Archive for the Doing Business Category

The Power Struggle and Patriotism.

Posted in Business Culture in China, Cultural Observations., Doing Business with tags , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by Ben Brown

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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The Meeting Dynamic.

Posted in Business Culture in China, Cultural Observations., Doing Business with tags , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by Ben Brown

There is an interesting phenomenon in Chinese business meetings that always ruffles the feathers of my background in operations management, specifically as it relates to efficiency.

China has more of one thing than anywhere else in the world: People. It has always been a large country.

China likes to show off its people. Over the years I’ve been party to many meetings in China.

In the West, a high-level business meeting between two parties will include, generally, people who need to be there. Maybe there will be one person who is there to learn, but everyone else has some sort of role.

Chinese meetings are different. There will often be five, six or more people representing each company at a meeting where really, only three or at most four people will do any talking. Some of the others at the meeting may be there to advise the leaders afterwards. Generally though, there are a lot of people there who are really just ‘filler’. Sometimes I’ve gotten to be there as an adviser. Occasionally I’ve been one of the guys doing the talking. Most of the time, I take notes nobody will ever ask me about and discreetly look up the occasional Chinese word or phrase I didn’t understand. It’s a good opportunity to write down tasks I might need to take care of by the end of the day.

It’s important to show a lot of people at these meetings to either display that you are powerful, or to show respect to a government organization that might be unhappy to be greeted with only two or three people representing the business.

It’s just another example of how many cultural differences there are between doing business here and conducting the same transaction in the west.

In North America specifically, we strive to eliminate cultural aspects of doing business and make everything about the agreement on the table. People can say any crazy thing they want in a meeting, as long as it ends with a clearly-stated contract that delineates every last item of business loophole free.

In China, I get many compliments on how much I’ve learned about Chinese culture and how well I handle situations. Still, I make about two cultural mistakes during a good week. I’m usually given a bit of leeway because I’m a foreigner, which I appreciate greatly. This culture is very complex. I’ve seen locals that make more mistakes than I do. Sea Turtles returning from ten or more years abroad bring a refreshing sense of openness to a lot of meetings, but many also find themselves stumbling to re-balance after being gone for so long. There are simply a lot of rules to remember.

Awhile back, at a previous company, I had the privilege of attending a meeting between a Chinese company and an American company. They had formed a joint venture. The Americans were visiting Chongqing. One of them noted to me that when the Chinese had come to the US, they brought six people over. The Americans on this trip consisted of the Managing Director and the project manager.

The Chinese side had 10 people.

But the real difference was the power dynamic. On the Chinese side, the guy that did 99% of the talking was the leader. Everyone else sat quietly for the most part. The organization on a whole was obviously very top-down. On the US side, there were lots of side-bar discussions going on between the two lonely guys sitting there and they would interrupt each other as they tried to clarify points to the Chinese counterparts.

This reflects a difference not just in presentation but in cultural approach, collective vs. individual decision-making processes, and separation of authority. I’m an American. Personally, I prefer the collective approach to doing business. I like to be able to make my input in meetings. I like to speak up without being asked to. It takes a great deal of restraint for me to remain silent as complicated discussions take place. In fact, I’ve made it a habit since arriving in China to make sure I’ve saved up enough free cash from any new job so that I can afford six months of unemployment before I start saying much in meetings. This usually also forces me to get established somewhere so that my comments don’t come off as abrasive. It also takes a lot of effort to not be overbearing. As Americans, one of our favorite pastimes in a business environment is to tell people what we think. Especially if we completely disagree with an approach being taken by leadership. In China, it’s not possible to raise your voice and express opinions without being first asked to do so. It’s even more inappropriate to say something contradictory to the leadership.

The irony, of course, is that western businessmen coming to China to conduct business may think everything is going just fine at first. This is because it’s also generally not considered appropriate to tell anyone that they’re stepping on cultural toes.

A few years ago when I was living in the States, I regularly heard businessmen coming back from some of their first trips to China say “I don’t know why everyone talks about the culture being so different over there. I went over and had no problems. Business is business. Just get the deal done and you’ll be fine.”

