to treat cultural differences and how to serve MNCs’ organisational cultures and cross-cultural management by applying the differences to cross-cultural communication is a practical problem in contemporary global business,” he said.

In the book, he focuses on two international shipping companies located in Dalian, Liaoning Province, China. One is a Japanese company, meant to represent eastern culture, while the other is a French company, to represent western culture.

Through several anthropological research methods, such as participant observation, informal interviews and various survey techniques, the unique organisational cultures in the daily business context of the two companies are investigated.

Dr Qi’s research shows that organisational culture is dynamic and changeable. As a MNC enters the Chinese market with its parent company’s original organisational culture, the organisational culture will develop to combine both the company’s home culture with Chinese culture. The new culture will help MNCs to operate in China successfully.

In order to operate MNCs successfully in China, in his book Dr Qi suggests that upon entering a new market, MNCs need to first respect and learn the local environment and culture before developing “harmoniously” with it. This is to ensure, according to Dr Qi, that the companies understand cultural differences, discover new trade and development opportunities, and avoid unnecessary trade and management costs.

“MNCs can fully reflect the cross-cultural advantage after forming a new organisational culture by combining its home culture and the new culture, taking advantages of its own and competing more effectively with its peers,” added Dr Qi.

Unlike other scholars who are viewing this topic from a management perspective, Dr Qi carries out research and analysis from the perspective of business anthropology, making his research unique and distinctive.

Dr Christopher Marquis, professor of management and organisations at Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, said that since research in the field of business anthropology was in the early stages of development Dr Qi’s work has the opportunity to be a “foundational piece in an area that will likely increase in prominence in the future”.

“The book provides a fresh angle to understanding formal and informal organisations in a business context. I strongly recommend Dr Qi and his book, which I believe will bring new insights to the integration of anthropology and management studies,” he added.

Dr Qi currently teaches a Year Four module on business strategy as part of the BA Accounting programme, in which he has embedded his research theories and approaches developed for the book: “I hope my students are daring to explore new areas, accept diversity and are willing to contribute to lifelong learning,” he said.

Dr Qi is a lifelong member of, and a PhD supervisor at, Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary fellow of the Global Social Media Impact Project at the University College London. He was also a visiting research professor at Peking University, and currently a visiting professor at Tsinghua University.

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