‘Where China Eats West’: “Be tenacious and come prepared”

Come prepared and don’t be naïve. Bring every bit of entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and tenacity that you have. These are the learning’s that Canadian serial entrepreneur Sam Goodman took from his 21 years of (serial) entrepreneurship in China to be the backbone of his book ‘Where China Eats West: The Street-Smarts Guide to Business in China’.

U.S. universities such as Boston College, Rutgers, and Colorado State University are using ‘Where China Eats West’ in their curriculum to prepare students for business life in China. This book is one of the few that was written from the perspective of an entrepreneur. It tells a couple of hard truths and uses humour and lots of anecdotal evidence to make readers ‘streetwise’ before entering into business ventures in China.

Expert witness

Sam Goodman, currently living and working in Beijing, offers expert advice based on tough experiences as an entrepreneur in several Chinese cities. The author is the expert witness of the book. His first business in China was a café – Beijing Sammies – that he expanded into a small chain with over a hundred employees while it got hurt by both SARS and by some less-fortunate business decisions. The F&B business was not his cup of tea, Goodman lost passion for it and entered the executive recruitment business, nuclear power plant negotiation, Web 2.0, social media marketing and clean tech. The author is currently involved in impact investment – CUB Corp – which he describes as “purpose-driven private equity, focusing on expanding Western environmental technologies into China that could impact a billion people within ten years.”

Challenging and exciting

After 21 years in this business arena, Goodman still finds China a challenging environment. “As a serial entrepreneur, I enjoy starting things up, putting things together. China offers a lot of opportunities to do just that. If you are pushing the envelope, you are going to make mistakes in China. This book helps avoid the common and easy ones.” The most important one? Goodman hesitates. “Don’t be naïve, in general. And don’t be naïve to think that businesses and products that work elsewhere will automatically succeed in China as well. Do your homework and come prepared.”

Goodman speaks very respectful of the Chinese and about their savvy and clever ways of doing business. “I find the Chinese incredibly pragmatic. They’re always eager to find ways to make things cheaper and faster. Many Chinese have a great talent to start lean, agile businesses. Having witnessed this over the years certainly has sharpened my own blade.”

Home court advantage

The author takes readers on a trip to China’s business arena. Goodman explains how to pick business partners, what the meaning of a good contract is (“it’s only the beginning”), and points out the clear home court advantage that Chinese businesses tend to have. “The biggest challenge for outsiders is to understand the Chinese. Business generally works the same all over the world, but in China, some things are done in a different way, compared to back home. Deals are made in a different ways, people communicate in a different way. Being aware of this improves your chances.”

The book tells a lot of stories, for example about how Mao and Confucius-influenced today’s thinking. It discusses the topic of how Chinese regard creativity (Chapter 79:“It’s wrong to steal… a lot”) and why you need to get a lawyer, and why you shouldn’t count on the law being on your side all the time. There is plenty of information about losing face and guanxi -  how people create, develop and use their network to do business. Goodman explains about China’s talent puddle, about education, about how to choose the right tone as a boss, and about being a true leader: “You must be the Alpha dog”, says the title of chapter 75.

Exciting place to do business

Sam Goodman is likely to remain in China for many years to come. “This is an exciting place to do business. I dare to say that China offers more opportunities than many countries in the West. I have never been bored in China. But you have to be tenacious. Do not give up too easily when you start your partnership or business and give it all you have, with every bit of determination and passion”, Goodman offers. As he writes in the last pages: “I absolutely hope I have not turned you off China. This place is amazing, exciting and the place to be in our lifetime. As tough as it may be and after all I’ve been through, I still maintain a glass half full perspective.”

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