… not Santa Claus! We wonder if the Chairman would be rolling in his
grave Mao-soleum if he knew he was on the cover of the latest issue of The Economist, looking all festive with a santa hat. Well, according to them, Mao is a role model of sorts for top Chinese executives even today. The four key ingredients of the Chairman’s art of management are: a powerful, mendacious slogan; ruthless media manipulation; sacrifice of friends and colleagues; and activity substituting for achievement. Here’s what The Economist says CEO’s can learn from Mao’s PR tactics:
Chief executives are not in a position to crush the media as Mao did. Nevertheless, his handling of them offers some lessons. He talked only to sycophantic journalists and his appeal in the West came mainly from hagiographies written by reporters whose careers were built on the access they had to him.
The law constrains the modern chief executive’s ability to imitate Mao’s PR strategy. Publicly listed companies have to publish information, rather than hand it out selectively. But many, within bounds, emulate Mao’s media management; others, determined to control information about them, are delisting. Burrow beneath laudatory headlines on business and political leaders, and it becomes clear that the strategy works.
And then, according to the Associated Press‘ veteran reporter John Roderick, the Chairman was not all that “ruthless”. Before the Communist takeover, Mao was even relatively tolerant of Christmas and Catholic priests to show how far they were willing to go to “curry favor” with the Americans, who were then sponsoring talks to “create a coalition where Communists and Nationalists would govern together rather than continue their warring ways”. We found Roderick’s recollection of Christmas in Yan’an particularly intriguing:
Though our dining hall was gaily decorated and there was a small Christmas tree, the holiday was largely perfunctory. The soldiers had their duties and I had mine, centered on the newsworthy Communists who, along with the 40,000 poor residents of Yanan, largely ignored the Yuletide festivities.
There were no gifts. When I once did send a simple present to Mao it was politely returned. It was not, he said, the custom.
Later, when I quit Yanan, Mao offered to pick up my board bill, a gesture I equally politely declined. I instead paid the stiff-backed American commander, Col. Ivan D. Yeaton. By then, the “who lost China?” campaign in the United States was beginning to raise its head and I recognized that news of Mao footing my tab would be pounced on by anti-Communist crusaders. The bill ended up on my Associated Press expense account.
Meanwhile, Newsweek‘s Melinda Liu talks about the dramatic change that has swept across China over the last three decades, in an amazing, sensitively-written article entitled Mao to Now. She speaks of how her elder brother was abruptly separated from the family by the Communist takeover, their eventual reunion, her years of experience as a journalist covering events in Greater China, including the return of Hong Kong and Tiananmen, and the multitude of complex factors that have been unleashed on China, and that have led to a new found openness and confidence. She skilfully blends in her own voice, and the experience of her family into the story of the new China, leaving us breathless and in awe at all that has taken place in such a short span of time. We heartily recommend you read it.
The Economist: Mao and the art of management
Associated Press: Mao Tolerated Christmas Before Takeover
Newsweek: Mao to Now