Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's Barca time on Dragon Boat Festival holiday

I didn't get up at 2:30 AM this morning as planned to watch the Champions League Final live on TV. I'm a fan of attractive and attacking football. Arsenal and Barca are my favorite football clubs. So when I woke up in the morning, I was a happy man. Barcelona is the WINNER! Ha, ha ... Rookie coach Pep Guardiola outsmarted Sir Alex Ferguson. Barca beat Man. United by 2:0. I'm watching the replay of the match now. Lionel Messi had a fantastic game and he is my pick for the World's Best Player of the year. It's great news to begin with the traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. I'm going to buy and eat Zongzi to celebrate Barca's win and the festival today.

The Dragon Boat Festival is widely celebrated in China. This morning, CCTV had a good coverage of the celebrations in Guangdong, Guizhou, Zhejiang and across the country. The celebration event in my hometown (actually my father's hometown), Jiaxing of Zhejiang province, was on TV for about 2 minutes. Jiaxing is well known for Zongzi with the brand name of Wu Fang Zhai (五芳斋). Various fillings are used for Wu Fang Zhai Zongzi, and they are delicious! According to the TV report this morning, over 150 million Zongzi are produced by Wu Fang Zhai and sold across China every year. I'm going to buy some in the nearby supermarket here in Beijing. Great to eat Zongzi from my hometown on Dragon Boat Festival holiday.

Barca's win is great, Zongzi is delicious and the festival begins!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 'invisible' entrepreneurs

He is ordinary-looking, plainly dressed, hard-working but not so articulate. He is the bread earner of his family, but he takes big risks by putting all his savings into something called 'business'. He has limited education and no idea of business etiquette, but he IS in the business.

There is a culture of entrepreneurship in some regions of southeast provinces in China. About 4 years ago, I had the chance to have a glimpse of the small business of one of those entrepreneurs. At that time, my father, a retired electrical engineer was invited by someone to work for his startup business in a small city in Zhejiang. The business was to develop a product to be used to adjust the speed of battery-powered bicycle. Being bored at home, my father decided to move to the city and work for him. I was a bit worried and decided to accompany my father to go and have a look at the place where my father was supposed to live and work. The living and working conditions were anything but appealing. The boss (entrepreneur) was not rich and rented an unfurnished 3.5-storey apartment in the countryside, which was used for accommodation and workshop. The guy was married with a son. He employed some migrant workers. His family and all the employees including my father lived and worked in the unfurnished apartment. As the photos show, the floor was rough and uneven; The makeshift staircase looked dangerous; and, there was NO third floor! I had a chat with some migrant workers. They were young (between 17-23 yrs old) and worked 12-13 hours a day seven days a week. Actually, one 'migrant worker' turned out to be the niece of the boss. The boss' mother-in-law also worked as a cook in the apartment. Anyway, my father made the decision to stay and work. I was assured by the boss that he would take good care of my father. Then, I left the next day. My father only worked there for about 3 months. Later, I learned from my father that the business failed but the boss didn't quit and decided to start a new business.

In this story, the guy started with limited fund and utilized all the possible resources available to run his startup business. He was down but not out. He is the one that fits the description in the first paragraph of this post. Actually, there are many entrepreneurs like him working against the odds in the manufacturing industry in China, but they are 'invisible' to many because they are not in the fancy IT or high-tech industry and they are not in big cities. I know that less than 20% (or even a lower percentage) of those small businesses can survive over a period of five years. Win or lose, they are still the heroes in the economy. Nobody knows where the next Li Shufu (李书福, Chairman of Geely Automobile) comes from, right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

China's 'angry youth'

Translation: (The words on the flags:) 'Justice' and 'Conscience'.

Chinese angry youth: 'Want to know what 'angry youth' really means? Just look at the words on my flags!'

'Angry youth' isn't 'angry youth' literally. Please, I hope some people can stop messing around with the phrase.'
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When I was criticizing western media's so-called 'balanced report' about China at a dinner with a friend the other day. He said, 'You're still an angry youth (fenqing in pinyin, or 愤青)'. Of course, he was not saying in a derogatory way. It was slightly complimentary. I assume he meant I was still challenging things that I thought was unfair.

However, the phrase 'angry youth' is always associated with nationalism in western media. Actually, Chinese angry youth are very diverse in their opinions. Two Chinese angry youth may have different, even opposit opinions about something. Calling those Chinese who stand up against western media 'nationalists' does not tell what 'angry youth' really means in China. In my opinion, 'angry youth' refers to a person who is somewhat rebellious, outspoken and would challenge the perceived unfairness, unjustice and unequality. Also, 'angry youth' is an universal phenomenon. Che Guevara is regarded as the most famous 'angry youth' by many Chinese.

Adrian Geiges from Germany, was also an 'angry youth'. He published a book entitled How The World Revolution Once Accidentally Started In The Black Forest. The Chinese version of the book is entitled 《我的愤青岁月》(literally translated as My Days As An Angry Youth). 'Angry youth' does not necessarily refer to the young, but also the middle-aged and the old. Are 'Chinese angry youth' nationlists? Some are, some are NOT. Therefore, 'nationalist' should NOT be an acronym for 'China's angry youth'.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Communications can be more effective with less use of emails, ppts, etc.

