Graduation address given by Professor Hans Hendrischke

Professor Hans Hendrischke gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences graduation ceremony held at 4.00pm on 1 June 2012 in the Great Hall. Professor Hendrischke is Chinese Business and Management, The University of Sydney Business School.

The photo below is copyright, Memento Photography.

Professor Hans Hendrischke

Graduation address

Pro-Chancellor, Dean Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Colleagues, Graduants, Students, Families and Friends,

When the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences invited me give this speech, I thanked him for this honour and told him that yesterday was my last day in his Faculty, as from today I am a member of the University of Sydney Business School on the other side of campus. He still invited me to speak today and I am grateful to him.

I mention my change of position as an example of what may be in store for you in your future careers, as I also graduated in Languages and Social Sciences. As graduates in Arts and Social Sciences, your careers will take you into many different directions and most likely many different places as well. Mine did. I will not bore you with stories about studying in China on a fully funded government scholarship or living in China when it was still a revolutionary society. My language training led me to interpreting, including for people like Deng Xiaoping. My Social Sciences background led me to a PhD degree, work in business finance and later a university career. While I graduated on the other side of the world and at a time that was very different from now, I would like to talk about some of the similarities that came to my mind when preparing for today’s graduation ceremony.

When I grew up in Western Europe, people in my generation were convinced that our parents were so traumatised by the war that not only did they not quite understand what had happened to them but also that they did not quite know where things should be going. My generation did not fully trust our parents’ generation and that was one reason why we had the students movement of the 1960s, which is now a distant memory. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that parallel to all the protest that went on, two positive developments took place for which I now give full credit to my parents’ generation. One was the identification with Europe which they made possible; the other was their support for fully funded education and international exchange, including support for language learning. These two developments helped create a new world around us that looked much more interesting and exciting than the past. I will make the point that you are in a similar situation.

When reading or hearing about Europe today, there seem to be just modes of collapse. Collapse that starts at the fringes with Greece withdrawing from the currency union, or collapse from the core with France and Germany failing to agree on central policies. The missing element in all the reporting is the reference to the underlying consensus that originally informed the European Union and that in my view is much stronger than economic differences. This consensus is embedded in the minds of generations of people who grew up in post-war Europe and understood that the European Union was the only long-term alternative to war. Not just to the last two major wars, but to wars that went on for centuries between people who unwillingly found themselves on military front lines for all kinds of reasons. My generation did its share by telling our parents to forget about their enemy clichés and war stories, which was not always easy, and by making use of the opportunities we had to travel in Europe and to go on student exchanges.

Student exchanges and education were the other major historical development for the post-war student generation in Europe. Support for education, international exchange and language learning was general and education was fully funded for those whose parents could not afford to pay for living costs. In post-war Europe language learning was a way to enable a generation of people to overcome the memories of war and hostility by communicating and growing up together with peers from other countries who would have been enemies a generation earlier.

What is the link to Australia? Graduating in Sydney today, your situation is different. You have grown up in a multicultural society. Many of you will already have a big advantage over your parents by having learned a foreign language, whether it is English, French or Arabic or Japanese. Most if not all of you are familiar with languages and cultures in our region and other parts of the world. You don’t have the burdens of the past, although you might have experienced the hardships of migration. Obviously, Australia is not in the situation of post-war Europe when there was no alternative to integration with neighbouring countries which were former adversaries.

I argue that you face comparable challenges. You face the challenge of regional integration and of overcoming historical prejudices and clichés. You face the challenge of taking integration one step further than previous generations by learning languages and by using them to help you forge links with people from other cultures. You face the challenger of creating a common future with people from countries in this region.

One could argue that these are exaggerations. Australia is in an enviable economic position. Countries in the region more than others rely on us for energy, resources and, increasingly, agricultural supplies. This will remain so for the foreseeable future, as Australia is deeply involved in the historic shift of global economic power towards Asia, mostly China. Australia still is more integrated in the global economy than in the regional economy. As a market economy with highly developed institutions, we are surrounded by developing economies which we judge in terms of their maturity. Maturity we measure in terms of how close they are to our own economic model which we see as the norm.

