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Managing in China

Last Man Standing: China as Global Leader

Takeaway: As the US rapidly disqualifies itself from global leadership, China will find itself shoved into a role it doesn’t want it and isn’t ready for. We will almost certainly see a more China-centric world. Here’s what it may look like.  

What a difference a week makes. In my last article I spoke about 3 big issues China would face if it tried to step into the position of global leader.   In just a matter of days, however, the new US administration not only allowed it to happen, but seemed to be have been actively

Chuang Tzu and the Turtle
      Chuang Tzu tried to warn you

pushing the PRC into that role.

China went from the scrappy challenger who looked like a long-shot for the title to the last man standing in a remarkably short period of time. They’ve emerged as the odds on favorite by default.  The US has taken itself out of the global leadership game.  Europe looks fragmented and weak — and may very well end up following the US into isolationism. Russia is a military force. China is the last man standing and leads by default.

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Is It Still Worth it to do Business in China?  Conclusion

Is it worth the effort and investment for foreign firms to do business in China?   The answer depends on who you are and what you want from the market – and that’s a problem.

I spent a month in China trying to answer the question, “is it still worthwhile for Westerners to try doing business in China?”   The international business press has been focusing on Beijing’s prosecution of the infamous Anti-Monopoly Law  and use of national security claims   to restrict foreign firms’ access to China’s burgeoning middle-class markets.  Overseas readers of the WSJ and Forbes could easily get the impression that foreign brands are being chased out of China on a tide of xenophobic resentment and anti-foreign fervor – but it’s simply not the reality on the ground.

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Is it Still Worth it to do Business in China?   Part 4: Different Earnings Models, Different Bureaucratic Challenges

The Chinese bureaucracy is much more tolerant of overseas companies that spend than of overseas companies that earn in China.  That means integrated MNCs must adjust their business models – and their approach to regulators – when they are selling.

Western negotiators in China are finally coming to accept

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that no matter what the deal on the table may be, their most significant counterparty is the Chinese government bureaucracy.  The Chinese government has a much different attitude towards international businesses coming to China to buy or manufacture as opposed to those coming to China to sell and market.  International managers are still coming to grips with this dichotomy, and it is causing problems and costing money.

Ask not what China can do for you – ask what China wants from you.

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Is it Still Worth it to do Business in China?   Part 3:  Myths about the New China Economy

China bears and the Chinapologists are spreading myths that lead to terrible business decisions. The truth lies somewhere between these two extreme – and dangerous viewpoints.

The Fragile Bridge
The Fragile Bridge: Conflict Management in Chinese Business

Last week we talked about China realities.  The ultimate conclusion was that while the Chinese business environment isn’t fair, it’s still the best game in town in terms of growth and opportunity.  As a China negotiator and decision-maker, you have to decide early – go all in or get completely out for good.  China is a terrible place for half-measures.

Two types of China myths.  China bear and Chinapologists.

Chinapologists are the China experts who support and spread the orthodox China party line.  You can usually spot them because they tend to preface every statement with, “I’m not supporting the Chinese party line but…” and then they proceed to do so.  When a Chinese person does this it’s pretty easy to spot them as either 50 Cent Army (paid posters on online chat and BBS sites, who are alleged paid half a mao – or fifty cents – for each pro-government entry) or direct beneficiaries of Chinese policy.  It has become common for Westerners living in China for a long time or hoping to curry favor with bureaucrats or officials to actively defend Chinese policies that many Westerners consider unfair or discriminatory.    Sometimes these Chinapologists feel they are winning points with decision-makers who will soon repay the favor; sometimes they got to this position via a slippery slope of defending elements of Chinese business or society that they genuinely believe in- but ended up completely in the China camp; and sometimes they are merely mouthing politically correct positions in public while take a much more realistic stance in private or with paying customers.  However they may have come to act as apologists for the Chinese bureaucracy, their arguments usually fall into one of three main categories:

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Has China Inc. Been Overplaying Its Hand?

May has been another tough month for international negotiators doing business in China.

The indictment of 5 alleged cyber spies form the PLA threatened to bring US-China relations to a

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new low.  Meanwhile, territorial disputes escalated between China and the Philippines, Viet Nam and Japan threatened to spin out of control with disturbing regularity.  That’s why there was so much headline space (though not all of it on the front page) devoted to a high profile energy deal between China and “Reliable Friend’ Russia.  What does all of this mean for Western negotiators in China?

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A Cautionary Tale of Two Parties — Confirmation Bias in Your China Operation

Tea Party and the Communist Party rhetoric intersect in some strange and potentially dangerous ways.

