Birth of the Frankenfirm “科技怪企”的诞生

2020.9


Corporate contortions at TikTok and Arm are an unfortunate sign of things to come TikTok
和安谋的扭曲变形是未来趋势的不幸征兆

 

Birth of the Frankenfirm “科技怪企”的诞生


ON AUGUST 6TH, when the White House told TikTok that it had 45 days to shut down or find an American buyer, there was a risk that the Chinese-owned video app would disappear from America, infuriating its 100m users there and destroying billions of dollars of investors’ wealth. Now a last-minute fudge seems to have been found. TikTok has said it will enter a complex partnership with Oracle, an American tech giant, that is designed to show it is more under American sway. The day before Nvidia, an American semiconductor company, bid $40bn for Arm Holdings, a British-based chip-design firm, triggering a storm in Britain about how to stop its tech champion from being dragged into America’s trade war. Far from being oddities, the two episodes offer a preview of how the new age of nationalism will change the way multinational firms are run—for the worse.
八月六日,白宫颁令要求TikTok在45天内找到一个美国买家,否则将被封禁。这意味着这款中资视频应用可能从美国消失,这会让它的一亿美国用户愤怒不已,并导致投资者的几十亿美元灰飞烟灭。现在,在最后关头似乎找到了一个权宜之计。TikTok已表示将与美国科技巨头甲骨文(Oracle)建立一种复杂的合作伙伴关系,以便展示出它更多是处于美国的控制之下。前一天,美国半导体公司英伟达(Nvidia)出价400亿美元收购英国芯片设计公司安谋控股(Arm Holdings),在英国引起轩然大波,各界争论该如何阻止自己国家的科技领头羊被拽进美国的贸易战。这两宗事件不会是稀奇的个案,而是预演了一个民族主义的新时代将如何改变跨国公司的运营方式——变得更糟。
Both companies straddle geopolitical divides and are at the heart of the digital economy. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech star. The White House says it fears that users’ data are being sent to China, where Big Brother can spy on them, and that the algorithm which selects videos is vulnerable to Chinese manipulation. Arm’s designs are used worldwide, not least in America and China, its two largest markets. Britain’s government worries that a takeover will see key activity shifted abroad (in 2016 Arm was bought by SoftBank, a Japanese firm, which promised to keep the firm’s base in Britain until 2021). A further concern is that, under American ownership, Arm will no longer be a “neutral” supplier, instead becoming an instrument of Uncle Sam’s expanding sanctions regime.
这两家公司都横跨地缘政治鸿沟,也都处于数字经济的核心。TikTok为中国明星科技企业字节跳动所有。白宫称它担心美国用户的数据被发送到了中国,在那里被“老大哥”监控,还担心选择视频的算法容易被中方操纵。安谋的设计在全球各地应用广泛,尤其是在它最大的两个市场——美国和中国。英国政府担心收购会使这家公司的关键活动转移到国外(2016年,日本软银集团收购安谋,但承诺2021年前公司总部都会留在英国)。更进一步的担忧是,被收归美国企业所有后,安谋将不再是“中立”的供应商,而会成为山姆大叔扩大的制裁机制中的工具。
Throughout history companies have adapted to geopolitics. In the freewheeling era of globalisation that began in the 1980s, the idea took hold around the world that all firms should be treated equally, regardless of their nationality. That made it efficient to operate as a global firm with a unitary management, capital structure and system of production. By contrast the 1930s and 1940s were plagued by wars and protectionism. Businesses such as General Motors responded by allowing their foreign operations to become semi-autonomous. Rather than merge, many firms co-operated across borders through alliances and cartels.
