Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Wild, Wild East

My father once told me you can gauge the health of a city by the number of cranes you can see on the skyline. They cost a fortune to rent and operate so if you see a crane in use you can be sure that the objects they are lifting are expensive as well as heavy. In short, cranes lift Cap Ex. I lost count of the number of cranes on the second day of our trip but it was well over 50.

So what does a Mantha Crane Index© of 50+ indicate you ask? Growth fueled by economic expansion. The Thursday we were in Beijing the Q3 growth number was reported at +10% for the third quarter in a row (known as a triple double). This led me to wonder how a countries infrastructure accommodates such rapid growth. The answers where all around us. Aging power distribution lines attached to new transformers. Roads with the waste construction materials left by the side. Exposed water and gas mains. All these things where not truly wrong, just not how we would do them. It did however cause me to rethink my position on the regulatory agencies in the United States and their role in all our lives.

It also provided insight into how issues and challenges are tackled by the Chinese. Whereas we may estimate a project to cost X and include all the tasks that would be required of us were it done in the United States or Europe, a Chinese competitor or customer may see the project as much less. Do just enough, no more. This can be a source of confusion for western business people whose native industries are typically held to a higher regulatory standard. Business is a little more like settling the wild west.

To get a better understanding of how to engage the China market a friend recommended an event:
Put China in Your Business Future: Health & Green / China

Ill post again to let you know how valuable the event was.

I’ve also been asked to meet with a delegation from the Ministry of Commerce. They are interested in discussing B2B aspects of the energy sector with Americans with experience in that field. It’s amazing how small the world is becoming. We all have the same needs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In a land far, far away...

Almost a full 2 months after being in China, the memories of being there are as vivid as the day we left. And when people ask me about my experience there, my answer is consistently the same ... enlightening. The things you see in movies, hear on the news, read in a book and hear from others, pales in comparison of truly experiencing China firsthand, especially Beijing. 

From the moment we got off the plane it was as if we had been invited to someplace important, the kind of placed you're always being watched so that you don't sit on the fancy furniture. Oddly enough, you are. Sometimes in the most obvious of ways such as in the form of armed guards, and other times as discretely as a street or hotel cam, or everyone's favorite... The Internet. 

Between business visits, cultural events and sightseeing, it was incredible to see that a country on this small earth of ours was so different than our own. It was almost as if we had been transported back in time. Rules and standards felt very stiff and old, and technology and standard of living more harsh than I could ever have imagined. 

But regardless of how uncomfortable we were with difference, having this great group that's grown so close in a matter of months, made it easier to take risks. To venture out of your own personal norms and experience a life that many never will, nor will they understand. Perhaps the conditions weren't what we have all grown so accustomed to in our own lives, and the food less than appetizing (and at times unrecognizable nor indigestible) the experience and memories are some which I'll never forget. 

A Trip to Remember

Prior to leaving for Beijing, many people were worried about the government and police in China. However, it turned out to be the opposite. There was no significance presence of cops in Beijing and nobody was watching us. I guess if one does not make any political statement, government will not bother you.

For me, this trip was an eye opener. On seeing Beijing’s huge airport, huge skyscrapers, modern showrooms, one can easily conclude that China is working hard to meet Western world’s standard of living. One of the most interesting presentations during the trip was from BASF, a German owned energy company. The amount of information presented was phenomenal- why China, business requirements in China, world economy, 20 years later etc. It was quite interesting to know that companies need to have the right connections in order to be successful in China.

Being from India, I was familiar with the bargaining concept, though by Asian standards I am not a good bargainer. In the beginning my American friends were hesitant to bargain but once they got the concept, there was no stopping point. It was quite hilarious to see Rich and Orlando doing hard bargaining.

One of the last memories of the China trip was the amazing bonding and friendship among the group. I had never imagined that such good bonding would have formed in such a short period. Group lunch, dinners and trips were the best part of the trip and made the trip memorable.