Business as Unusual in
By Brent Wilhite
"I'd always thought the American mindset was just like the Chinese mindset. But now I know more about the Chinese mindset, and how it can affect American business," said M.B.A. student Elizabeth Anderson after her tour of
"The average business student doesn't understand international context until they see it and feel it," according to Assistant Professor of Economics Aric Krause. The opportunity to "see" and "feel" business in
The tour centered on walking and talking with Chinese business leaders, allowing the students to experience the Asian market first-hand. "In any business setting, before you can accurately assess the needs of clients, you need to see where they're coming from," explained Assistant Professor of Management Vicki Whiting. Gaining that level of understanding was a key objective for students on the Chinese business tour.
The term "immersion" pretty much sums up how the group braved this foreign land. It wasn't a typical tourist trip, though the group did visit many of the notable landmarks in
How can gaining this understanding benefit the American business professional? Many American businesses have tried to push their products in the Asian market but have failed because Chinese values are very different from those of the average American consumer. "We learned many of the problems that American businesses are having in the Chinese market," said
The Chinese employ a "face-to-face" approach, which helps businesses create and maintain long-term relationships. "To conduct business in
To help illustrate that point, the group met with Dr. Thomas Lee Boam, minister-counselor of commercial affairs, reporting directly to the ambassador to
The group visited with several notable industry leaders in
"The fact that we were on a business tour allowed us to see the subtleties of how Chinese businesses actually run on a daily basis," said
These subtleties in Chinese business culture stood out to the group because they were so different from typical American business customs. At first, some of these customs seemed quite strange.
While the students were visiting Compaq, the tour guide casually mentioned, "There's the doctor." Naturally, the group asked why there was a doctor on site, as that seemed odd compared to American businesses. "Well, the Compaq people are paid so highly here that they work a hundred hours a week," replied the guide. "They'll do whatever it takes to keep their jobs because they are the highest paid employees in the entire country, so we can't get them to take time off to eat, go to the doctor, or do their dry cleaning, so we do it all."
After examining why Compaq provided an on-site doctor, what seemed odd at first eventually made complete sense. Americans are the same way to some extent--maybe not so much in the endless hours spent at the office, but various fringe benefits at American companies can have a strong hold when one considers whether to accept or decline a new job offer.
When the group visited Rousch Pharmaceuticals, the group asked if the company provided a doctor for employees. "No, why would we do that?" came the reply. The underpaid employees at Rousch weren't as committed to the company as the highly paid Compaq employees. With a turnover rate of 60 percent, the Rousch employees quickly jumped to the next company willing to pay them a nickel more an hour.
Without proper understanding of Chinese business culture, a typical American business has a slim chance of succeeding in
Ignoring little things, such as proper business etiquette, are sure-fire ways to offend potential clients. In America, the unconscious response when receiving a business card is to maybe give it a quick glance, then safely file it away in a shirt pocket, with hopes that somehow the card will eventually find its way to the Rolodex. "In
Although the goal of the trip was to learn about business in
On opposing ends of the globe are two countries with different lifestyles, routines, and business practices. However, a group of