High School Quarterbacks at the Chinese Deal Table.

Picture a high school quarterback.  He’s got a 32 inch waist, magnificent hair, an entourage of popular-crowd kids and the confidence that goes with all of that.  He starts paying attention to the cute but ordinary girl down the block – and she can’t believe her good fortune.  She’ll do anything, make every compromise, suffer any indignation just to keep him interested.   When he proposes marriage, it’s her dream come true.

Now fast forward a decade or two.  High school is over.  His tight butt and flowing locks are both distant memories.  The popular crowd has dispersed, and the stories about throwing touchdown passes have gotten very stale.  If high school hotshot has adjusted his standard operating procedure and is bringing home a nice paycheck, changing a diaper or two and remembering to put the toilet seat down, then there probably won’t be any problems.  His role in the relationship has shifted, and he is holding up his end of the new bargain in an appropriate fashion.  But if the ex-jock is still trying to live off his past glories without pulling his weight, then that wife is going to start getting very impatient.

Why is this a China story?  Because you may be that pathetic high school hero trying to live in the past while your cute but ordinary Chinese partner has become poised, confident and independent.  When you first got together, you had technology, brands, and innovative methods that your Chinese partner couldn’t hope to master on his own.  You were very demanding – possibly much more than you knew – and very, very expensive.  Still, you delivered the goods.  But now the Chinese side has learned everything you know and a lot of things that you don’t – like how to apply your know-how to the Chinese market.

So where is this story heading?  That depends on you.  If you adjust to the new realities of the situation and redefine your role in the relationship, then you may have a long and happy future together.  But you have to acknowledge that your relative positions have changed, and will have to reassign roles and payouts.   This may mean supplying new technology, methods or products.  You may have to start sharing your home client list or developing new markets that your Chinese partner can’t.  It may mean ceding some control and profit to the Chinese side.  The alternative is to try to live off past glories – and you know how that generally ends.

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