Philips Investments in China
The Dutch consumer electronics, lighting, semiconductor, and medical equipment conglomerate Koninklijke Philips NV has been operating factories in China since 1985, when the country frst opened its markets to foreign investors. When Philips initially entered China, it had dreams of Chinese consumers snapping up its products by the millions. However, the company soon found out that the reason it liked China—low wage rates—also meant that few Chinese workers could afford to buy its products. So Philips hit on a new strategy: Keep the factories in China, but export most of the goods to developed nations. The initial attractions of China to Philips included low wage rates, an educated workforce, a robust Chinese economy, a stable exchange rate that is linked to the U.S. dollar through a managed foat, a rapidly expanding industrial base that includes many other Western and Chinese companies that Philips uses as suppliers, and easier access to world markets given China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001. By the early 2000s, Philips employed some 30,000 people in China either directly or indirectly at joint ventures. Philips exported nearly two-thirds of the $7 billion in products that its Chinese factories were producing. At this point, 25 percent of everything that Philips made worldwide came from China. As time passed, Philips started to give its Chinese factories a greater role in product development. In the TV business, for example, basic development used to occur in the Netherlands but was moved to Singapore in the early 1990s. In the early 2000s, Philips transferred TV development work to a new R&D center in Suzhou near Shanghai. Similarly, basic product development work on LCD screens for cell phones was shifted to Shanghai. In 2011, in a testament to just how important China had become to Philips, the company moved the global headquarters of its domestic appliances business from Amsterdam to Shanghai. By this point, China was far more than just an export base. Demand in China had accelerated rapidly, and the country was now the second-largest market for Philips. Employees work at a Philips booth during a trade show in Shanghai, China. Source: © Weng leiImaginechina/AP Images Some worry that Philips and companies pursuing a similar strategy might be overdoing it. Too much dependence on China could be dangerous if political, economic, or other problems disrupt production and the company’s ability to supply global markets. Some observers believe that it might be better if the manufacturing facilities of companies were more geographically diverse as 2 of 3 04/12/18 a hedge against problems in China. These fears have taken on added importance recently as labor costs have accelerated in China due to labor shortages. According to estimates, labor costs have been growing by 20 percent per year since the 2000s. On the other hand, there is a silver lining to this cloud: Chinese consumption of many of the products that Philips makes there is now rising rapidly.
a) What are the benefits to Philips of shifting so much of its global production to China?
b) What are the risks associated with a heavy concentration of manufacturing assets in China?
c) What strategies might Philips adopt to maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks associated with moving so much product?