Book review: Managing the China Challenge

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of Managing the China Challenge: How to Achieve Corporate Success in the People’s Republic from the publisher.

Apologies for such a late review on this book, but better late than never.  I am going to start and recommend it as being useful for China business newbies.  Ken Lieberthal does a fantastic job covering the basics of why China is the way it is, and how it is a tough environment to operate a multinational corporation (MNC).   For those who do not understand any of the subtleties of the Community Party that rules China, this book will be eye-opening to you.  (and also help to explain why you’ve been hearing so much lately of folks like Bo Xilai)

In particular, Ken does a great job illustrating potential conflicts within the reporting chains along provincial vs. national party authority lines, as well as doing a great job explaining the often strange dynamic that you may hear about when you think of a strong, centralized national party, and yet independent local officials who seem to operate in a very different way.  (particularly if you are moving away from Beijing…  think Shanghai faction)  The picture he paints will help those who don’t know understand the intricacies, and unfortunate confusion that often accompanies, the current structure of government and system of rewards.

He also does a good job talking about MNC strategies for cultivating local brands and business lines/products for the Chinese, as opposed to assuming that everyone in China is prospering and rolling in the luxury product lines (and the same things that we have in America or Europe).  His arguments for MNCs to think about proper, nimble China management and product strategy are convincing, and frankly, good for any multicultural product development, not just China.

What this book is not: a very detailed account of how to run a China business.  Other books do that better and with details.  Or how to develop and market products in China.  (Like Chocolate Fortunes, which I enjoyed and is even more overdue for a review here)  Or how to avoid quality fade like Poorly Made in China.  It is an overview and can only be such with less than 120 pages of prose (and a lot of notes).  So if you want to treat it like China business 101, that’s where I am recommending this.  For those who have been in the industry for some time, it’s a nice refresher at best.

I highly recommend, but with those caveats I list above.

Author: chinaesq

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