When I would bump into them again a year later, the story would be different. It would be a lot of “My Chinese counterpart is destroying our business because he’s not listening to me, he’s not doing what I told him to do, blah blah…” If I’m feeling like having an argument, I tell the person that maybe, just maybe, they should learn to communicate a little better from a culturally-competent perspective so that they can actually move forward instead of simply barking orders and complaining that everything is being done improperly. Most of the time, though, I wait for the other shoe to drop. I ask them how their last trip to China was aside from the meeting. Their responses are usually negative. They complain about a lot of things being different. Basically, they’re starting to notice that the culture is totally different from their own, and they’re trying to change things.

That’s absolutely impossible.

The only thing that can be changed is you. Changing the way you deliver the message can make the message itself more digestible to the guy sitting across form you with nine silent subordinates. When I’m in China, I have the benefit of seeing the differences between the culture I’m in and the culture I came from. I’ve lived here long enough to have my eyes opened a bit. It’s my responsibility to see those differences and adapt my approach to everything so that it fits into my counterpart’s cultural comfort zone.

Entering China’s Domestic Market.

Posted in Business Culture in China, Doing Business with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2013 by Ben Brown

Yesterday I posted a section on when to enter China’s market. Today I’m going to post an overview on how to do it.

There are a number of ways one can get into this market. You can form a partnership with someone over here who will help you set up shop and sell your wares, you can find a local PR company to help you display your brand appropriately, you can start your own independent shop and go it alone, you can find a distributor and simply export your product to someone who will put it on shelves for you, you can find an exporter in your home country who has experience sending products similar to yours over to China, or you can even find some people who will start out just selling your stuff on taobao.com (picture the giant child of ebay and amazon).

The steps to market entry in China are similar to what they would be in any other market:

1. Market research. Know what the market looks like. Is there competition locally? Is there competition from abroad already? Is there a demand for your product? What is the potential size of your customer base here? What do the demographics of your customer base look like? (Chengdu is famous for people relaxing with a hot beverage. Starbucks, to a foreigner, looked like an easy slam dunk in this market). Does another product different from yours exist that replaces the need for your product? (Chengdu has a lot of tea houses. It’s famous for it. I’m pretty sure the number of Starbucks drinkers is affected by this). Does the customer have any need for your product? (Nobody in China, except for the few “Sea Turtles” who got their degrees in the west, feels a dire need to start their day with a cup of joe). Will customers need to be taught to use your product? (The only way to increase dairy sales in China is to actually convince people to start eating western food at home from time to time).

2. Market entry vehicle. How are you going to get here? Should you go it alone and open your shop? Should you find a professional retailer? Should you go with a distributor? An exporter from your home territory?

3. Branding strategy. How are you going to present your brand in this market? Should you do things largely the same? (McDonald’s) Or should you completely change around your product design and presentation to meet the needs of your new market demographic? (KFC’s menu is at least 50% different from its menu selections in the States). Are you a luxury item in China where you’re a commodity in the US? (Harley Davidson) How are you going to market yourself? Traditionally? Online? Guerrilla? What will hit your target market most effectively?

4. Pricing. You may be manufacturing your goods in China already. This doesn’t mean you need to pass the savings on to your customer. If you price your goods too low it is possible they will be perceived as “for the lower-income buyer” when you’re targeting your product to a higher, more visible and savvy customer. The customer you’re chasing may not pay $50USD for a pair of shoes if the other shoes targeting your customers are selling for $250USD, even if you could easily make a profit at that level. Ironically, if you hit the luxury market or semi-luxury market here you’ll sell more of your product than you could at a much lower price, because at $50USD per

5. Find the process. How are you going to enter? What steps do you need to take? How much are you willing to risk up front?

6. Find the people. Who are you going to partner with? How will you develop a relationship and monitor progression of your business?

7. Pull the trigger.

Depending on your business, these may not be all of the steps. Different actions needd to be taken for different businesses. I also haven’t gotten into the regulatory side of things, since that varies drastically by what you’re selling and how you’re selling it. But basically, the structure and process are similar to anywhere else. Is there a market? What does it look like? How do I get in? How do I sell? Can I make a profit? Who do I work with? What are the taxes? Are there any major road blocks that will prevent this from happening?

The next post will be on high level business meetings in Private Chinese corporations.

