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Friday, December 10, 2004

Corporate governance in China

In my undergraduate lecture course on American business history, I often take a few minutes at the beginning of class to talk about stories in the news recently. Most of those are stories in the New York Times simply because I read it before the Wall Street Journal every morning and some days I don't get to the WSJ until the evening. So today's "harvest" marks a change of sorts: the interesting news seems mainly to come from the Journal.

Case in point: In the "World Watch" column (WSJ, 12/09/04, A14), a brief report entitled "China Gives Minority Shareholders Bigger Role" from Dow Jones Newswires. Unfortunately, it's a tad opaque (incoherent?), so I will have to dig up more/better information elsewhere. But the gist of it is that the Chinese government is limiting the governance power of government investors, who hold "nontradable shares accounting for two-thirds of the value of the average listed company in China," thus enhancing the power of private shareholders. But, interestingly, shareholders cannot vote by proxy--they must actually attend shareholder meetings in order to vote. Here's where the murkiness enters in: it is unclear in the report whether the new regulations establish this practice or encourage companies to permit voting by proxy.

I'll dig up more info on this when I have chance. But first I have to tackle a pile of student paper drafts that need grading. Good task for a dark and wet afternoon in the Upper Midwest. I have my fingers crossed that we'll finally get a few flakes of snow.

Thinking of Thinkpads, etc.

The IBM-Lenovo stories remind me of my ongoing search for an ultra-ultralight laptop. Will anyone ever break the two-pound barrier with a 12" screen so I can live with my laptop in hand (or in purse/briefcase)? The Thinkpad X40 and Panasonic's Toughbook W2 both reportedly weigh in at about 2.7 lbs. But the Thinkpad doesn't have a touchpad, so that's out for me. Now if the Toughbook would just forego its built-in optical drive and beef up its max. RAM to a gigabyte or so, shedding a pound in the process . . . .


How twenty-first century! The most interesting aspects of this cross-border, cross-culture deal are the ongoing entanglements: IBM will reportedly buy 20% of Lenovo, while Lenovo will buy "world-wide service and warranty work" from IBM (on the latter point: WSJ, 12/10/04, B4). Sounds more like a joint venture than a sale.

Most interesting story I've read about the IBM-Lenovo deal: Yale computer science Prof. David Gelernter's column in the Wall Street Journal this morning: "How to Build a Better PC? Don't Give Up." (WSJ, 12/9/04, A16) His basic point: other pathbreaking technologies (automobiles, airplanes) underwent transformations when they were as old or older than the PC, and the PC could, too. I'd love to have all of the (mainly software based) features he envisions, especially the email "acknowledge" function.