While I’m typing, I’m listening to a live cover of Carole King and overlooking the channel between Hong Kong and Kowloon. I was surprised how much Hong Kong reminds me of San Francisco Chinatown, which I visited frequently growing up. The mix of Cantonese and English is familiar, as are the narrow streets and waves of people – yet this place also sets me off balance since I’ve been use to speaking in Mandarin for my past week and a half in mainland China. Unlike mainland China, the various pedistrian overpasses connecting office buildings, the well lit underground paths, and the fresh air breezing off the harbor water make the pedestrian experience refreshing (at least when it’s not terribly muggy). Regardless, in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, you can experience the afterlife of a sardine for the price of a subway ticket.
CIBER Global Business Project
I’m here on assignment in China as the project leader for a team of five MBAs from different US business schools. As a member of the Center for International Business and Education Research (CIBER), the Smith School creates the opportunities for students to exercise their skills on a real consulting project for multinational companies.
Throughout the Spring semester, I’ve been working on a business development and buyer insights project for a large agribusiness firm that is looking to enter the Chinese forestry industry.
We spent our time in the US researching the market from afar, interviewing US forestry experts and stakeholders, and setting up interviews for our in country project. We also communicated with our client to keep them up to date with our progress.
We spent the first week in Shanghai and Beijing meeting with university professors, government administrators, third party certification stakeholders, and forest management companies.
This week, I’m in Hong Kong with one of my teammates to speak with executives from a major forest management firm in China. The other half of the team is in Zhejiang Province speaking with professors there and visiting small forest farms.
Tomorrow and Thursday, we’ll meet back up in Shanghai to consolidate our work and pound out the final deliverable.
Unlike my trip to India last winter, I can’t share too much about our project or specific business insights, but I will try to generalize some of the important messages I’ve been hearing from our interviews and from my observations
- “China is Different [from other fast growing economies]” said one of our interviewees. Having heard this mantra repeated before in many places (“[insert country name] is different”), including business school, it became a somewhat meaningless insight because it seemed so obvious. In India, many executives shared with us specific business examples of how this dictum held for India. Now that I’m working on my own project in a specific market, I’m beginning to see specific examples of my own.
- A corrollary of this is that regional, market, ecological, and climate specific problems demand specific solutions. Before business school, “solutions” seemed like a meaningless word used by advertisers for corporate business. Now that I’ve been grounded in specific market and better understand the obstacles to growth and profitiability, I better understand solutions as holistic customized services that fit particular needs.
- China’s approach to economic growth is still changing. To me, one of the most surprising developments in the past few years is that the Chinese central government is extending land reform to include the forest sector by breaking up collective ownership of land. A little more than 30 years ago, China began to allow private households and large collectives to own “lease rights” to the land they worked. The land did (and is still) owned by the government, but the creation of these 50 or 70 year leases allowed farmers more flexibility to manage their land. Forests continued to be owned by the state and by large collectives, but for the past few years, the provincial governments have been dissolving collectively owned forests and given lease rights to individual households so that they could decide what to do with the land. This is essentially privatization without calling it such.
- Relationships in China are important. I’m not talking about “guanxi” (personal interactions, informal relationships, and access) in terms of favoritism. I’m talking about being close to stakeholders, buyers, and sellers, and having a good understanding of their values. For example, given the privatization of collective forests, any firm in the Chinese forestry industry must be able to communicate and negotiate effectively with multiple individuals and collectives. The more fragmented the market becomes, the greater the number of values and viewpoints have to be juggled and balanced.
I’ve learned much more about project management, building a collaborative team, and managing virtual meetings but I’ll save that for a different post.
Pictures and Such
I go back to the mainland tomorrow and will visit friends in Guangzhou and Taiwan for a week before heading back to the states, so it will probably be a while before my next post. For now, here’s some pictures of some of the fun we’ve been able to squeeze in during our trip.
…..now it’s a Sade cover of “Smooth Operator….” I’m so excited to see her (and John Legend) twice this summer in Chicago and Oakland!!!