When should you enter China’s domestic market? (NOW! You might already be too late…)

Posted in Business Culture in China, Doing Business, Macroeconomics with tags , , , , on December 10, 2013 by Ben Brown

Natooke

Here’s what’s going on in China in one quick list of 11 items:

1. New guy in charge.
2. Export manufacturing cycle ending (they already make everything).
3. Need to develop stronger middle class.
4. Production costs increasing.
5. RMB steadily revaluing.
6. Service industry growing fast.
7. Consumers increasingly more savvy.
8. Local brands are weak.
9. Government hungry to add jobs and keep growth steady.
10. Economy still too small to support new graduates at stable, 2% GDP growth.
11. Major policy changes required (and being implemented) to attempt item 3.

Deng Xiaoping once said (I paraphrase heavily here): Poverty is not socialism, to be rich is glorious, some people will get rich first.

The rest of the country has been waiting, increasingly impatiently, to get rich second. China’s next phase of development needs to happen between now and 2024 to continue growing as fast as possible, which will keep the populous satisfied. It will need to focus on a new growth cycle.

In the 80s China worked on bringing farmers and the rural class out of abject poverty. They succeeded to a large scale. In the 90s and the past decade the country focused on FDI, and bringing technology and industry in. In the next decade they will start the painful, complicated process of staying away from the middle income trap. If they are successful, we will see a stable rise in middle-class incomes along with an increasingly higher-value RMB. Suddenly, foreign brands will be available to a higher percentage of people, and anyone who has either established brand recognition or is able to create a great marketing campaign will be able to take advantage of a rapidly growing market.

Developing markets are a lot like blue-ocean strategy opportunities. If you can get a brand in the door and make it popular, you’ll be able to enjoy a quickly-increasing market size. In China, all the conditions are primed. Especially as the interior continues to develop and play catch-up with the coastal cities. To a certain extent, this is what the US has been waiting for. For decades we’ve been buying things imported from China. In the next decade, we may finally be able to start exporting products to China, or to an increasing extent begin manufacturing them there for domestic sale in addition to shipping them back across the Pacific. There are plenty of investors here waiting for the chance to promote US brands in China, and that number too will grow.

The Big Emperor Complex.

Posted in Business Culture in China, Doing Business with tags , , , , on December 5, 2013 by Ben Brown

Most people who have followed China’s social and economic rocket-like progression from a third-world, planned economy in 1979 to what it is today have heard of the Little Emperors. These are the the sole children of the one child policy era. They have two sets of doting grandparents and one set of parents who all want the best for their kids. These elders bring new meaning to the American phrase “Helicopter Parent”.

But I’m not writing today about the little emperors. I’m writing about the big ones.

China’s businesses are a complex web of management hierarchy that can (and in my case have) made a foreign professional dizzy. Like in the rest of the culture, there are nuanced rules that go back thousands of years.

I now work in a medium-sized, privately-owned Chinese company. I’ve been here for little over a year. I have spent this time working as hard as they will let me, but also observing closely and carefully what is going on around me. I’ve taken the 19 years of Chinese cultural and historical study under my belt and applied it, along with a master’s in international business and 12 years of western corporate experience, to what I see here. I’ve soaked in events from the perspective of a foreign observer plunked down in the middle of business meetings where, in most cases, I am able to convince people through my language and actions that they can relax and speak freely amongst one another as if there was no foreigner sitting in the room.

What I’ve discovered has astounded me. I have uncovered depth, color, strategy and politics that probably only scratch the surface of what’s really going on. There is a lot to cover. It will take months of postings for me to get everything from the past year online for your perusal. During that time I will learn more. And I will attempt to share everything I feel is pertinent.

The Big Emperors are the CEOs. The companies they own and manage could be any size, but they are the biggest fish in their pond, lake or ocean, and they expect, as social mores here dictate, to be treated as royalty.

In looking at the development of Chinese business culture and structure, one cannot simply look at the last 34 years since the doors opened. That’s not what corporate culture in China is predicated upon. It bears striking resemblance to the legacy of Chairman Mao, who, for all of his anti-Imperialist dogma, embraced and worked ardently to build a cult of personality similar to that of the emperors who preceded him.

