Chain of command

It is not often FinanceAsia gets to interview the former Commander in Chief of US Strategic Air Command...

General Jack Chain is the chairman of NASDAQ-listed consultancy, Thomas Group. He is also a retired four star general and former Commander in Chief of US Strategic Air Command. We caught up with him as he was passing through Asia, asked him about Thomas Group and then gained his views on security issues in Asia.

What's the purpose of your visit to Asia?

Chain: I'm over here visiting our Asian office in Hong Kong. We've been in Asia for a number of years and have done projects in Hong Kong, mainland China and have ongoing projects in Manila, and Sri Lanka. We like Asia and think what we do has great applicability to Asia. An entrepreneurial spirit permeates the region and we bring processes that we believe can be helpful.

Are you doing management consulting?

We don't call ourselves 'consultants'. We call ourselves 'resultants'. We go in and analyse what a company is doing. Most companies operate vertically and the work flows horizontally and we try to find bottlenecks, by working with managements and employees. We have processes that help eliminate the bottlenecks. The company then ends up producing more revenue.

How do you differentiate yourselves from competitors?

Our differentiation is that many companies in the field come in and write a management plan. But they don't end up rolling up their sleeves and working directly with the management and employees to not only identify problems but fix them.

A typical operation will take a year to a year and a half - although some companies back in the US, such as General Motors, where we were inside for over 10 years. That's because we were in one section where they said 'Gee, you've done such a good job, how about going over to this other section'.

How long have you worked for Thomas Group?

Thomas Group went public eight years ago and I was brought in as a director. I later became non-executive chairman.

What does your military background bring to bear on the company?

It's very helpful. In the military, disciplined approaches to problems are part of our culture. We don't run Thomas Group as a military operation, but a lot of the self-discipline someone in the military learns and accepting personal responsibility is certainly applicable. When I was commander of strategic air command, I had 132,000 people at 32 bases around the world, and management and leadership was a major element in that.

When you go and visit Asian clients on your trip, given your former military seniority you will no doubt be asked about US foreign policy and what is going on. What is your view?

I am a globalist at heart. I think from an economic point of view what is happening in China is fascinating. There is an entrepreneurial spirit which is very exciting. Globalization will help all countries pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

More specifically, there has been talk in the region about conflict in Korea. Given your background, what is your view?

I hope it doesn't become militarily serious, but you can't eliminate the military card. The American public thinks it is a substantive issue. I was delighted to see the Chinese hosting a meeting and the Japanese and the Russians being involved. So it's not a US problem, it's a global problem. It's very easy to give a non-aggression pact, but it's sort of like going into a jewellery store and picking up a piece of jewellery and the jeweller says its $100, and you say I'll give you $50 and you end up negotiating. That's what we are doing now. This is the first step in what is going to be a long laborious negotiation. You don't reach an agreement the first time you meet. I think it will be a long, tedious and dangerous period. I hope the military card is never exercised but it can't be taken out of the equation.

People in Asia find it hard to read what Commander-in-chief Bush's approach is. The war in Iraq suggests a sort of zero tolerance approach rather than containment.

I don't think there is any country in the world that would like to see proliferation of nuclear weapons, particularly to countries like North Korea that has demonstrated it lies - they signed an agreement back in 1994 that said they were not going to develop nuclear weapons. One has to be judicious when you deal with a regime like that. North Korea has exported weapons to other rogue regimes around the world. It's bad for the whole world.

Some people believe Pakistan could proliferate nuclear weapons. Aren't we living in world where proliferation is inevitable?

My personal belief is that since Pakistan and India both have nuclear capabilities that has probably precluded a war breaking out in the last few years. If they hadn't been nuclear powers there is a high probability they would have gone to war.

You must find these security issues are quite high in the minds of clients you are visiting?

Yes, in just about every meeting we talk about the Thomas Group and then I've been asked what I think about this or that military or diplomatic situation.

What's your view on the security situation in Indonesia?

I think we have a macro-situation which is a clash of civilizations and cultures with the whole Islamic civilization. Religious leaders are encouraging their followers to believe that capitalism, democracy and womens rights are fundamentally wrong and go against their god. Until we have a world of religious tolerance and not one where any religion believes its way is the only way, we're going to have trouble and will never solve this problem.

I have read the Koran and have no problem with Islam. It is a fine religion. I think Buddhism is a fine religion. I think Christianity is a fine religion. But then you get leaders at the top who stir up their followers and reduce tolerance.

Do you foresee a coming military clash between the US and China in the decades ahead?

Economic globalization will be a positive in any critical disagreement. I don't think it is inevitable that the US and China become enemies. It's yesterday's problem.

As people in China have more factories, jobs and a better life, they are not going to be interested in having a conflict with the US or anyone else. So I believe the economic renaissance going on inside China today is healthy for future stability and not a threat to future stability.

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