Businesses wanting to get a foothold in Asia need more than a basic understanding of the region - they need detail and fact on how things work and how to shape their approach and practice to meet the Asian business environment. And one of the first realities is that viable information is regularly, if not systematically, hard to come by.
A certain naivety in relation to the true extent of Asian economic and market growth has led to many businesses jumping into the Asian arena ill or even wrongly informed. Too often, western firms have operated on the assumption that business probably works much the same way in Asia as it does 'everywhere' else, and that to get ahead merely entails understanding a few basic cultural innuendos to fit in with the locals.
Not so. If the 300 pages of Big in Asia are any measure, there is a lot more to learn and understand. The Asian business domain is not renowned as the easiest, and many companies can share tales of woe, and do so in the book. No point trusting simple stereotypes to understand the way Asians live and do business, nor of any use to try bluntly forcing Western models of thought and practice onto Asians.
Business analyst and columnist, Michael Backman and INSEAD Research Manager, Charlotte Butler have joined forces and combined their decades of local knowledge, research and experience to produce Big in Asia: 25 Strategies for Business Success. Strategies are classed into five major areas: Hit the Ground Running; On the Ground; Building Up; Staying Up and Staying Clean, taking the business practitioner through pre-planning to long-term staying strategies.
A look at a few of the 25 strategies gives insights into some of the particular issues facing 'outsiders' in Asia. For instance, Strategy 2: Know the Firm, Know the Family, succinctly explains a first reality - that Asian business is for the greater part, family business. While financial data on a given company is important (though in Asia rarely accessible) even more crucial is a good knowledge of the company's shareholders, particularly if the single controlling shareholder is a family head. As Backman and Butler rightly point out, WHO is in charge can often be more important than WHAT is produced. This is a fact regularly overlooked by managers used only to Western business-models.
A further surprise is that many Asian family-firms exist for purposes beyond profit-making: to give family members a job, to honour ancestral founders of the firm or to safeguard a family's prestige and honour. Something that the Western-educated shareholder value brain may initially find 'quaint' but that will soon become a difficult reality to be taken into account when entering any joint venture or other form of partnership with an Asian firm.
Strategy 11: Send the Right People, goes into detail on what kind of person is right for 'Asia' and the degree of cultural adaptation required to survive and build relationships. Nowhere in the world are political and negotiating skills more important. Depending on the country, negotiation could be required with local politicians, government representatives, trade councils, unions, suppliers, customs offices and of course the daily negotiations with the workforce, local managers and partners... The need for culturally savvy international managers becomes evident besides appropriate expatriate arrangements, post-expat entry strategies and overall 'Asia learning' by everyone in the company and in particular, senior executives.
Strategy 17: Think Global, Act Local - But How Far?, analyses this cliché to guide companies through the marketing challenges when entering the Asian battlegrounds. With numerous insights from actual experience, research and case studies, the parameters of market adaptation, local branding, media and advertising are explored - all in the Asian context. For instance, compared to a modern Northern hemisphere retail hypermarket bulk-buy customer, the Asian consumer also demands low prices, but at the same time shops a number of times per week if not daily, buys products in small sizes and is a regular at the local store. Adapting to local tastes while keeping distinctive 'outsider' selling points to incite customer interest is an essential mix to retailing success in the region, again highlighting the need for sound market research and information.
Big in Asia puts 25 relevant and highly useful strategies between the covers of a single book. Backman's strong business analysis of corporate Asia along with Butler's business school style and research skills, make this a must-have in your quest to be 'Big in Asia'.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 (Third Edition)