Often at China forums or conferences, you just see hockey stick after hockey stick graph, sound bite after sound bite, to capture the China growth story. The narrative is basically data-driven, and that’s great for analysis if you’re looking at a space and you need to know how big a certain market is because you’re going to invest.
"The best thing I can do when I’m presenting to Westerners about business in China is make the audience feel uncomfortable immediately" says John. "I don’t think what they’ve read is relevant, they’ve heard from their people on the front that it’s tough. They’re trying to use their traditional template of looking at other international market to look at China."
"I’ve got to wake them up to a new reality," adds John. "This is the stuff that’s important, as well as the balance sheet and competitors, but actually look and recalibrate your mindset."
"In many cases that’s not going to be possible. Neurologically they’ve been hard-wired to think something else, they’ve been successful thinking that way and probably not going to change."
Best is to use some powerful images and stories to illustrate what's happening in China. "I like to focus on story-telling and although it sounds qualitative, a narrative is the best way to teach someone about the market."
Another thing is being comfortable with the ups and downs of the local Chinese market. "To be an entrepreneur in the West, you can be pretty sure that your legal environment, property environment, IP environment, will be above the board. In China, you have to be ready for things to change, and when they change you can’t let them dislodge your whole operation."
"For a CEO to be able to do that, it's very difficult if you’ve spent your entire career in the West. If you’ve operated in Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro or Jakarta, then you’re probably used to that environment."
"If someone wants to validate something with data, I’ll dig down and find the data. But if they don’t get the mind shift from the get-go, I’m not going to engage them," says John.
"Far too many people say they get China, they don’t, nor do they actually want to get it. That’s a reality of people outside their cultures."