Exploring China through the Operations Global lab

During the first two weeks of May 2018, I had the opportunity to attend Fisher’s Operations Global Lab in China and Hong Kong. I choose this trip because I have wanted to travel the world my entire life. I had been to a country in Europe and knew I would go back there along with Africa, Australia and South America, but knew I would never travel by myself to Asia for fun. Also, my specialization is operations management, so it seemed like the perfect fit for me. We were able to travel to different businesses in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing in order to understand the business realm of China. We also got to experience the culture and history of China.

I was able to learn so much about China and different business markets through this trip. After I attended this trip, I realized that even though people speak another language and have another culture, we can still relate to one another. I had always looked China as almost another world until actually visiting. I now see how interconnected the world is and continues to grow together. Many of the people I met while in China were kind, willing to share their culture and wanted to know more about my culture. It surprised me a lot.

Being a business major, getting to speak to heads of leading companies in China and Hong Kong was insightful. I now feel that I have a better understanding of how business in China works. We also got to experience many cultural differences in work ethic and business culture. Seeing these cultural differences allowed us to see differences with international companies. Having this experience will enhance my ability to adapt in different types of businesses.

Culturally, we got to see examples of the Buddhist religion and experience people exercising their faith in-person. Additionally, for me, getting to eat authentic Asian cuisine for two weeks was a transformational experience. I rarely ate at Chinese places in America, so I was a little nervous to be outside of my comfort zone. However, getting try all the rice, noodles, dumplings and even peking duck was amazing. I catch myself missing sitting around a table eating family style off of a lazy susan.

The Great Wall of China was definitely my favorite part of the entire trip. Getting to see one of the seven wonders of the world has always been a dream of mine and climbing on it was very surreal. I never realized how intricate the details were and how unique each part of the wall is. You can be walking up one-inch steps and then suddenly you are on your hands and knees literally climbing the steps. Getting to step where the soldiers once stepped was surreal.

Its a cultural thing

Every place, country, family speaks of culture. China is no exception. The country contains  an array of unique things and places that you stand in awe of the moment you realize you becoming a part of it. The pictures picture speak a thousand words.

We have Amazon, there its the TMall and JD (aka Jindong). TMall has a ambassador of its own – a cute one too.

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The Bund – The Clarke Quay of China. Behind the team are the skyscrapers of Pudong.

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The Great Wall – the torchbearer of China’s history.

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The Forbidden City – Once upon a time in China, there lived a king…

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The Water City – Xitang- where you immerse yourself in a world of dreams.

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Then, I sensed something that brought people even closer together: food! In China, regardless of the dish you are eating, it will be served in such a way that you sit together, sometimes prepare it together and always share it, be it BBQs, hot-pots or duck feast. Eating and meals in China bring a feeling of togetherness. Being a vegetarian, I did not have the liberty to try all the dishes, but what I did enjoy and what will stay with me is that feeling of togetherness. I cherished being with my team of twelve people, all having laughs together.

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The outcome? You return to the US with happy memories and a strong project deliverable.

China, Logistics, Maglev, Me and…. Woweee

Driven by increasing air pollution in China, as well an increasingly demanding industrial and retail sector, an e-commerce air-filter opportunity window has opened for the Columbus based air filter manufacturer Columbus Industries. My GAP team is visiting China to conduct a feasibility study for this new opportunity. The logistics and legal aspects are important and complicated pieces in the assessment of a go-to-market strategy for an imported product such as air-filters in China. 

I am a member of the Logistics team. Logistics is a totally new arena for me as I come from a technology background. However, a series of meetings and research regarding logistics in China has given me a huge amount of information I’d like to share in this blog. I would like to give the disclaimer that there isn’t a multi-step process for this understanding and “acing” of logistics in China. Rather, it is pure experience and one key asset – a native knowledge of  Chinese. Tadaaa!! Yes, it is very important to be fluent in Mandarin – writing and speaking. We set up most of the meetings in China via communicating in Mandarin.

I visited three logistics firms: SanXun (small scale), Kerry Logistics (medium scale) and FedEx (Large scale). Although the three firms differed in scale and presence, there was one common theme: all of the firms displayed a great willingness to analyze our needs. Many times the representatives shared a great amount of added information and gave us helpful suggestions. It was through one of these conversations that we learned about the two types of warehouses that can be employed for our client’s business needs. What is a warehouse? It may seem simple in theory, but I learned there is much more to it in practice.

Warehouse – A place where all the goods/products are stationed by the logistics firm and are under their authority and supervision.  There are basically two types – Bonded and Non-bonded. The bonded warehouse treats your product as if it is ‘in transit’. Therefore, the taxes are levied only when the product/goods are sold. In the event of uncertain demand or some assembly processing needed, bonded warehouses are recommended. The bonded warehouses do not have economies of scale on higher SKU’s in stock.

To our astonishment, the representatives at all the firms shared a huge amount of information on two other fronts as well: marketing and legal. It helped me learn a lot more and clear a myth – It takes a lot of meetings to do business in China. But with the right tools: a “nee-hao”, a Chinese-speaking friend, scale of business, and 60 minutes, you learn a lot.

I now know that the logistics industry is the backbone of the Chinese economy and this country truly exhibits its prowess in it. What else could explain the Maglev train (they whisk by at a speed of 300 km/hr, no kidding), the other amazing trains, and, to an extent, the budding logistics firms here. I have appreciated how the logistics industry in China is structured and delivers. In essence, it is just how they greet you when you go to meetings – no troubled waters here!

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Doing business at the tip of your thumbs

Mind if I get your contact information so that we can keep in touch?” Xiaoran asked one of the contacts at the end of our meeting.

Absolutely.” The head of the investment department replied, while taking out her phone, “Swipe me.

Swipe me? What does that mean? I quietly chuckled, picturing how a non-native Chinese may think of this conversion, if it were to happen in English.

Our contact was talking about WeChat. By “swiping”, or scanning a QR code her phone generated, we added her to our contact list. Even self-redeemed as a semi-proficient WeChat user, I was still shocked for two reasons:

  1. a WeChat QR code has almost replaced business cards in less formal meetings (instead of learning the proper business card handling techniques, we should be learning the navigation of this app);
  2. WeChat is now the unofficial, but most widely used communication method, for businesses, in addition to its personal uses.

Imagine a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, and PayPal – that’s WeChat. Next, imagine sharing all these accounts (in combination) to a person you either have never met or have just met for business purposes. Now, conduct a networking conversation with this person via text messages, emojis, and occasionally audio messages. That’s one of the characteristics of Chinese style business conversation.

Modern Chinese business style can be summarized in these two words: Intimate and Instant.

It’s intimate – no matter how good you are with finding information on Google, you still wouldn’t get into that person’s WeChat account. In other words, getting that WeChat info is crucial to building a modern business relationship. Because of our team “insider (Xiaoran), we managed to get in touch with a number of strategically crucial companies, ranging from Suning, the electronic devices retailer giant in China, to various third party operation companies who showed interest in setting up meetings with the client directly after we return.
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It’s instant –  I haven’t found anyone else this dedicated to work almost 24/7. In my personal experience, it took me 90 minutes to go around three level of contacts (friend of friend of friend) to reach the person who can potentially help us, and six hours later, when I got off the train ride from Nanjing to Beijing, I walked away with a notebook full of the information I was looking for.

In addition to being an interpersonal communication application, WeChat also doubles as a marketing tool. Multiple contacts suggested that we consider WeChat as a promotion/marketing/research tool.

Now I wonder: is it the Chinese business style that created WeChat? Or is it WeChat that created the new Chinese business style?

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