The top dogs in China’s businesses are treated like Little Emperors. But since that title is already taken by the CEO’s only child, we have to give him (in most cases it’s a Him and not a Her) the title of “Big Emperor”.

Our company’s big emperor rules the roost with heavily consolidated power, a personal driver, two secretaries, and a gang of employees following him around wherever he goes. So far that sounds a lot like any company on Wall Street. But the difference is in level of reverence. The Emperor in China’s history was top dog under heaven, and his right to rule was bestowed upon him by celestial endowment. CEOs in China who have managed to get through the political morass and succeeded in carving out their piece of the pie feel it is their right to be in charge. They treat their employees very much like property, berating them when the mood strikes, and paying them complements as they please. We are called at any time of the day or night and told where to be, sometimes within minutes of answering the phone. If we are out of town on a Sunday and we hold lower positions close to the CEO, we could be chastised or even fined for not first asking permission to be out of town.

We are, after all, employed at the mercy of our ruler.

I am not writing any of this sarcastically or in any way negatively. This is me being objective as possible in my very subjective analysis of one company in China. My friends, coworkers and wife weigh in regularly on my comments about what I’ve learned working here, so I know I work at a relatively conservative company by Chinese standards. But they’ve also told me that when a Chinese executive gets to the top of his or her own company, he or she sees authoritarian-style rule, power consolidation, and worship from subordinates as part of the executive package. Considering the absolute cut-throat nature of business in China, there are underlying reasons behind some of this. A CEO has to be in charge and hold a lot of power close out of the very real danger they might lose it to someone else.

But it has caused me to re-think everything I know about culture in China, and contradicted a lot of what I learned in graduate school.

My CEO loves golf. Therefore the company has a hand-selected team of employees comprised of quick risers, executive management and Chinese-speaking foreigners (in this case….only me) who are required to attend the driving range in their spare time and practice golfing for free. Since I enjoyed golfing in the States I begged for the chance to join the team.

My first trip with the CEO for an 18-hole round of golf occurred in Chengdu about eight months ago, when the former CEO (now President and GM) of a Canadian company we had just acquired was in town on business. Things went much as they normally do on a golf course.

The second time was a few months later, during a trip to Canada for our first board meeting there. My CEO, the Canadian GM and I hit the links again. A few times during the round my CEO drove his golf cart right up to his ball and got out to hit, even though we were both still behind him. This is a rather severe violation of golf etiquette. I was surprised, because the CEO golfs every weekend. He should know better.

A few days later we got up early and headed to the course for another round before an afternoon flight back to China. This time it was the CEO, an old friend of his from High School who now lives in Canada, and me. I quickly realized we were not playing by the same rules as before.

The CEO didn’t even bother to wait for me. He played the round pretty much as if he was alone on the course. He chatted with his friend and with me, but he never waited for me to hit. In fact, he looked at me rather disapprovingly whenever I did anything that risked holding him up. His friend, who was not a very skilled golfer, had paid for all three of us to play a round on this very expensive course. He started out hitting the ball a few times, but only actually putted on two or three holes. Usually he picked his ball up after hitting it once or twice on each hole, saying “I don’t want to hold you up, Mr. President”. I, however, was trying to get a round in. So I continued to drive as quickly to my ball as the cart would take me and whack at it with no practice swings as soon as I got there just to keep up with the CEO.

Eventually the friend rode with me in my cart for a few holes and admonished that I should just be picking up my ball and deferring to the CEO. I should also be trying to not hold him up but make every attempt to hit the ball weakly and not as accurately as him. Furthermore, I should tell a few more jokes and make myself the butt of his if I can find a way to do it. “He’s under a lot of pressure. This is his way of relaxing. You’re not here to have your fun. You’re here to assist him in having his.”

I still played every hole, but I stopped going to look for badly hit balls, and sometimes had to rather comically throw a ball ahead of me as I approached an OB marker, jump from the golf cart, club in hand, and whack hurriedly at my ball.

After that round I started to see that the idolization of our CEO happens at every level, and trickles down as well. Heads of departments are treated like generals in the imperial court, and if they don’t like you a promotion will never come. So people agonize over pleasing as many people above them as possible.

