Surviving (Business) in China

I’ve been mugged, robbed, and hustled in China.  I’ve survived….

sandstorms, hotel fires, coal mines, and state-sponsored industrial espionage.  I spent most of my time in places most foreigners have never even heard of, including three years in a town where I was the only foreigner among 500,000 Chinese.  I’ve eaten scorpions, ants, beetles, live fish, dried blood, and animal parts I wouldn’t feed to my neighbor’s cat (and I hate that cat).  I have pretty much mastered the art of the Chinese formal banquet, including when to drink, how to drink, how to cheat while appearing to drink, and how to stay alive when 50 Chinese people each want to drink a shot with you.   I have sung love songs to a male-only audience (senior management of JV partner) and learned to smile when they sing to me.  I have accidentally propositioned people, ordered testicles when I wanted meatballs, and misunderstood more conversations than I can count, all on the way to attaining near fluency in Mandarin Chinese.  Along the way I was general manager of multiple foreign invested enterprises in China, managed a few manufacturing plants, managed a sourcing operation, did some financial/capital markets work, visited more than a hundred factories, conducted dozens of quality audits, implemented countless processes, procedures, and improvement plans, hired hundreds of people as well as fired a few, worked with foreign companies big ($10+ billion) and small ($10- million) in China, worked with all types of Chinese companies from old-school state-owned enterprises to leading edge companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges, dealt with a multitude of Chinese entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, managers, partners, suppliers, and customers, and have had the opportunity to consult with more than 200 foreign companies relative to their plans and operations in China.

I hope the above doesn’t seem boastful.  That’s not my intent.  Rather I mean to point out that I have fairly significant China experience and have learned a few things over the years, much of it the hard way, i.e., by making mistakes and then fixing them.  The China Learning Curve: Critical Mistakes is basically the book I wish I had been able to read when I started.  In time I hope it becomes a book about which readers will say “if you read one book to help you prepare for China, make it this book.”


The goals of the book are as follows:

Help American companies avoid the mistakes that can knock them off track in China.

Failure in China is still more common than you might think.  In part this is because the bar has risen.  It used to be that, for foreign companies, simply having a presence in China was enough.  For most companies that is no longer true.  They need to get growth and profits in China.  This requires better performance from managers and professionals which many companies are finding difficult to obtain.

Help professionals and managers make their own decisions and be more effective in China.

Success in China is not only increasingly important to companies, it is increasingly important to the careers of the managers and professionals who work at those companies.  If you’re one of those people, to borrow a cliché, you don’t want to take a knife to a gunfight.


China is different.  Adapting to those differences often spells the difference between success and failure.  The China Learning Curve: Critical Mistakes will help you prepare so you can adapt as necessary.


A unique approach

There are two aspects to this book that make it uniquely well positioned to accomplish the above goals.

Focus on knowledge that is critical but in short supply (critical differences, strategy, management)

If you want to establish a company in China or open a bank account or understand tax rates or new regulations, you can probably find multiple sources of information on such “tactical issues.”  But these issues aren’t your greatest challenges in China.  The biggest mistakes you can make in China, what we call the “Killer Mistakes,” are having the wrong strategy and managing poorly, both of which can bring your entire China plan and operation crashing to the ground.  There are very few sources of material gives people the knowledge they need to avoid these Killer Mistakes.  The China Learning Curve: Critical Differences is specifically designed to give managers and professionals the knowledge they need to succeed relative to these vital business issues.

A practical approach from a manager’s perspective

The China Learning Curve: Critical Differences addresses fairly high-level concepts like culture and economic structure.  But it does so in a very practical fashion from the perspective of a businessperson with hands-on experience.  In fact there are probably more pages devoted to real-world examples than to conceptual discussion in the book, meaning that, while the subject matter might belong to a textbook, the actual book doesn’t read that way.