At the start of 2010, the Central SASAC initiated a three-year “Performance Assessment Policy” that has the potential to transform Chinese business practices. Since 2010, return on capital has been a major criterion in the performance evaluation and compensation of the senior managements of the 100 largest Chinese state-owned enterprises. Although sales growth will still count for 60% of executive assessment, 40% will be determined by a simplified version of EVA, or Economic Value Added. The guiding principle behind the new policy is simple and straightforward: Executives of state-owned enterprises are now being asked to manage capital more efficiently than they have in the past—and in much the same way that private enterprises are now expected to do.
Observers might be inclined to downplay this change. The assessed cost for capital, at 5.5%, is well below the market's required rate of return. And SASAC may not allow the firms to close plants, make positions redundant, and lay off employees. Veteran managers may try to outlive the interest in EVA, expecting SASAC's new standards to be unenforced.
But SASAC's leaders expect a few pioneering companies to take the framework farther than the guidelines demand. To the extent they succeed in creating value for their shareholders, these companies could help bring about important change at many other Chinese companies.