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Learn from the expensive mistakes of expat negotiators who have come before you…

Today’s Chicago Tribune carries and excerpt from former Sec of Treasury Tim Geithner’s memoir where he criticizes  “Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois for ‘delusional’ fears when Kirk purportedly warned officials in China not to buy U.S. Treasury securities or other U.S. debt.”

The story reminded me of a recent encounter I had at prestigious NYC networking event. I was introduced to a young professional woman from Beijing who was hired right out of Columbia Business School by a prominent private banking firm. She was well-educated, well-traveled, and well connected – both in NY and Beijing. I asked about the outlook for inbound Chinese investment into US hi-tech and agri-business industries . She responded with vague anti-government complaints that private investors were willing but Washington was blocking their efforts. For a moment I was hit with that jarring feeling you get when you experience something familiar in an unexpected place – like running into an old acquaintance while travelling in a strange city.

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How Involved Should You Be in China Business? (An unscientific quiz)

Doing business in China was once characterized by low costs, steep learning curves and a lack of best practices.  No more.  Nowadays, China is expensive in terms of funds, personnel AND opportunity cost.  Still, if your business requires a global marketing footprint or relies on supply-chain efficiency, you may need to have some kind of China presence.

Here is a quick & easy quiz to gauge your China involvement.  (An excerpt from the online course “10 Common China Negotiating Mistakes“)

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Do Not Build Your China Business on a Weak Foundation

An excerpt from the new China Solved eBook & online course: “10 Common China Negotiating Mistakes

If you are going to China to negotiate a deal, then you occupy three distinct roles.

10 China Negotiating Mistakes - Buy the eBook on Kindle
Learn from the expensive mistakes of expat negotiators who have come before you…
  • First, you are the point man on the field that must represent the home office and execute in its best interests.
  • Second, you are responsible for gathering pertinent information and moving it through your organization to maximum advantage. This involves a great deal of internal negotiation, which must be done well before you start negotiating in China. If you try to start changing your firm’s global policy, or acting on emerging opportunities (or newly discovered dangers) without first doing the necessary groundwork, you are going to face bottlenecks, conflicts, and unpredictable outcomes.
  • Third, you are the relationship builder. This is a delicate role under the best of circumstances and it is particularly challenging if someone back in HQ thinks that he has already established all the key personal relationships when he banqueted his way through Shanghai 18 months ago. If you are running point, you have to make sure everyone on your team—from the big bosses back home to the local staff supporting you—are all working off the same playbook.

HQ Bosses — Same Goals, Different Methods

If, on the other hand, you’re a top-down senior strategist based in HQ then you have to understand the mechanics of business in China. China deals terms are never “set and forget”—you cannot use US or European operating systems as a template for a new China business. We admire those senior managers who set bold strategies for entering the China market, just so long as they remember that for every self-congratulatory press release there will be 10,000 ground-level micro-decisions that must be executed properly. If you aren’t actively supporting your own people in the field then you are undermining them, and yourself.

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Are International Managers in China Ready for the New Middle Class?

The service sector is the key to understanding the New Chinese Consumption Model

On Tues I attended a panel discussion at the Asia Society in NY  titled Doing Business in Asia: 2014 and Beyond where five experts shared their thoughts on direction of the business environment in Learn to negotiate in China with China SooveAsia. You can get details and see a webcast here. The 5 experts, including Quartz’s Gwynn Guilford and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Edward Cunningham  laid out their views on the future of Asia with a focus on China.

The five big takeaways:

1. The big story is the growth of the middle class – carrying with it the promise of new prosperity and the threat of greater environmental strains.
2. GDP in China will fall significantly. Although admittedly not economic experts, the panel mostly predicted that China’s economic growth would be somewhere around 5% YOY in the near future — or roughly 30% off official projections. China is shifting from an investment based to consumption based economic model.
3. Pollution will continue to be a major problem.
4. The demand for new health care is rising dramatically.
5. Chinese industry is becoming less competitive as wages rise and the cost of inputs continues to trend upwards. The new middle class is going to be big users and providers of services.

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Cross Culture Communication vs. Cross Culture Negotiation in China

Is it more profitable to be Loved or Feared in China?

Thanks to everyone who downloaded & gave feedback on the ChinaSolved Report:  10 Common China Negotiation Mistakes.  (It will be available for free until Chinese Spring Festival – click here for download ).

One of the most common questions/comments to come back from the report about western Sign up for the ChinaSolved newsletter“worst practices” in Chinese negotiation had to do with the tension between developing good relationships with local counterparts and promoting one’s own interests.  Which is more important in China – developing good relations or maintaining control of your own assets?  While this has always been the negotiators’ dilemma (see Fisher & Ury; Lax & Sebenius; Malhotra, Bazerman or any of the other PON  authors), it is particularly troublesome in China where guanxi and harmony are watchwords of business success.

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