With more people than any other country in the world, and purchasing power second only to the US, China is buying American products from fast food to financial services. And its population is only getting richer and buying more. American businesses and entrepreneurs hoping to capitalize on the growth or just get a foot in the door for future opportunities should follow Warren Buffet's advice: "The 19th century belonged to England, the 20th century belonged to the U.S., and the 21st century belongs to China. Invest accordingly."
But it's not easy. From Nike's unfortunate "Get Fat" sneakers to KFC's "Finger-Lickin' Good" translated into something more cannibalistic, differences in language and culture cause nearly half of all prospective business deals in China to fail. Lucy Wang, Chinese native and YPO member offered to share some key insights with me about how to land your company on the right side of that line. After graduating with a degree in English for Science Technology, Wang went to work for a government-run import-export company and quickly spun off her own company from within it. Today she runs five companies doing everything from mining to micro-lending. With an MBA, and post-MBA studies, Lucy's an enthusiastic fan of lifelong learning with something to teach Westerners about doing business in China:
1. Respect the culture.
Western businesses often focus on bringing their culture to a new country, but Wang suggests trying the opposite. "First," she says, "respect the culture." Newcomers to China should take care to learn the culture and values already in place. They should realize that things are going to be different, and adapt their company's culture to accommodate the one already in place.
2. Prioritize a foundation of trust.
Western leaders tend to prioritize getting down to business as quickly as possible. There's little patience for small talk. In China, business partnerships tend to last a long time, so they are based on carefully cultivated relationships with people who are known and trusted. "It's not just hello and good-bye," she states. That means commerce is based on the deep mutual respect that develops slowly. "Fulfill your promises," Wang stresses. "Do what you say you're going to do." This builds trust and strengthens the all-important relationships between people.
3. Cultivate a good reputation.
Wang lists a good reputation as one of her three core values, and names a poor one as the primary factor that can destroy a leader's success. "A good reputation," she says, "is how you know an employee is valuable." Why, then, would the same not be true for their boss? "Be kind to everyone," she suggests, "and look for the win-win." It's important to find a two-way benefit in business transactions to ensure that each party thinks - and speaks - well of the other afterwards. It may be the factor that determines whether the relationship lasts.
4. Grow yourself and your employees.
Wang believes that every leader should show a good example in reputation and in self-improvement. To foster close connections with the employees across her multiple ventures, Wang says she monitors the WeChat for each one every day. She also recommends that a CEO continue to learn and study constantly, a practice that she credits as having had a huge impact on her leadership career. "I love to study!" Wang told me. "I never stop!" If your people see the benefits of ongoing self-improvement in their boss, it will motivate them to improve themselves, too.
Each week, Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, age 45 or younger.