But in fact, we are conflating two separate concepts. One is the economic concept of markets, the other the political concept of market economies. Markets drive business and economic exchange. Market economy for us refers to the organisation of markets through institutions similar to ours, such as rule of law, defined property rights and political participation to name a few. But our regional neighbours may organise their markets in different ways from us. They may have different traditions of government, different forms of political participation and different corporate structures. As long as we could assume that they will eventually become similar to us, there is little to worry about. However, when regional economies start to outgrow our own economy without becoming more similar, we have reason to reconsider how well we understand them.

Do we understand Indonesia, or China or India just by relying on the daily news reporting about a country like China or Indonesia? It is hard to find consistent information and analysis that is not contradictory. Opportunities for misunderstanding will grow as Asian economies around us keep expanding. We will be well advised to take pre-cautionary action by anticipating a common future that will require our commitment to investing in common languages and a deeper understanding of communalities and differences. This where universities play a role.

The University of Sydney and its faculties address these concerns in may specialised areas, but also through the general concept of Area Studies which is embedded in your curriculum. Area Studies are not the same as country studies. Area Studies go further by looking at how other cultures challenge the way we think about ourselves and how we can use our insights to better come to terms with other cultures. The Area Studies approach is critical and creative. It is critical in aiming to understand other cultures at a deeper level, including through their language and traditions that don’t fit into academic disciplines. It is creative by absorbing new ideas from other cultures as an enrichment of our own thinking and our professional knowledge. One practical outcome of the University of Sydney’s Area Studies strategy is the China Studies Centre.

The China Studies Centre is a cross-disciplinary centre that brings together over 150 researchers from all different areas who share an interest in China. I would like to use the China Studies Centre and some of the research that we are doing to explain what brings me to the idea that you are facing a challenge down the track.

One of our research areas is to look for new developments, in my case, the emergence of entrepreneurship. We do most of our research with Chinese colleagues by observing the formation of new businesses and entrepreneurs. Seeing businesses operate without the benefit of legal protection or enforceable contracts, without access to capital from the banking system could lead you think that these economies have a long way to go in order to catch up with us. That is, until you realise that these economies cannot be measured by the standards of a market economy in our sense. They force us to rethink our own economic concepts and this way our research in Area Studies contributes to the innovation of established disciplines like economics and others.

Two weeks ago we talked to two female entrepreneurs in China as part of a larger university project. The two had started their own businesses simply because they were dissatisfied with life in the country-side and a state factory. Starting a business was their way to escape from male dominated traditions that held them back in realising their own lives. Both had started from very humble origins. One was hand-on and managed her own shop and a tea-house. The other had learned managerial skills from a Taiwanese investor and had built up a network of contacts that enabled her to run a sophisticated energy-recycling business.

What impressed me talking to these women was their entrepreneurial spirit, how they turned shortcomings of the local business environment to their advantage; lack of bank credit into mobilisation of cheap equity, lack of meeting space into tea houses, lack of general compliance with energy policies into a new business.

The challenge that I see coming from China is therefore not one of bureaucratic state-owned enterprises or propaganda. Both of these have their limitations. The challenge is one of entrepreneurship coming from people who are enjoying business as way of personal fulfilment and who create new institutions as they meet new opportunities. China from my research perspective is in the middle of an entrepreneurial revolution whose consequences we have not fully grasped yet; as little as the official Chinese state media have fully come to terms with them.

Are these just academic insights confined to the university? Not for us working at the China Studies Centre and the Business School. We are working with one of the major global accounting firms on joint research projects that look specifically at the consequences of this entrepreneurial revolution, as it reaches into the global corporate world, including Australia. Like you in your future personal careers, Australia’s corporate sector has to come to terms with a new environment. There is even a new term for this. Drawing out the consequences of these developments for the corporate sector is called thought leadership.

My point was to show that you will be facing new challenges. In my view, these challenges are not based on threats in the clichéd sense, like in Europe where the threats came from the past. Your challenges come from the future with opportunities for creating wealth through regional and global integration across different professional and business traditions with people like yourselves whose traditions you have learned to understand and whose languages you speak. Your time at the University of Sydney will have helped to equip you to face these challenges and exert your own personal thought leadership.

Good luck. I wish you well.

Thank you.