I get away with a lot, because I’m a foreigner. If I tried to insist I be treated like everyone else I probably wouldn’t last long here, because I make a lot of cultural mistakes on a daily basis. Thankfully, most of them are minor these days. I’ve already committed all the big ones. But at the same time I get rewarded for saying and doing the right things. And when those compliments come, I don’t ever forget them.

This is all very formulaic, to be honest. For example, the last trip to Canada we met with a high-level Toronto head of the Canadian operations for a Chinese bank. As we were on the elevator to the lobby after the meeting, I commented on how nice their office was. The banker then said, in Classic Chinese self-deprecating form, that it was too bare. The walls lacked artwork and they still had a lot of work to do.

I commented that with such a great space selection on the 28th floor overlooking all of Toronto and Lake Ontario, the banker had negated need for fancy artwork on the walls.

The CEO and the banker laughed and lavished me with compliments on my understanding of Chinese cultural appropriateness.

A couple of weeks ago I ran into a similar situation at a dinner with a government official who, during the course of conversation with me decided to claim that western eating utensils were more refined than holding two pieces of wood together. I knew immediately the appropriate response was to state he was decidedly right (disagreement is a skill I have yet to master…too complicated and delicate an act to tell someone of higher rank that they are wrong), but that chop sticks carried with them more culture and tradition.

Wading through a career that involves regular work with Chinese executives is difficult. If I could narrow this long post down to one sentence, it would be this: To deal effectively with Chinese executives, it’s probably best to read about Chinese emperors.

The Next Five Years.

Posted in Business Culture in China, Doing Business with tags , , , , on May 3, 2010 by Ben Brown

Chongqing, Southwest China

What will happen to China’s economy over the next five years? While the future is never easy to predict, I’d like to take a stab at it.

This is what I think needs to happen for China to truly become a major, competitive force in the developed, higher-tech world economy.

The domestic economy’s development in China is key. Economic indicators for 2009 show that China’s manufacturing suffered significantly during the global recession. While its GDP continued to grow at a rapid clip during this time, a large portion of it was due, in this author’s opinion, to the USD586 billion it contributed to infrastructure development, along with continued expansion of various housing bubbles around the country. While China did not suffer nearly as much as the rest of the world did during the recession, I believe the country still needs to make changes if it is to ensure continued growth at above 6.5%, which some officials claimed was necessary to continue employing its increasingly more educated population.

But this is just simple macroeconomic progression. When a country’s manufacturing booms to a certain level, the cost and quality of life increase. PPP goes up. China has managed so far to stave off a drastic increase in its currency value, and has kept inflation at acceptable levels by raising interest rates, but these are all temporary fixes.

China’s next step should be entrepreneurial development. It has a huge population in the interior that for the past decade has migrated to factories on the coast to work. The migratory workers helped keep labor costs artificially low for years. Now that manufacturing has slowed and the infrastructure development projects are winding down, the CCP must find new ways to employ the massive workforce that exists in the interior.

In the 80s, according to MIT economist Huang Yasheng, China had credit cooperatives and state-owned banks that focused on small business loans. Throughout the 90s this trend ceased as the cooperatives were no longer tolerated and the state-run banks focused on big business and state-owned enterprises. Over the past decade, the banks have been cleaned up and privatized, with many selling shares of ownership to western banks. They have become a bit more liberalized in lending habits, but there remains a dearth of funding available to small business development.

Should China begin allowing entrepreneurial endeavors by letting credit cooperatives pop back up as they did in the 80s, I expect we would see a fairly swift chain reaction in the country.

As increasing numbers of small businesses popped up, the owners, wanting to protect their investments, would start demanding stronger enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regulations. Once the CCP discovered pressures from within to increase enforcement, it would be carried out. Increased IPR enforcement would result in further innovation. Further innovation would result in a rapid increase in the interior’s economic development, which would benefit not only the country, but the West as well.

US companies, especially those already established in coastal areas (Best Buy comes to mind), would be able to move further into the interior and find new market opportunities as PPP leveled out more across the country. While there would still be competitive discrepancies, and the local players would continue to have some sort of advantage, the playing field would be much more level. Companies that understand how the Chinese consumer works and how the Chinese consumer and the CCP differ will find success in a newly developed domestic economy with a lot more clout than what we see when we look to China in the present.

