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Competing Through Joint Innovation

Emerging markets such as China and India have become the growth drivers of corporate research and development initiatives from all around the world. Although there is growing evidence that Chinese companies are shifting their innovation focus from cost saving to knowledge-based research, the view by many in the West remains that companies based in emerging markets are not ready to take over the role of leading innovators from their Western competitors. As a result, Chinese multinationals have been at a competitive disadvantage, particularly in strategic technology industries.

What can Chinese multinationals do to overcome Western barriers to entry in strategically important technology industries in which “Made in China” or “Designed in China” are viewed as negatives? What dynamic innovation capabilities — or, put another way, what culturally specific processes — should companies focus on to gain acceptance in the competitive global marketplace?

To answer these questions, the author studied Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the Chinese telecommunications company that has recently made significant inroads in Europe’s mature and strategically important telecommunications industry, making it a potential role model for companies in China and other parts of Asia hoping to make a similar transition.

In Europe, the author notes, Huawei has typically relied on the same strategy it used to build its market position in China. It has (1) offered customized technologies that meet the practical needs and resource constraints of target customers; (2) built customer loyalty by enhancing practical innovation with longer-term joint innovation partnerships; and (3) enlisted the support of governments, universities, and other industry stakeholders by customizing further innovation investments to their priorities.

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