历史上,企业一直都在调整适应地缘政治局势。在始于上世纪80年代的全球化自由发展的年代,不论哪国企业都应被一视同仁的理念深入人心。这使得实行统一的管理体系、资本结构和生产系统的全球化公司可以高效运作。上世纪三、四十年代的情形正相反,世界饱受战争和贸易保护主义的折磨。当时通用汽车等企业的应对方法是让自己的外国业务转为半自治。许多公司不是采取并购的方式,而是通过联盟和卡特尔来跨境合作。
The proposed TikTok deal shows how business is heading in a 1930s direction. Although the details are not yet public, the firm’s ownership will probably change, with American shareholders, including Oracle, and possibly Walmart, holding a large minority stake, perhaps with rights to veto some decisions. The location of key assets will shift, with the headquarters moving to America and Oracle managing the data-storage there (and monitoring the algorithm). Arm, meanwhile, has already contorted its structure once to deal with geopolitics: in 2018 it sold a 51% stake in its China operation to mainly Chinese investors, including state-backed funds. Now it may face a new metamorphosis. The British government, for example, may demand further legal guarantees that it is run autonomously in Britain. That would be part of a push to bolster the country’s industrial base, which has triggered a row with the European Union.
这次提出的TikTok交易显示了商业正朝着上世纪30年代的方向发展。尽管细节尚未公开,但TikTok的所有权很可能发生变动,包括甲骨文(可能还有沃尔玛)在内的美国股东将持有较高份额的少数股权,并可能有权否决某些决策。关键资产的所在地将发生变化,总部迁至美国,由甲骨文在美国管理数据存储(并监控算法)。而在安谋这个案例中,这家公司已经为应对地缘政治而扭曲过一次自身结构:2018年,安谋把它中国业务51%的股权出售给了主要来自中国的投资者,包括有政府背景的基金。现在它可能面临又一次“变形记”。例如,英国政府可能会要求做进一步法律保证,确保该公司在英国自主经营。这将是英国巩固自身工业基础的行动之一,这一行动已经引发了与欧盟的争执。
These corporate contortions have glaring limitations. Politicians get to play God: President Donald Trump seems to favour Oracle—whose chairman, Larry Ellison, is a Trump supporter—rather than a bid by Microsoft, which made slightly more commercial sense. Mr Trump may now demand more concessions, and any deal will also need approval from the newly beefed up investment-screening regimes in America and China. Subdividing businesses into national silos duplicates costs, and complex structures can leave it unclear where control lies. Arm is locked in a bitter dispute with a Chinese executive over who is really in charge of its Chinese joint venture.
这类企业变形的局限性显而易见。政客趁机扮演上帝:特朗普似乎更支持由甲骨文而非微软收购TikTok,尽管由微软收购在商业上稍合理一些。甲骨文的董事长拉里•埃里森(Larry Ellison)是特朗普的支持者。现在,特朗普可能会得寸进尺要求更多让步,而且任何交易还将需要经过中美两国新近升级的投资审查制度批准。按国界分割企业将导致经营成本翻倍,而复杂的结构可能导致控制权不清晰。安谋就在谁实际掌管其中国合资公司的问题上陷入了与一名中国高管的激烈争执。
Despite this, expect more multinational manoeuvres as globalisation unwinds. Australia’s government is asking for Rio Tinto, a scandal-prone global mining firm, to be run by an Australian. European tech firms may bifurcate, with one production line serving Chinese clients and another American ones. Chinese companies may have to make do with buying minority stakes abroad, not full control. Firms crippled by sanctions—Huawei, say—may dissolve, with their intellectual property and best people migrating to competitors that do not face such constraints. Geopolitics is twisting global business into a form that is less efficient and less free. That is to be lamented.
尽管如此,随着全球化的倒退,可以预期跨国公司将使出更多应对招数。澳大利亚政府要求丑闻迭出的全球矿业公司力拓(Rio Tinto)由澳大利亚人掌管。欧洲科技公司可能会自我分叉,一条产品线服务中国客户,另一条服务美国客户。中国公司投资海外时也许不得不购入少数股权就算了,忘了完全控股这回事。像华为这种被制裁重创的企业可能会解体,其知识产权和顶尖人才将流入未遭受这类压制的对手公司。地缘政治正在扭曲全球商业的形态,把它变得更低效、更不自由。可悲可叹。