Interview with Iain McDaniels

 Iain McDaniels LRCCS Alum (‘96)

Iain McDaniels
LRCCS Alum (‘96)

What can you do with an MA from LRCCS? For this interview, we talked to LRCCS alum Iain McDaniels (’96), managing director of Goodyear China, who talks about how his interest in China blossomed into a career, as well as his life in Shanghai over the past 19 years.

LRCCS: Thanks for joining me today, Iain. Let’s take it from the top – where do you call home?

McDaniels: I grew up mostly in the Midwest – born in Chicago, grew up in North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and some in upstate New York. Never lived anywhere for more than 4 years – my dad was a college chaplain, and he liked to move to new campuses and build up their program then move on to another campus. And my mom was an English professor. So I spent all my life growing up on college campuses.

LRCCS: And how long have you been in Shanghai?

McDaniels: I’ve been here 19 years - about 5 times longer than anywhere I’ve ever lived in the US. So while it’s not where I’m from, it still feels like home.

LRCCS: What’s it like raising a family in Shanghai?

McDaniels: It’s been fantastic. I have two boys and they’re both going to great schools. My wife, who’s also an LRCCS alum, teaches at one of the schools. The only thing that’s hard for my kids is that they’ve been here their whole lives, but their friends tend to be on the ‘expat cycle’ – usually about three years in and out.

LRCCS: That’s funny – it’s like the opposite of what you experienced growing up. So, what brought you to China in the first place? How did you first become interested in Chinese culture?

McDaniels: I went to a small college in Minnesota called Carlton. As I was trying to choose a language program, I really liked the Chinese professor – his name was Zhao Jiguang. His passion for teaching really got me into the culture. Then in 1990 I did a study abroad trip in Beijing, and I became intrigued by trying to figure out the puzzle of how this place worked. And for whatever reason I stumbled onto the intersection of business and government.

I started out looking at joint ventures in my undergrad days – like Beijing Jeep, which was between Beijing Auto and American Motors

LRCCS: What was interesting to you about that?

McDaniels: At that time, things were very much up in the air, and nobody knew how things were going to work. So it was fun to watch people figure it out. Also, because so few people seemed to understand what was going on, I saw this as a way I could add value by helping others navigate those uncertain waters. Ultimately that’s what led me to U of M and LRCCS.

LRCCS: What did you study at LRCCS?

McDaniels: Basically it was the ability of the central government to implement the 1994 auto industrial policy. The idea was to weed out the numerous joint ventures we were seeing at the time and focus on the champions. Which ultimately ended up grooming the major players we see today – Shanghai Auto, Dongfeng Motors, etc.

LRCCS: Who were some of your favorite professors when you were at UM?

McDaniels: Probably the professor that had the biggest impact on me was Ken Lieberthal, who was my advisor. He really guided me in thinking about how China worked, and also had an outsized influence on my career. I took both research and businesses classes with him.

LRCCS: You and your wife both got your MA in about 9 months. How did you pull that off?

McDaniels: We hunkered down and got things done – there wasn’t much leisure time. When I tell people I went to UofM, they always say, “Oh you must’ve gone and seen a football game… You must’ve gone to check out this place…” but we missed out on almost all of that. The only dates that we had were to do work together at a coffee shop.

But this prepared me very well for the next stage in my life, which was working at the US-China Business Council. That skill of cranking stuff out and getting it done like I did at LRCCS was very similar to what I was doing there. A company would call and say, “How do we understand the implications of the telecommunications law?” There was no time for me to digest and do long projects – I had to come up with that report within 24 hours.

LRCCS: So what are you doing now?

McDaniels: Right now my title is managing director for Goodyear China. My job is to look after the 2000 associates in our factories, sales teams, offices, etc. I try to guide the strategy – helping keep China aligned with corporate goals, and also making sure we’re taking advantage of the unique opportunities here – basically finding a way to meet in the middle and optimize our path forward.

LRCCS: What feels particularly meaningful about what you do?

McDaniels: Goodyear has 2400 licensed stores around China. And what we’re doing is helping those 2400 families join the middle class. We’ve got 1800 associates working at a factory outside of Dalian, and we’re helping them join the middle class. When I wake up in the morning, it’s not year over year growth and improved sales that gets me going. It’s the very concrete idea of helping improve the lives of these families. That’s what gets me excited.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard in Shanghai, China