Not long after the Tiananmen Square revolt in Beijing in 1989, Jeff Shuman, HRE's 2011 Executive of the Year, was among 11 HR executives invited to participate in a U.S. Executive Exchange Program with the People's Republic of China.
Shuman recalls that the Chinese government was interested in having HR professionals visit in order to learn Western-style management techniques, while the American executives gained a better understanding of how Chinese businesses work. He and his colleagues spent five weeks in the country, followed by Chinese executives visiting the United States later in the year.
"Going to China in the early '90s was just a huge culture shock," Shuman says. "Every paradigm you had about what life was like outside the U.S. was just changed totally."
Shuman calls the experience "absolutely fascinating," particularly the brainstorming sessions where ideas were shared (via translators) between the two sides. The group also travelled extensively and visited two to three businesses a day and even met with Ministry of Commerce officials.
"It was probably the most eye-opening business and life experience I've ever had," he says. "It was a fascinating experience, spending time learning and understanding what we call HR and, in their case, their even-more encompassing definition."
Shuman recalls one Chinese company's representative showing off a new HR information system during the group's visit.
"First, a Microsoft logo comes up on the screen, then some stuff in Chinese," he says, "and then we saw a big hammer-and-sickle logo. So I asked: What am I looking at?"
Apparently, the company's HRIS system included Communist Party files on all its workers, including their political and religious affiliations.