My blogger friend Ramesh talks about the dark side of Power Point here, here and here in his blog 'Business Musings'. Later, he recommends a recipe for a power pointless, but effective presentation here. I find the topic interesting and want to expand the topic a little bit here. Many of us (if not all) unknowingly have done some ineffective and inefficient business communications to some extent.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who is a general manager of a PR company. He told me that his company were going to pitch to a well known French multinational company for a big project in Beijing. He asked me if I could do him a favor to translate his power point slides and do a presentation on behalf of his company to the top executives of the French company. 'In English?', I asked. 'Yes, they speak English', he confirmed. Great, my French is good enough only for aliens to understand. So, out of curiosity I agreed to do the favor (for free). When I received the PPT slides I was shocked. They put together 108 slides which were expected to be presented in about 20 minutes! And the worse was that they put too many paragraphs of Chinese in the slides. I took me an ENTIRE day to translate! Also, I noticed that it was the 12th version of the presentation. I thought the ppt presentation was not viewer friendly, and said that by no means could I finish the presentation in 20 minutes. Then they reduced the ppt to 91 slides. On a Friday afternoon, I did the presentation in front of the senior French executives and the feedback was good. But you know what? As I previously warned, I did not cover every paragraph of text they put on the slides. Anyway, my friend was very satisfied with my presentation. Later, I learned they spent about 2 weeks drafting and revising the ppt. What annoyed me most was that they put so much unnecessary information on the slides to window-dress and make it look 'more professional', which in my opinion was the opposite of effective communication.

If you can communicate a message face-to-face to a fellow worker in 5 minutes, why do you bother to spend 20 minutes writing an email to him/her even if he/she is sitting 3 meters away from you? Once I was asked by a country manager to send him an email to brief him on a meeting I had with a business partner. I did so in the evening. The next morning, he came into the office holding his blackberry and said to me, 'Hang, I got your email. It's a bit long and I haven't read it. Can you come and brief me in my office?' See? Even a reader may become fed up with emails. As a matter of fact, the message could be effectively communicated on phone or face to face in 5 minutes.

I've mentioned in my previous post that the newly appointed CEO of Eachnet (Ebay China), Wang Leilei (王雷雷) once criticized the staff in Eachnet for their excessive use of emails and ppts, which he thought was less straightforward and a bad habit.

Sometimes, we relies too much on emails and ppts for 'effective' communication. Communications can be simple and effective too!

Friday, May 8, 2009

I've got itchy feet!

I've been a loyal reader of Jonna's blog recently. I really enjoy her writing which is of great fun. Today, her post is about her plan of traveling in Yunnan, which prompts me to bring back the pleasant memory of my trip in Yunnan last September. I did solo traveling and made many friends during the trip. I've got itchy feet again, but I know I cannot take another trip now. That's why I'm sitting here listening to the beautiful song 《彩云之南》(The South of Colorful Clouds, which refers to Yunnan) by singer Xu Qianya (徐千雅). I really like her music about Yunnan and Tibet.

Being an adventurous guy, I 'illegally' went fishing on a fisherman's boat in Dali and solo trekked the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I also traveled to Shangri-La and made many friends with fellow backpackers in Lijiang. These are some photos I took on my trip. Man, I love traveling!

The countryside near the old town of Dali

Buskers & their dogs in Shuhe old town

A singer from Guangzhou in a pub in Shuhe

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge
Backpackers at a guest house in Lijiang
Girls I met at a guest house in Lijiang

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thank you very much for buying our Chinese competitors!

Li Guoqing (李国庆), the co-CEO of Dangdang China's largest online retailer of books, CDs and videotapes, said that if Dangdang's biggest competitor Joyo had remained Chinese he would have had a much harder life. Obviously, he is right. Joyo was the No. 1 in the market before. But since Amazon's acquisition, Joyo has been going downwards and lagged far behind Dangdang. Joyo is not alone. Eachnet shares similar experience. Eachnet used to be the No. 1 auction site in China with over 60% market share. However, Eachnet gradually became mediocre after being acquired by Ebay. The new Chinese entrant, Alibaba's Taobao entered the market and quickly surpassed Eachnet. Now Taobao has firmly established itself as the most popular online auction site in China and the gap between the two is growing. Foreign internet companies do not seem to adapt well in China. Need more evidence? Google is trailing behind Baidu while Yahoo is struggling.

Why foreign internet giants fail to win the competition against their Chinese counterparts? This is a question that many have tried to answer. I'm not going to do it here, but I have been keen to hear what those who have been personally engaged in the competition would say. Here are some of them.

The outspoken Li Guoqing ,once on a TV program, ridiculed Ebay by telling a story about Ebay's inefficiency. He says that once Ebay's Chinese team decided to change some Chinese fonts on Eachnet. The Chinese team could not do it right away. They needed to report to the US headquarter of Ebay to obtain an approval before they could actually do the change. The approval did not come soon and one China-based Chinese executive of Eachnet was very angry and threatened to resign. After all the farce, the change of fonts was finally done, which was not quick. I know the story sounds absurd and I am not sure if it is true. But from my personal experience with a foreign company in China, I tend to believe the story. If you have followed the news, Ebay and Tom formed partnership and Tom's former CEO Wang Leilei (王雷雷) became the CEO of Eachnet. When he began to work at Eachnet's Shanghai office, he was not impressed. He once said Eachnet's staff had the bad habit of doing every thing by emails, powerpoint files, etc. They did things in a less straightforward way. He thought they had gone too far, which was less efficient. Anyway, Wang himself failed to lead Eachnet out of oblivion and then quit. Another well known resignation from Yahoo China was Xie Wen (谢文). Xie, the former CEO of Hexun, was invited to lead Yahoo China as CEO by Alibaba's Chairman Jack Ma (马云). But after a meeting in the US with Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, Xie decided to resign. His resignation was just about 40 days from his appointment. Rumors say Xie had not won the support he needed to change Yahoo China. The reason for his resignation has not been disclosed.

I assume the above does give a glimpse at why foreign internet giants stumble in China. Has any of them improved? I don't see it for the time being. Actually, those foreign internet giants deserve a big 'thank you' from their Chinese competitors for destroying those Chinese companies acquired.