Jack Perkowski’s Lessons From the Field

Jack Perkowski: Well, I made a lot of mistakes. I made some of them more than once, unfortunately. When I look at every mistake I made, it’s because I didn’t listen hard enough and I reacted too quickly. I kind of gave in to the American instinct to kind of; you just react.

In China, things are never quite what they appear to be. It takes a long time to really understand what really is going on behind the scenes, and what somebody’s really trying to tell you.

So I would say the mistakes that I’ve made had been when I acted too quickly. And there was a case where one of our general managers was doing some things that the alarmist around me kind of called my attention to, and frankly, I kind of listened too closely to them, rather than taking a deep breath, and really try to understand the situation a little quicker.

And we end up removing that general manager because of what they were saying he was doing. And I later found out that was a big mistake and I really ended up apologizing to our Chinese partner because I’d reacted too quickly. So every one of my mistakes kind of falls into a category like that where I just didn’t listen hard enough and I acted too quickly.


Question: Case study: Trial by fire


Jack Perkowski: Well, the biggest thing to me is the fact that the Chinese have a substantially different and lower cost perspective.

When I first went to China, companies would come in with very good products and they think they were priced right for the China market and end up being too expensive. Or companies would come in, and they would think that because they now have a plant in China that they have a very cost effective plant.

Be it they find that in China, there are all these other plants that are much, much lower cost. And so, a lot of people wonder how can these products be too high priced for that market? How can my plant in China be so cost uncompetitive with local Chinese companies? And what I’ve discovered, and this kind of came to me about 1998 or 1999 is that the Chinese have a much different and lower cost perspective. They look at money differently.

I always carry around with me two bills, one is 100-RMB bill, one is 100 US. And when I tell people those two bills are looked at exactly the same way in their respective countries. You can’t get a bill larger than 100 US in the US. You can’t get a bill larger than 100 RMB in China. When I, as an American, look at that 100-RMB bill, I instinctively, even though I’ve been in China for 15 years, I divide it by 8 and I really see $12.50. When a Chinese, no matter how wealthy they are, look at that same 100 RMB, they see more like what I see when I look at a 100 US, completely different cost perspective.

And once you sort of understand that and internalize that, then you start to understand how the markets in China start to work, and why those foreign goods are too high priced for the market, and why these Chinese companies can be so cost competitive.

It seems like a very simple concept, but once you understand, it starts to explain a lot about China, and that’s what I mean when I talk about these little bits of logic.

Question: What has been your most valuable lesson in leadership?


Jack Perkowski: I think you’ve got to lead by doing. I think people, like I said before, people when somebody comes in a leadership position, everybody said, I don’t care how big their credentials they have and they may have work for a very famous company in the United States, but you know what, if that company doesn’t have much in China, nobody in China even knows what that company.

So it might be a $10 billion company here and nobody in China, none of our general managers even know what that company does, they won’t even know what a big company is. So what you’ve done elsewhere, doesn’t really doesn’t really count for a lot. All these general managers know that managing in China is probably one of the more difficult assignments in the world. And so, they want to, so, okay, show me what you can do in China. And the only way that you can really lead in China is by establishing that individual credibility. They have to view you as somebody, first of all, is willing to roll up their sleeves.

Secondly, somebody that can really teach them something or tell them something or really show them how to do something. And once you do that, they follow. And then, the other part of this is doing what you said you’re going to do. So you get up and you say that we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, and you go and you do it, then you get the credibility. But leadership is not something that somebody can confer. Or, you can’t confer that kind of power on somebody. Everybody’s got to earn it in China. And that doesn’t make any difference how senior you are or how junior you are, you’ve got to do the same thing.


Question: Who have been your mentors?


Jack Perkowski: I’ve got a really good team of people that surround me. A guy named Wilson Ni who’s our head of Sales and Marketing. Wilson has worked for me for 10 years. He came, he went to Tsinghua University, one of the leading universities in China. Worked three and a half years for Daimler, three and a half years for General Motors, joined us in 1997, 1998 when we were struggling. And Wilson is a very, very smart guy because he interfaces with the marketplace and all of our general managers in his day to day activities. He’s always coming in and telling me things about the market and what’s happening and every time I talked to Wilson, I learn. Okay. So he’s sort of one individual.

There’s a guy who was the Chairman of [Yuchai] [IB]. This guy’s a bigger than life guy. He took a very small agricultural diesel engine maker in [Yuchai]; made it into the largest diesel engine company in China. No small feat concerning what he had to go through to in that whole process.

He obviously has a vision for the whole industry. He’s someone I got to know very early. And so, he’s somebody that I’ve learned a lot from.

[Dong Yang] who was used to be the general manager of BAIC, Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation. They’re a partner of ours in one of our joint ventures. Every time I meet him, he gives me some insight about the market or whatever that tends to corroborate what I’ve been seeing, but having him say it, means that I know that I’m on the right track.

A lot of people like that around China, that I interface with or have interfaced with that you kind of get a piece here and a piece there, and you put it together with your own experience and you’ll start to get much clearer or bigger picture.


Recorded on: September 22, 2008

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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.