I found this book in a book store at the airport in Shanghai on my way back to Europe and read it in the plane, from cover to cover. This is probably one of the best books you can read if you plan to do business in China and want to understand what challenges foreigners face. The authors interviewed 20 Western entrepreneurs who have started their own companies in Shanghai. The stories range from relative newcomers who have been there only two years to the ex-Roche MD William Keller who has now been living in China for 17 years and was even invited to speak on behalf of Shanghai in its – successful – bid to host the World Expo in 2010. This wide range of stories is what provides for a great read. It is not so important if the people interviewed are right or wrong; what counts is their reported perceptions, as this is what you will also most likely experience. The people interviewed were in different situations ranging from – in one case – being an expat working for large company, to starting their own companies either right away or after having worked for a Western company first. There are tons of books out there talking about how to do business in China, but I have not seen one that is so practical and useful as this one – and exciting to read as well. In the words of Deng Xiaoping, that Mr. Keller so properly quotes: “learn from the facts”.
Ralf Haller November 30, 2008
So far my impressions on this last long business trip for 2008 have been mixed. While you can read and hear quite a lot of bad economic news, such as closure of 50% of manufacturing facilities for toys or clothes in Shenzhen and other areas, Shanghai gives the impression of business as usual. In the telecom industry, the introduction of a third operator, China Telecom, alongside China Mobile and China Unicom, was yet another smart move by the Chinese authorities (in Shanghai they are called Shanghai Mobile, Shanghai Unicom and Shanghai Telecom). It will lead to even more investment, as well as making the operators more quality- and service-oriented, as consumers have more choice now. Still, people I talked to are pessimistic, and expect real problems still to come. One consultant from the Waigaoqiao business district whose job it is to attract direct foreign investment sees clear signs of less activity now, and even less in 2009.
Then again, the Chinese government has cash in hand like no other nation in the world, and has already announced it will be using part of it for an economic stimulus package. Moreover, in Shanghai’s financial district, Pudong, China’s third major high-rise project was kicked off yesterday, signaling to the world “business goes on…”. Along with the Jinmao and World Financial Towers, there will in a few years be an even higher (600+ m) skyscraper. So China continues to think big, even in somewhat troubled times. It is also moving on to produce its own high-tech products; this time you were able to read and see on TV about the first China-produced passenger jet trial flight out of Shanghai, the 33m-long Xiang Feng (Flying Phoenix).
ARJ21 has already received 208 orders and is planned to ship in 18 months. In this industry, too, China is determined to become a tough competitor like ZTE and Huawei became in the telecom industry with combined orders now of 49 bln USD in 2008.