Smart Thinking: Establish a China Brain Trust (II)


Cross the River by Feeling the Stones
“Cross the river by feeling the stones” (mō zhe shí tou guò hé, 摸着石头过河)

In establishing your own China brain trust, you should not only be highly selective of those chosen to join your inner circle but also, always, stay focused on putting each person to his or her best and highest use.  Following are the critical roles that this small group of trusted advisors should, collectively, strive to play in order to create significant competitive advantage as an extension of your executive team and for your overall enterprise:

  • Counselor.  This group of individuals should serve individually and collectively as a sounding board –
    where dissenting ideas and opinions are heard and respected – in areas including current market trends, opportunities, and threats; competitors and collaborators; brand positioning; product and/or service offering extensions and innovations; and strategic partnership, investment, and M&A opportunities, among others.
    With their counsel, you will more effectively determine how best to leverage your company’s brand, consumer offering, varied assets, and team in ways that serve the local market well, strengthen your competitive positioning, and maximize both financial and strategic return.
  • Connector.  Every organization’s success depends greatly on the caliber, integrity, and performance of its people.  If you want your company to succeed in China – where there’s a lack of qualified candidates, attrition rates are high, and cross-border team building is challenging to get right – it is essential to hire a strong, independently-minded country manager and experienced local team and provide them with the needed encouragement, support, and resources to thrive.  To this end, your China brain trust should assist by sourcing and evaluating candidates for key roles and, for selected high performers, serve as informal mentors to develop, motivate, and retain such talent.
  • Collaborator.  Those invited to join your China brain trust should have the ability and relationships to secure favorable terms with good local vendors, as needed, and an entrepreneurial mindset and “ears to the ground,” actively sharing, cultivating, and helping to negotiate strategic partnership, investment, and M&A opportunities as they arise.  Depending upon the level of commitment and contribution of each advisor, he or she should be compensated fairly and well and, perhaps, given a chance to assume an even larger role within your overall global enterprise such as helping to open up other emerging markets.

Creating a road map for China’s future prosperity through calculated experimentation, economic reform, and the embrace of practical solutions, Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) once popularized the saying that China should “cross the river by feeling the stones.”  The same is as true today for those enterprises seeking to successful navigate the choppy and uncertain waters of China’s complex, fast-growing market.

Rather than diving into the deep end alone, implement a more thoughtful cross-border strategy and maintain a strong China brain trust by your side and the journey ahead will undoubtedly be much less daunting and highly rewarding for both you and your enterprise.

Image:  Photograph of the stepping stone pathway on the Li River in southern China by M&M Photo Tours.
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