Deng Xiaoping famously stated that although it was good to get rich, some would have to get rich first. His implication was obviously that the rest would eventually follow. I believe China has reached the point in its economic development where the rest must follow or the country will suffer.

Google’s Failure in China.

Posted in Doing Business with tags , , , , on March 16, 2010 by Ben Brown

The recent blog by David Drummond, chief legal officer at Google, proves that the company’s leadership learned little from their move to China in 2006.

China is a complicated market, more so with the media industry. The Communist Central Party (CCP) retains far more control over media, the press, and the internet than any other economy at a similarly-developed level. Internet companies must carefully consider how to enter China so they do not get forced into releasing personal account information.

Google took a long, hard look at the plight of Yahoo! in China. When it entered the country, Google kept its gmail and gchat services off of servers located in China. Because personal account information was stored on servers outside of China, Google was safe from being forced to turn over sensitive information.

Google made two broad errors since entering China: failing to assess its target consumer and reacting with ultimatums to the recent hacker attack.

When it entered China in 2006, Google tried to fight the CCP at every step, announcing that it was fighting for the rights of the common Chinese consumer. When taken from a western perspective these actions are honorable. But the Chinese are just as nationalistic and proud of their country as the US. They are not inclined to demand their rights from the government entity that brought them out of the Cultural Revolution and provided them with over 9.3% GDP growth for 15 years.

China comes from a cultural base that is collective, Confucian, and non-rebellious. Its perspective on freedom of speech and freedom of property varies from ours in that it assigns to these issues a lower level of importance. Google went into China espousing American values that did not translate well. As Kai-Fu Lee, former head of Google China, was quoted as saying, “The Chinese internet is different from the US and European internet. If you don’t listen humbly to your customers and pay close attention to the subtle differences you will fail…That is why, generally, US internet companies have, with the exception of Google, failed in China” (Neate, 2010). While Kai-Fu Lee seems to feel Google has listened to the consumer’s needs, I feel that Kai-Fu Lee’s departure from Google shows in part that it did not.

Additionally, Google’s ultimatum blog posting represents a major failure to grasp opportunity. Had it understood Chinese history, it would know to play the victim in this case. Take the Chinese classic “The Three Kingdoms” for example. Every Chinese businessperson reads this novel as a strategic guide to business. In it, a master strategist named Zhuge Liang finds his army stuck on a river bank awaiting an attack the next morning. They know they don’t have enough arrows to repel the enemy that will cross the river in the morning. So Zhuge Liang has his army build and dress straw mannequins and place them in boats. They then float the boats across the river with ropes and swimming soldiers. The enemy, fearing a pre-emptive attack, fires arrows that stick in the mannequins. The boats are pulled back and the next day Zhuge’s army uses the enemy’s own arrows to repel their attack, decimating the enemy in the process.

Stories like these are what Google should have read to gain an understanding of Chinese culture and history. Had it approached this situation with a more humble form of outrage, Google would have gained negotiating leverage and respect in a country where the government is not known to give it. It could have used the arrows from the ineffective attack as ammunition to fire back at the CCP.

Cited Works:
Neate, Rupert. “The former Google boss creating China’s answer to Silicon Valley”. The Daily Telegraph. London (UK). Mar. 12, 2010. Pg. 4.

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This is our Passion. Vision. Innovation.......from Me to You.

Soltis Consulting, Inc.

Business Concepts, Ideas, and Information

Gigaom

Technology news, trends and analysis covering mobile, big data, cloud, science, energy and media

David Cummings on Startups

Over 2,500 posts on entrepreneurship and startups

The Baseline Scenario

What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it

AdPitch Blog

Awesome Ambient, guerrilla and interactive advertising campaigns

Steve Blank

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

generaliregi

Romance of Five Clouds and Magical Poetry

globe and gander

...MAN AND HIS PASSPORT

N.A.S. Leadership

Leadership Growth. Financial Growth. Personal Growth Unleashed.

Globe Drifting

Global issues, travel, photography & fashion. Drifting across the globe; the world is my oyster, my oyster through a lens.

China Comment

understanding business fact from fiction from China Centric Associates

How Leaders Manage

Shape your Character change your life.

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