The Power Struggle and Patriotism.

There is a constant theme that runs through acquisitions and joint venture projects, both successful and failed.

Mutual distrust / disrespect.

Beyond cultural differences, this can put a serious twist into your plans for a new business.

Many, many times, I’ve heard people say “We’re all interested in making a profit. Nothing else beyond that should matter. The bottom line is the bottom line. They are just as interested in making a profit as we are!”

This is all true, but it is inaccurate and too broad.

Everyone wants to make a profit, but how to go about doing that is often the challenge.

I’ve seen it over and over again with western acquisitions of Chinese companies, Chinese acquisitions of western companies, and joint venture agreements.

I don’t respect your opinion, and you don’t respect mine.

Both sides feel they know the best way of doing things, and both sides feel the other side is throwing a wrench directly into their plans. Both sides feel the other side doesn’t understand “how things are done here / in the world / at my company / in our corporate culture.

The biggest challenge, I think, right from the beginning of any merger, cooperative agreement, acquisition or even manufacturing contract, is to sort this out as clearly as possible. It is of utmost importance to get communication lines as open and blunt as humanly possible so that all parties can be clear on where they stand. In international environments, buy-in becomes even more important. Finding ways to develop mutual respect, an understanding of all the complexities the other side sees that you don’t, and a level of trust in your counterpart that they have something to contribute to this whole plan is vital, and regularly ignored.

Before you enter China, or go into a manufacturing agreement, or get in any other way involved in global business, do yourself a favor and learn as much as you can about that country’s business culture. Talk to not just me, but to a few people. Talk to anyone who is willing to give you their opinions. And like medical advice, get two opinions. At least. I’ve had people tell me it is impossible to open a business in China without bribing, gifts, and hazy books. I’ve had people tell me they’ve done just fine here cleanly. And I’ve heard every story in between.

But before you even get that far, make sure you can get your partner to agree with you, respect you, and trust you. And while you’re doing it, take a little time to realize you need to do the exact same thing. A perfect example would be this:

As Americans, most of us are very opinionated about the subject of politics. We are also very passionate about our country and the freedoms it affords us. We love the USA. Sometimes our version of love is constant, scathing criticism, but it is still a form of love. Possibly the deepest form of love.

We come to a country like China, with a completely different political alignment, and many of us naturally assume the businessmen and women we’re here to work with are oppressed and suffering under the thumb of their overbearing government, OR that they’re a part of that government and just looking for another handout.

In 99% of all cases, this is not true. This is a stereotype created in part by the news (liberal and conservative alike). It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just that news reports in the US will focus on what we as Americans consider valuable.

China’s value systems are different from our own. Every time somebody goes nuts in the US and guns down people, I hear about it from confused but patriotic taxi drivers. It took me a number of years (and international incidents between our two countries) before it finally dawned on me that most of the Chinese people I deal with on a daily basis love their government. Look where their grandparents were 4 decades ago. Now look where this country is now. Complaining about the social construct and government structure in China to someone who now owns their own home and car and has a good job will sound ludicrous to most of them. Sure, some of them would like more freedoms, but so would most of my American friends. And so would I. That doesn’t mean we’re not patriotic.

I am a passionate, blue-blooded (whatever that means) American. I love my country. I am somewhat conservative fiscally but very liberal socially. I love middle-of-the-road politics where we all reach across the isle and get along. I am bound to have some sort of divisive opinion no matter which social clan I find myself interacting with. But I love my country.

Start your conversations with a Chinese businessperson assuming the same is true for them and it’ll come across in your conversations and your actions. They will notice it. They will respect the gesture, and they will in most cases reciprocate.

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