【英语中国】中国咨询行业面临洗牌

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2013-11-27 09:12

小艾摘要: When the first small partnerships tried to register themselves as consultants in China in the late 1990s, the Communist-ruled country did not even have a category for “management consultant” as a ty ...
When the first small partnerships tried to register themselves as consultants in China in the late 1990s, the Communist-ruled country did not even have a category for “management consultant” as a type of business.

Since then, Chinese consultancies have done a little too well. There are now hundreds across China, ranging in size from a few individuals to a dozen firms that have grown to about 1,000 people each in just a few years.

By contrast, McKinsey & Co employs 18,000 people globally and 500 researchers and consultants in Greater China.

Less than two decades after the sector began, China’s homegrown consultancies are positioning themselves for a shake-out that will leave only the strongest standing. Firms compete ferociously for contracts but too often fail to give clients any more than superficial advice, a development that industry veterans say is detrimental for everyone.

“They end up recruiting people wholesale, and then putting in very low bids to get business, so that quality drops and clients are reluctant to pay,” says Liu Jun, senior partner at Bexcel Management Consultants in Beijing. One of the earliest consultancies in China, Bexcel has expanded slower than the rest of the industry, and now numbers about 130 consultants and researchers.

Undaunted, another early entrant, Alliance PKU Management Consultants now has about 900 employees and plans to expand 10-fold, targeting 10,000 employees within the next five or six years. That is a management challenge even for a management consultant, acknowledges senior partner Fan Yong, but he says it is necessary to stay competitive in the coming shake-out.

“In the next 10 years, the degree of consolidation in the industry will definitely rise. A few big consultant firms will emerge, and it will be really hard for the smaller ones to survive,” Mr Fan says.

Scale is needed if the Chinese consultants want to continue to serve the biggest Chinese corporations, many of which already operate in dozens of countries.

China’s first wave of outward investment often stumbled against local labour laws, environmental regulations and other issues that companies were unaccustomed to dealing with at home.

The country’s huge state-owned enterprises now rely on feasibility studies before taking on international projects, and private companies are increasingly likely to do so too, says Ken Wang, who heads RBC Capital Market’s Asia investment banking business.

Alliance PKU has dipped its toe in the water with case studies of investment policies in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, but it is clear the sector as a whole needs much greater capacity to keep pace with China Inc’s outward push.

Some sectors, such as auto manufacturers, have been quick to employ foreign consultancies that combine global reach with Chinese staff, but local consultancies have found a niche with midsized Chinese outfits, says Adeline Pairault of Capgemini Consulting, which also offers services in the country.

Although they model themselves on McKinsey, the services offered by Chinese firms vary. China has restricted banks from lending to property developers and other private businesses for more than three years, so some Chinese consultants have become experts in advising their clients on the shifting sands of grey market financing.

Private bosses also turn to consultants for advice on how to pass on their business to the next generation.

Other Chinese consultants specialise in due diligence, warning clients off acquisitions or business partners with red flags that might have been missed by foreign firms used to a stronger regulatory environment. “Chinese society has a lot of unique characteristics. Not only the culture, but also the circumstances of its development, the political backdrop, and the set-up within companies. So a purely Chinese firm has some advantages here,” says Bexcel’s Mr Liu.

Chinese consultancies also have some uniquely Chinese problems. State-owned clients are big enough to generate a lot of business, but they are notoriously reluctant to pay for services.

The smallest consultancies often bid low to win work, but then struggle to get anything beyond the client’s initial deposit. Alliance PKU requires its clients to pay at each phase of the project to ensure there are no disputes at the end.

“The pay rate on our projects is very high. We’re at 95 per cent. This is something we are very proud of,” Mr Fan says.

Additional reporting by Zhao Tianqi

20世纪90年代末,当第一批小型合伙制公司试图在中国以“咨询公司”的名义注册时,这个共产党执政国家的公司类别中甚至没有“管理咨询”一项。

自那以来,中国的咨询公司发展得有些过了头。目前全国各地有数百家咨询公司,有的只有几名雇员,也有十几家在短短几年内发展到约1000名雇员。

相比之下,麦肯锡(McKinsey & Co)在全球拥有1.8万名雇员,其中在大中华区雇佣了500名研究员和咨询顾问。

中国咨询行业诞生不到20年后,本土咨询公司即将面临一场洗牌,只有实力最强的公司才会幸存下来。各公司激烈争夺合同,却往往只能向客户提供肤浅的建议,资深行业人士称这种情况对任何人都不利。

北京远卓咨询(Bexcel Management Consultants)高级合伙人刘军(见上图)表示:“结果是它们大批招人,以极低的报价赢得业务,导致服务质量下降,客户也不愿付钱。”远卓是中国成立最早的咨询公司之一,扩张速度不及业内同行,现约有130名咨询顾问和研究员。

同样较早进入咨询行业的北大纵横管理咨询公司(Alliance PKU Management Consultants)迎难而上,它现在拥有约900名雇员,计划扩张到现有规模的10倍,目标是在未来5至6年内将员工数量增至1万名。高级合伙人樊勇承认,即使是对管理咨询公司来说,这也是很大的管理挑战,但他认为,要在接下来的洗牌中维持竞争力,这样做是有必要的。

樊勇表示:“未来10年,行业整合程度注定将提高。少数几家大咨询公司将脱颖而出,小公司生存将变得很艰难。”

如果中国的咨询公司希望继续服务于中国几家最大的公司,就必须维持较庞大的业务规模,因为这些客户公司已在数十个国家开展业务。

中国的第一波对外投资往往遭到当地劳动法和环境法规阻碍,面临一些中国公司在国内不常遇到的问题。

加拿大皇家银行资本市场公司(RBC Capital Market)亚洲投行业务主管Ken Wang表示,目前中国的大型国企在启动国际项目之前,会以可行性研究为依据,而私企也日益青睐这种做法。

北大纵横已涉足这方面的业务,对斯里兰卡、埃塞俄比亚和哈萨克斯坦等国投资政策进行案例分析。但显而易见,整个咨询行业仍需显著扩充业务能力,方可配合中国企业“走出去”。

凯捷咨询(Capgemini Consulting)的阿德琳?佩罗(Adeline Pairault)表示,汽车制造等领域动作迅速,聘请了业务遍及全球并雇佣中国员工的外国咨询公司,但本土咨询公司也找到了自己的利基市场——中国的中型企业。凯捷咨询也在中国设有业务。

尽管中国咨询公司普遍仿效麦肯锡的模式,但它们提供的服务各不相同。中国限制银行向房地产开发商和其他私企提供期限超过3年的贷款,因此一些中国咨询公司成了灰色地带市场融资咨询方面的专家。

私企老板也在征求咨询公司的建议,了解如何将企业交给下一代。

中国的其他咨询公司则专门从事尽职审查,警告客户不要收购或是避开有问题的商业伙伴——习惯于更严格监管环境的外国咨询公司可能注意不到这些问题。远卓的刘军表示:“中国社会有许多特色,不仅是文化不同,发展情况、政治背景和公司内部结构也不同。因此纯中国的咨询公司在这方面具有一定优势。”

中国的咨询公司也面临中国特色的问题。国企客户的庞大规模足以带来许多业务,但它们不愿支付服务报酬却是出了名的。

小型咨询公司往往开低价以赢得业务,但除了客户最初的定金之外,它们很难再得到什么。北大纵横要求客户分项目阶段付费,确保最后不出现纠纷。

“我们项目的付款率非常高,有95%。我们对此很自豪。”

赵添琪补充报道

译者/徐天辰

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